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photos by M Gandy

The Synch Festival in Athens

The Happy Mondays prove surprisingly coherent, plus The Field, Chronik and Your Hand In Mine.

The Synch Festival in Athens, Greece is only in its fifth year and still a relative minnow in the crowded pond of European festivals.The organisers book a handful of big name acts and slip them into a bill of cutting-edge Greek artists, who are bubbling away below the mainstream. The headlining act this year was the Happy Mondays, who put on a coherent and energetic performance that belies the years spent hoovering-up any narcotics within reach. The Salford veterans opened their set with their 1990 single "Kinky Afro", leaving them with a whole set to pad out with lesser known and new material, before bringing a rapturous close to proceedings with seminal Madchester hit "Step On".

But with Shaun Ryder - in the words of Bez - "singing his fookin' little heart out" and in no need of the usual prompts and autocue, the Mondays were on top form. The other big name acts drafted in for the three day festival, which takes place across a handful of venues in the sun-baked city, were American indie rockers Yo La Tengo, pioneering avant-poppers Stereolab and Detroit techno legend Juan Atkins, who didn't grace the stage for his 3.15am slot due to "personal reasons" (he missed his flight).

But the festival doesn't just import influential acts harking back to their glory days: The Field, Liars and Holy Fuck were among the leftfield, contemporary acts to take to the stage. After the crowd was treated to an aural barrage of fuzzy guitars and keyboards, courtesy of the latter pair, The Field – aka Axel Willer – unleashed a stunning set of electro bliss, underpinned by a razor-sharp backbeat, which saw the crowds through to the early morning.

But you can catch most of these acts at half-a-dozen festivals this year. Where Synch really comes into its own in the selection of underground Greek electronica and ambient noodlers that the festival's artistic director Dimitris Papaioannou unearths. "One of the beautiful things about my job is that I get to uncover new artists," he says. "There's so much great music at the moment that just isn't getting picked up, especially in Greece, and this festival in a chance to showcase it."

The finest Greek act to peddle their wares was two piece Your Hand in Mine. The duo from Thessaloniki fashioned delicate filmic music out of Wurlitzer piano, melodica, mandolin, glockenspiel and a collection of other random instruments too exhaustive to list. Their downbeat meanderings veered towards delicate chamber music with a melancholy undertow and the occasional rattle of percussion, while always shot through with a distinctly Greek melodic sensibility. 

An even more delicate approach was evident in musical prodigy Chronik, who produced ambient soundscapes of swirling synths, littered with the occasional flurry of piano notes, which forged simple repetitive melodies, giving an understated nod in the direction of English minimalist composer Michael Nyman. Amidst the hypnotic phrases, sparse bursts of beats brought the songs to life before melting away in an electronic wash.