A Rave in Athens

I was recently invited by some of our precious Greek Zen students to a true rave in an abandoned factory in the old industrial heart of Athens. The place was so hidden in shadows on such a nameless street that even the taxi driver had a hard time locating it. There was no door or discernible entrance, even; only the sound of a few barking dogs behind rusty chain fences on a faceless dead-end street with no name. Needless to say, no streetlights. Garbage and metal refuse strewn here and there was the only sign that humans might actually have commerced here at some point. The place was so pointless, the walls of these factory-spaces had not even attracted the graffiti artists who are ubiquitous in Athens.

But out of the darkness, a steady stream of partygoers merged from side-alleys and taxis which had long slowed and were searching the dead-end street for signs of anything passing for an address. We were soon guided to a corrugated sheet of metal hanging thinly from old hinges, and passed through to an inky-black courtyard in what must have been some sort of infernal smelting concern. Through the blackness, a “THUMP! THUMP-a THUMP-a THUMP-THUMP…” dimly touched the inner-ears. We were led into a thoroughly abandoned space with a rusted spiral staircase leading to a roof. The bone-deep techno beat throbbed the physical soul, and sweating bodies emerged from a lower room, drenched and smoking.

On the rooftop, there was only one drink available — gin and tonic made by flashlight at a folding table. Even water was not being sold. Descending and ascending from roof to the room where the DJ was hyper-blasting mixes and projecting abstract shapes on a bare concrete wall, it was so weird to be back in an environment I had left many many years before (albeit in New York).

Friends screaming things in my ear that are pixelated into static buzz by the soundtrack. Everyone, everywhere, truly seeks a kind of transcendence from the narrowness-grind of life-job-relationship-politics-money-family-climate/crisis-future/fear. “But is it true Samadhi?” I am often asked. “Does this no-mind experience rate with the don’t-know of Zen?” 

I also don’t know. But unplug the priestly DJ’s extensive lights and BUNGGGGGGGGG-ing sound-pumping: Now, in that silent factory space, without pumping sound-and-graphics, gathered with so many unknown travelers, maybe drained of helpful pharmaceuticals — “Where is the techno-driven transcendence THEN?” My skull and jaw throb with the micro-manic force of inexpressible decibels pumped straight through the invisible marrow of these bones. And yet…? If this sound is suddenly unplugged, these lights silenced: Where is true Samadhi?

Practicing Zen in Athens among the post-apocalyptic Greeks, their vast communitarian consciousness so expressive of the sincerest tribal wish for survival. An infernal kind of Zen Center, whose allure is completely faded for me, and whose effects whither the soul far far far more than they samadhify. But great to check out, if just for an hour or so.