This article originally appeared on VICE Greece
From 1967 to 1974, Greece was ruled by a strict military dictatorship. So while much of Europe and the United States were swinging their way into the cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 70s, the southern European country remained highly conservative. Such liberal frivolities like smoking weed, nude beaches and adultery were criminal offences, while homosexuality and sex before marriage were massive taboos.
Yet on a small Greek island in the Aegean, none of these rules seemed to apply. The people of Mykonos had chosen to embrace a lifestyle that welcomed all visitors and their personal pleasures – creating in this way a hedonistic utopia. The military junta was happy to collect the tourism revenues, while turning a blind eye to what an island predominately full of foreign visitors was getting up to. It was as if Mykonos was an autonomous state; a parallel universe to the rest of planet Greece. European and American tourists swarmed to an island that bore little cultural similarities to the rest of the country. At the time, very few Greeks knew what life on Mykonos was actually like – leaving mainly others to enjoy the island's delights.
However, soon after the military junta was overthrown, word of the island started to spread among young Greeks in search of their first proper fix of counter-culture. Athens based DJ Antonis Makrantonis was one of those desperate to experience bigger thrills – bored by the slow pace of social change in his home city. So he moved to Mykonos, and didn't leave for 20 years – an experience he describes in his book Mykonos - A Mythology.
In the summer of 1974, the then 24-year-old accepted an invitation from a girl he met on a night out to visit her in Mykonos. "I fell in love with Mykonos on my first visit," Antonis, now 67, tells me at his home in Athens.
For Antonis, the island represented everything mainland Greece was not. "The landscape, the air, the sea, the colours – everything was magical during the day, and so unique and entertaining at night," he explains. "The island really had it all: sandy beaches, rocky beaches, family beaches, gay beaches and nudist beaches. The clubs were always packed; people were pretty much tripping over each other." Aside from the non-stop fun, there was an far more important distinction with the rest of Greece. "Mykonians never judged anyone based on how they chose to live, especially when it came to who you were having sex with. They were very warm and welcoming people."
It was far too good an opportunity to pass up, so Antonis stayed and worked as a DJ at the legendary gay bar Pierros. "I wanted to work at the bar because there was nothing like it in Athens," he says. "At the time, if an openly gay person walked around Athens, people would throw things at them and beat them up. I used to get spat on just because I had long hair – I had to speak in English so they'd think I was a tourist and leave me alone."
Over time, Mykonos started to attract celebrities from around the world. Antonis beams with pride as he tells the story of the night he spotted Sinead O'Connor in a club and had the courage to walk over and strike up a conversation. In his book, he recalls meeting musician Bryan Ferry and his band Roxy Music: "I was driving up to my house, when I noticed a few people at a distance struggling to carry their luggage up a hill under the hot sun," he wrote. "I pulled over and helped them take their bags to their hotel." As a way of thanking him, the band showed up at Pierros later that night with presents, including signed memorabilia, tour hoodies, and demo tapes from their upcoming album.
Of course not everyone on Mykonos embraced the vibe – a few local officials were not as happy with all aspects of the island's delights as residents were. One evening in 1979, Antonis went down to Pierros to find the bar was closed. On the door was a police order revoking the bar's license for 12 days, because, as it read, "the premises were frequented by homosexuals and drunks."
As disheartening as moments like these were, progressive attitudes on Mykonos always seemed to prevail over prejudice. The following day, the island's gay community organised a protest outside the Pierro's. Some of the more well connected residents even managed to get a few international newspapers to cover the bar's closure. The protesting worked: two days later, the police announced the bar would re-open the following night. As a result, even more than usual, the island felt like one big party – as locals and revellers from across Europe celebrated a huge victory for equal rights. "I don't think I ever saw the island as crowded as it was the night Pierros reopened," Antonis laughs. "I was even interviewed by a Dutch TV station that came just to cover it."
Antonis eventually left Mykonos in the early 90s – living in several countries across Europe before settling back in Athens. But wherever he went, Mykonos seemed to follow him. "Being a DJ on the island made me somewhat famous," he says proudly. "Everywhere I went after I moved, people would stop me on the street and say, 'Remember me? We met at Pierros!'"
Today, Mykonos has changed from an institution of counter-culture to a tourist hot-spot; attracting everyone from billionaires to 18-year-olds celebrating their A Level results. "Things took a turn for the worse when the first cruise ships started to arrive," Antonis says glumly. "Spontaneity was replaced by the fake Facebook and Instagram lifestyle. Back in the day, we were just being ourselves, we weren't creating personas. That's the Mykonos I love. I really miss it."
Antonis doesn't really visit Mykonos anymore, but his love for the island that changed his life remains undimmed. "I was just a passerby who ended up living there because I was so fascinated by the place and its people," he says. "I had no relatives or any proper connections, but the timing was perfect for me to experience this enchanting place at its best."