It’s getting to be cliché; Israeli musician moves to vibrant artistic scene in
Berlin and makes good. But Gad Baruch Hinkis is adding a twist. The Tel Aviv hip
hop beat maker and his group Dirty Honkers are playing a pivotal role in the
creation of a whole new genre of music – electro swing.
Goodman sped up to rave-style speeds and embellished with modulated vocals and
sax, a pounding bass track and a crashing snare, and the unholy hybrid between
the past and the present becomes a reality. And the upshot? The kids in the
clubs, weary from years of gauzy, isolating techno trance, are dancing together
again as couples – actually touching.
“The music brings people together.
The girls are happy because they get to dance and the guys are happy because
they can hold hands with the girls. It’s helping to create a connection between
people, something that’s missing more and more in today’s culture,” said Hinkis
on Monday, a day after he arrived in Israel for three Dirty Honkers shows with
his band mates, saxophonists/ singers Andrea Roberts and Florent
The trio have flourished in Berlin’s techno scene with their big
swing jive and crunchy raps. And their first full-length album released last
year – Death by Swing – included club hit “Gingerbread Man,” which has been
featured on various European dance compilations. With his customized joysticks
and other Radio Shack technology, Hinkis is the mad but happy scientist of the
multinational crew (Roberts is Canadian and Mannant French).
“We have a
couple new toys we’re introducing at our shows in Israel,” he said
enthusiastically. “Of course, the original device was my custom-made joystick,
which I bought and modified, adding a few buttons and a USB so it can connect to
a computer and transfers all the sounds to midi,” he said, sounding more like a
programmer than a musician.
The system, operated on a loop-based software
music sequencer, can emulate a big band, play a jazz solo to a dance-floor beat,
or make a sax sound like a fog horn.
Now Hinkis has incorporated a Wii
game controller, which enables him to go wireless and move unencumbered
throughout a venue.
“Andrea is using a playstation controller, which she
used for effects on her vocals, and Florent is very good with looping, so we
bought the Japanese game Dance Revolution with dance mat and adapted that for
him,” said Hinkis.
“Technologically, it’s very inexpensive because it’s
all game controllers, which you can get anywhere. If you go to see an electronic
artist perform live, usually they’re ensconced behind the big gray boxes with
buttons and knobs behind a desk. I find that kind of boring to watch, and as a
musician, you don’t have much control as you can only maneuver two buttons at
the same time. With the joystick, it’s much more freeing and mobile. With one
click of the button, you can do things it would have taken multiple processes to
But back before the technology, there was still Hinkis and
his love of music. Attending art high school and studying animation, he was
introduced by a friend to a simple software program that enabled the creation of
music with samples. And wideeyed, he dove in, taking lessons and beginning to
produce his own music.
Throughout the beginning of the 2000s, Hinkis was
involved with a flurry of hip hop projects, live shows and albums, including
working with the underground collective the Parvarim Refugeez. Despite making a
name for himself as DJ Neckbreaka, Hinkis came to the realization that if he
wanted to continue his musical path, he would need to look beyond Israel’s
“I saw that it wasn’t happening – you can’t be a musician and
work in Tel Aviv,” he said. “There’s not a big enough audience for the type of
things I’m doing, there aren’t enough clubs to play in and the cost of living is
AS EARLY as 2003, he was beginning to experiment with mixing
styles of music like electronica and swing as a result of immersing himself in
the thriving rave music scene in the country.
“The music was very fast
and aggressive and had a big influence on me,” said Hinkis. “But, I could just
imagine that instead of the isolating tonality and the cold and mechanical
quality of the music, how it would sound if there was something warm and human
in there. And I thought swing music could work really well because when they
first started out, swing and boogie woogie was really energetic and very crazy
“The mix really worked for me, because you can go very fast on
swing and nobody will notice. The girls will still move their shoulders and
everyone will smile. If you speed up rave music, only some people all wearing
black would like it. With electro swing, you can get very fast and hectic but
people will still love it.”
Looking for a new environment to develop his
ideas, Hinkis visited Berlin four years ago and found kindred spirits in Roberts
and Mannant, who had also gravitated to the city and were playing in a live
swing band, Haferflocken Swingers. Imbued with the desire to combine
light-hearted spontaneity, electronics, live horns and vocals, the Dirty Honkers
were launched in 2009.
“The swing scene in Berlin is quite warm and
accepting and when I met Andrea and Florent, we discovered we had the same lingo
and slang, and similar attitudes,” said Hinkis. “There really hasn’t been a
culture clash even though we’re from three different countries and living in a
fourth. We all have that common denominator of American pop culture, we grew up
on the same movies and music and it kind of makes you feel like we’re all part
of the same culture.”
This week, Hinkis is exposing his band mates to
Israeli culture, and the crowds at the group’s shows – July 12 at Kibbutz Dan,
July 13 at the Jerusalem Street Party and later at Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv, July
17 at Doug and Tony’s in Netanya and July 18 at the Container in Jaffa – will
likely be filled with his friends and family.
“I’m really happy to show
the band around Israel and feel proud to be back here,” the prodigal son said,
adding, “I really like the smells in Israel.”
Whether electro swing
becomes the next big thing or a short-time fad, Hinkis is enjoying his part in
disseminating the joyous sound, and cautioned against accepting inferior
“I think there’s a lot of potential in this, but there’s
also a lot of low quality music being made under the electro swing banner,” he
said. “The standard of production is not so good – all you need is one of those
sound banks where you can take a bass line, a big snare sound, a sample of swing
someone else mixed 60 years ago and you have yourself a track.
it’s trendy right now so we can grab onto this label of electro swing, even
though we’re not really strictly that.
For me it’s really easy to get
sick of that style pretty quickly, so we offer so much more. And I think we’re
doing an OK job so far.”
It may only become apparent at the end of the
Dirty Honkers’ week of shows here if Israelis will subscribe to Duke Ellington’s
credo: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”
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