By Michael - Angelos Englezos
Rocka Rolla opens its doors to the public in 2006 when the proprietor, Theo, is already 30 years old. Rocka Rolla's pundits all come from diverse backgrounds and ages, with the main core swinging between 20 and 30 years old.
The bar is originally located in central Nicosia, just a block away from Zoo Club. The set and setting are unkind to heavy metal music. The city is host to no comparable heavy metal joints, not considering Reckless Pub which did indeed play host to rock music but was never solely dedicated to heavy metal. In earlier times, the headbangers of Nicosia were serviced by the Underground Rock Club (1991 – 1993), located in Engomi where music was performed mainly through vinyl records and cassette tapes.
Early times for Heavy Metal in Cyprus were never easy. Cypriot society was too keen to point fingers (and still is) towards headbangers, singling them out and discriminating them for their black leathery and studded outfits, piercings, long hair and of course, for their unique and uncompromising taste in music. Back then metalhead parties were few and far in between. The presence of Heavy Metal music within society and media was practically non existent. A Saturday night out, where it to include “harder” melodies would typically transpire at some house party or at the odd discotheque where between the piles of pop sheen and sensibility there would be a heard a few “heavier” pieces like Kiss's “I was made for loving you”, Black Sabbath's “Paranoid” and AC/DC's “TNT”.
Theo recalls anecdotal stories concerning regularly known members of the then nascent Cypriot Heavy Metal scene, like Charos, Simos the Indian, Kikis and Antonis from Armageddon. Back then each metalhead was a distinct and independent entity. Parties were essentially comprised by two or three at most people. There was no information pertaining Heavy Metal prior to 1990 when the Greek version of Metal Hammer magazine became available to Cypriot metalheads, which quickly established itself as the sole source of information. Excluding this magazine, metalheads had no other means of knowing about and engaging with heavy metal acts besides VHS tapes, passed on by hand from fan to fan, notable examples being Iron Maiden's “Live After Death”, Scorpions' “World Wide Live” and Wasp's “Live.... In the Raw”. These videotapes along with posters of the aforementioned groups in said magazine were the only connection a true heavy metal fan could have with their idols. Young girls would look upon album covers trying to imitate these group's stylings. Later on the range of information received by local metalheads was augmented with the introduction of Greek television shows broadcast during the early 90's locally like “Metal Mania” hosted by Demetris Katis (from the Greek band Exoristoi) and later on “Jammin'” hosted by journalist Stathis Panayiotopoulos.
Theo recalls his own introductory steps in music and how these were at first rooted in Pop music his older sister used to enjoy at the time. New wave and electronic outfits like Duran Duran and Billy Idol became the stepping stones upon which “harder” sounds would be acquired. Theo remembers the Europe song “Final Countdown” which was repeatedly broadcast through television and radio during Greece's victorious run at 1987 Eurobasket competition. He mentions the Top 10 Chart Songs, where amongst the myriads of Pop songs played on the show, sometimes a rare hard rock gem would be played, like Def Leppard's “Hysteria” and Bon Jovi's “Slippery when wet”. He remembers his very own first concert-going experience in 1989 where he witnessed Cyprus' own Armageddon performing live at Metropole Cinema in Nicosia. He notes that both nights were sold out and that metal fans were pouring into the capital from every corner of the island to witness the show.
Theo's words are filled with reminiscence and nostalgia. He mentions the first concert he attended abroad which was Iron Maiden in 1995 while they were touring the “X-Factor” album. He comments on the everlasting impression left by Judas Priest's 1990 album “Painkiller” and how this record is until today unparalleled. He claims that his only goal “back then” was to work so he could have the money to experience his favourite bands performing live. In his own words he is a “classic metalhead” that grew up listening to 80's and early 90's heavy metal music. He posits that every major heavy metal music group of the 80's circulated their finest output during the decade of 1985 – 1995. “Seeing a band that I loved performing live was and still is one of the holiest moments imaginable” he interjects not for the first time and that it wasn't uncommon for fans to even faint during a performance due to overwhelming excitement. He considers this reaction to be perfectly normal and understandable as there was little to no exposure for local fans towards the bands of their choice and an opportunity as such was transformed into a downright spiritual experience.
One shining example he gives out of these type of reactions, are the fits of excitement and fainting that were prominent during a 1998 Manowar gig, also during Twisted Sister's “Reunion Tour”. He is overwhelmed with excitement when describing the happenings during Slayer's performance in Rock of Gods festival at Piraeus, loudly exclaiming “It was just like a dream!”
For Theo, happenings pertaining music are absolute. He claims that in contemporary times, constant media exposure for music bands and the relative easiness through which someone can access information and music in itself have withered and waned the excitement and dedication of fans for bands and their music. He considers this effect to apply to every kind and type of music but, quite naturally, his own focus in on heavy metal music.
Standing behind the bar, he rolls a cigarette and engages me in a discussion concerning the nature of “the true metalhead”. “The true metalhead”, he nods, “is an absolute entity, a revolutioner. He doesn't look neither left nor right, he doesn't engage with other types of music and he is loyal to his metallic beliefs. Heavy Metal music teaches moral values and offers a unique way of living, transforms with an 'iron fist' the “fan” to a “true individual”. Fans are the ones that have kept heavy metal alive, with their insistence and dedication, with their time, effort and money.”
“Music of today”, he drily notes, “is more of an optical illusion, focuses on gossip rather than art”. For Theo if you are to delve into the contemporary you will come out longing for the glory days of the past. The Internet has equated everything. Bands are no longer comprised by demigods, they no longer serve as the utmost destination or pilgrimage, musicians are no longer idols. He is of course aware of the presence of contemporary high quality music but he duly notes the lack of dedication characterising modern fans. He opines that modern bands will never make a dent in music history the way older bands have and will never solidify themselves into the hearts and minds of their fans.
