Gettin’ down and dirty

TA hip hop beat maker Gad Baruch Hinkis found his muse, unlikely combo of techno, swing in Berlin.

July 10, 2012 21:39
Gad Baruch Hinkis (center) and his Dirty Honkers

Dirty Honkers 370. (photo credit: Courtesy/PR)


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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.

Imagine Benny 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.

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“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 Mannant.

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 do before.”

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 borders.

“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 too high.”

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 live.

“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 substitutes.

“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.

“I’m happy 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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