With launch parties this past weekend in Los Angeles, London, New York and Jerusalem, the new Shemspeed Web portal is clearly a wide-reaching initiative. The comprehensive, daily updated site (www.shemspeed.com) sports a global events calendar, a trove of CD reviews and other readings, a digital download store, loads of hand-picked Jewish music videos and even a streaming Web radio station. Shemspeed is the latest addition to the edgy Jewish media empire of Brooklyn-based Erez Safar, 28, who heads the independent record label Modular Moods, manages New York City's annual Sephardic Music Festival and spins electro-breakbeat ethnic mashup jams at parties under the moniker DJ Handler. "The new site is the only place you could listen and get turned on to Orthodox and very unorthodox Jewish music," boasts Safar. "I want to reach the unaffiliated Jewish kids in Nebraska and Yemen," he says. "Shemspeed was a way to put everyone on one page and create a dialogue across the world." Shemspeed's Jerusalem launch event took place last Thursday at Hama'abada, where a diverse crowd of a few hundred post-army secular Israelis, post-high school North American yeshiva students, 30-something Anglo hipsters and a smattering of baby boomers streamed in from before 8 p.m into the wee hours. Chabad-aligned, Seventies-style power trio Yood rocked through a blistery set before Boston native Nosson "Niz" Zands, an MC studying for the year at the Mayanot Yeshiva, took the mic and delivered a version of what he calls "kosher hip hop." By the time Jerusalem's own Britpop-styled missFlag took the stage at around 10 p.m., the room began to feel full, the organizers seemed to relax a bit and the video crew they had hired started to get proper crowd footage. Original peacenik rapper Sagol 59 had yet to even arrive at the building, but members of the reggae-world beat redemption-themed nationalist hippie collective Aharit Hayamim were starting to shuffle in. "This show gives us the opportunity to play with bands like Funkenstein and Coolooloosh and to get exposure to their fans - plain and simple," says Israel Frenkel, the manager for Hamakor, who were on deck to play next. "You need to get out to an Israeli market when you're an Israeli band." All in all, nearly 20 acts took part in the parade - although none was paid a single agora. Launch parties for Web sites are traditionally free endeavors with start-up budgets and loads of corporate sponsors footing the bill, but Shemspeed is an entirely different animal. Here, the organizers rented the performance space and charged a respectable NIS 65 entry fee, while the performers themselves clamored to play for free as part of an overcrowded bill. The Web site's Jerusalem representative, Maaryasha Werdiger, who fronted all of the event's expenses in an arrangement more akin to a franchise license than a cultural upstart, is excited to plan even more local events - both with and without the Shemspeed brand name. "Shemspeed is really helping to raise the profile of Jewish music globally," said the Australian, who arrived in Israel just four months ago. While Safar and his various brand names have worked with many an Israeli act for events in the US over the years - including Tea Packs (who played with DJ Handler last week at Michael Dorf's Oyhoo Festival) and a spin-off band from Shotei Hanevuah (set to headline this December's Sephardic Music Festival) - not one of the performers at Thursday's event is booked to perform at any other Safar-associated events. Safar's growing media empire is clearly becoming a bit overextended, but with the buzz only growing, why slow down? "It's been crazy, since I am already swamped with Y-Love's official This is Babylon release and putting together this year's Sephardic Music Festival for Hanukka," he said. "I have good help in all the countries."

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