Moving away from the past and into more optimistic grounds, Theo states that he has grown with and within Rocka Rolla and its pundits and that he and his bar have become a staple of Cypriot Heavy Metal Scene. He idealises the present situation by claiming that his goal is to play “purebred” Heavy Metal music of the 80's and mid 90's through Rocka Rolla's decks, “as it used to happen since the beginning”.
Up until 2006 when Rocka Rolla was first inaugurated there had happened but a few “major” concerts in Cyprus, Deep Purple's 1990 performance at Eleftheria Stadium, Scorpions (which he considers to be a “misunderstood” band especially after their newly acquired “pop” sensibilities during the late 80's) and Alice Cooper. Recently Cyprus enjoyed a resurgence of “good” gigs, namely performances by Kreator, Sodom and the mighty Sepultura but until fairly recently live performances were few and far between.
After Rocka Rolla threw its doors open to the capital, the metallic crowd had “a place where they could enjoy THEIR music”. Tribute event nights were organised where little then known offshoots of heavy metal, like Black and Death metal were honoured. Sometimes Rocka Rolla would host live performances from local and international outfits like Omen and Tokyo Blade which visited the island during 2007. Profits were always marginal and usually were utilised in paying utility bills and rent.
“Rocka Rolla was and is for the people”, Theo proudly declares. “Music belongs to the fans because its their own product and just like that the heavy metal scene in Cyprus and abroad is a by-product of fan dedication and loyalty”. “Rocka Rolla was, is and always be all about the music” he states, not for the first time. Light-heartedly he launches into a tirade of tales of the past pertaining the adventures of friends/pundits which, not for the first time, had stayed overnight into the bar, sleeping on the floor in their attempt to elude the effects of drunkenness, takes pride in himself, his bar and its fans for the fact that fights never broke out (metalheads are stereotyped into such behaviours) and for the fact that everyone that visited the bar was and is part of an extended metallic family.
Due to unfortunate circumstances Rocka Rolla was forced to abdicate its position in the scene. Its inaugural placement proved insufficient for smooth operation so it was forced to close its doors, only to return again after a small break in 2011, as a much smaller venue but possessing the very same scope and outlook, namely the Rocka Rolla Wizard Bar. Nothing much had changed, its eclectic music taste was retained and the storming crowds were comprised by the same loyal followers that had been the bar's mainstay since the original opening. Very soon it was evident that the space provided was inadequate for rampant heavy metal thrashing madness so the venue was once again relocated in 2014 to its current position (Xanthis Xanierou 7Α).
“It's the customers who also happen to be good friends which support and maintain the place”, Theo says. “In earlier times they were wilder, more fanatical but now as new generations enter the mix things tend to cool down substantially”. Theo comments, with grave seriousness in his voice that “In the first Rocka Rolla Bar, we all went there to drink, listen to our music and break stuff!!” “Now”, he concludes with a mischievous smile, “we do exactly the same thing minus breaking stuff!”
“Music for us is like a worm that eats is within, pushing us to see, to hear, to play, to live. Its the fire that keeps us up and running. If this fire burns out, if the spark is lost, then we are lost and that's why we keep it lit and going, with our music, Rocka Rolla and of course gigs, both domestic and international”
Theo considers musical happenings now to be inferior to what it used to be. Of course he is not despairing. We joke around while discussing how we think Heavy Metal will sound in 50 years time. Will today's music still be in circulation? Its quite possible that Metal will still exist, its also wildly possible that it will not contain guitar sounds! Its also possible that all major bands will simply vanish, leaving behind only a trope of cover bands, a musical trend that Theo considers that is growing day by day.
Despite the generally negative outlook, Theo is optimistic about the future. “Heavy Metal will never cease to be!”, he enthusiastically declares. “Think of how beautiful it will be when the time comes for my grandson to excitedly recite to his friends his grandfather's “metallic” achievements!” Indeed this would be perfect to happen. “Newer generations have to pick a side, because Metal will continue to exist”, Theo confirms. “Its wildly possible that we are going through the last generation of “great” bands and artists”, he thoughtfully concludes. “People are getting older and slower”, he smirks, “output is on the decline...” His words find us both in agreement.
It's time to conclude the interview. Theo looks worried. “You know”, he says, “there exists this new trend now, of people who favour these obscure 80's bands which never really became famous, you know? These dudes will only listen to Metal hailing from '80 – '85 and they call themselves 'The Underground'. I'm not so sure what they really mean by that term. Someone should clue as in as to what this 'underground' really is!”
I'm also aware of what he is saying and I'm in agreement. “These rancid demarcations only serve to hurt Metal and its fans”, Theo intones. “Rocka Rolla will still be here though, and will continue to play true Metal and everybody is welcome to join, 'underground' or not! Without doubt, Rocka Rolla will always support and uphold the Cypriot Heavy Metal scene!”
He points out what transpired the night that the metallic crowd of Cyprus was 'celebrating' Lemmy's funeral. “Everybody was here”, he grunts, his eyes aglow, “everybody, and they were all drinking Jack 'n Coke. That night we were all together, united and that's how things should be every time!” he rounds up his talk enthusiastically.
There is nothing I can do but fully agree.
“You know”, he winks at me confidentially, “There is high chance of a surprise event in Rocka Rolla, very very soon!”
I am truly glad to hear that. The scene needs an injection of fresh metallic air. I offer my goodbyes and exit the building while the soundsystem churns out full blast Manowar's “Warriors Of the World United”.
METAL UBER ALLES!