The south Tel Aviv club Lima Lima held Israel's first CDR Special meet on September 19. About 30 of Israel's up-and-coming DJs and electronic music makers came to the hip backyard summer patio to glean the secrets of breaking into the local and world electronic music scene.
Guests of the evening were UK beat makers DJs Tony Nwachukwu (NEPA Recordings) and Gavin Alexander (Call 'n' Response), who have kick-started a new community-based forum designed to get DJs out of their bedrooms and basement studios and onto the dance floor.
Their goal was to inspire and bring together Israeli electronic music makers and DJs. It would be "a night of ideas and tracks in the making," proclaimed the British Council, which sponsored the Tel Aviv visit by Nwachukwu and Alexander from the London-based production company burntprogress.
"The British Council in Israel tries to work with the successor generation - people who can affect people and explore an intercultural dialogue," a spokesman explained.
As part of their own cross-cultural work bringing beats and people together, Nwachukwu and Alexander travel around the globe, where they share electronic samples and mixes - sometimes their own, sometimes by DJs they meet along the way. With today's proliferation of music recording software, such as the easy-to-use Mac-based Garageband program or the more sophisticated tools of Logic or QBase, practically anyone can make electronic music.
The meet began with an introduction by both Nwachukwu and Alexander. Afterwards, a microphone was passed around for Israeli DJs to introduce themselves and talk about creating music in Israel.
Sipping on cold beer and bottled water, an uncharacteristically patient several dozen-strong Israeli audience listened to Nwachukwu, a music producer for 15 years, describe how he started working with DJs around the world. One night four years ago, Nwachukwu said, he found himself playing unreleased tracks and works in progress with a group of other DJs. Like them, he would usually prepare the music he wanted to play the night before. "This time, it was just about playing music," he recalled.
Lack of viable income and a limited audience were the most common complaints shared by the Israelis during the round table session. Judging from a show of hands, only one Israeli DJ said he was making a living out of making music - about 60 percent of his income - and most of that money wasn't being generated from his own talent but through producing other people's CDs.
Do you feel like you are in a cocoon? Is your location your location? Are you trying to get signed to an international label? How do you see yourself getting your music out there? These were some of the questions posed by Nwachukwu and Alexander as they took their talk beyond the planned closing time of 8 p.m.
"It's important not to be judgmental when listening to music. Embrace different cultures," advised Nwachukwu. "It could be a track of an Ethiopian singer in Israel serving as backup to a singer in Paris. See where it goes. It doesn't have to be about selling records."
Nadav Ravid of Botanika - a collaboration between local DJs, producers and designers - is one of the better-known DJs in Israel. Growing up in a hostile environment shaped Ravid's world, states his Web site's biography. "Jerusalem of the early Eighties was not a tolerant place to grow up in for an electronic music fan," he writes. "Surrounded by Rod Steward and Beatles zealots, [I] was forced to rely heavily on few radio programs and record stores. This was how I was first exposed to Yazoo, New Order, Grand Master Flash, Talk Talk and many other acts that were pushing the envelope of pop music of that time."
Ravid's interest in electronic music was sparked when he received a synthesizer for his bar-mitzva some 20 years ago. He asked the British guests if they thought an electronic music scene could work in Israel. "The community for this kind of music is small - I think the entire community is actually here tonight," he said.
In an interview earlier this year on an online forum, Ravid maintained that over the past few years the Israeli independent music scene has begun to mature. "There are many Israeli electronic musicians who have crafted their skills on a par with the rest of the world, and sometimes ahead of the pack," he wrote, pointing out Israel's top DJs Guy Gerber, Yoav B, Miss Fitz and Polar Pair.
And although he never liked the music, Israeli trance proved a decade ago that Israeli music can cross borders, he added.
The earliest electronic music scene in Israel could be found blooming by the mid-90s at the Dynamo Dvash club in Tel Aviv's Florentine neighborhood that attracted DJs from abroad. Today, says Ravid, the scene is still centered in Tel Aviv, but a small one is evolving in Jerusalem.
"It's a blessing for me that you have come here tonight to support us," declared DJ Idan K, a musician of 16 years. A round of applause followed his words. "Here we are fighting for our humous."
Neta and Jonathan, a DJ duo who work with Arab and Jewish youth in Jaffa, talked about the city within which they create. "Jaffa is an axis of clashes - there are Arab-Jewish clashes and Russian-foreign worker clashes. In my work, we met a lot of them through personal experiences," said Neta.
The duo dreams about building an electronic music program for Jaffa youth as part of a citywide arts program. This idea excited two other Jaffa-based DJs, Uri Pessach and Israeli-Arab Abed El Salaam Abu-Foul. Pessach and Abu-Foul, who comprise the Avrahim band, believe that music can make peace where armies and politicians have failed.
"We are glad to hear about this project, and it's a shame we can't do it for ourselves," said Pessach. "We need DJs and producers from London to help us listen to each other's music."
Avrahim's music is sampled from old Oum Kulthum songs and traditional Yemenite tunes mixed with drum-and-bass beats. "There are problems in the Israeli market," continued Pessach. "It is small and tight, unlike Europe or America where, if you have a band, you can perform in 50 countries. Here we are surrounded by Arab countries where we cannot perform."
Abu-Foul responded optimistically. "We hope it will be good. We are enjoying our music and we will make more."
In another part of the conversation, one DJ piped up, "We have no union, no budget. We are thinking about bombs and are having a hard time making money."
Tali, a singer and bar owner in Tel Aviv, commented, "I think that's the [creative] fuel - that we don't have money."
Keeping the talk on track, Nwachukwu stepped in. "I believe we need a revolution. Today everyone knows what organic [food] means. We have to develop ways to help people embrace hybrids, creativity and music for an age where marketing is everything."
A DJ sitting in the back echoed, "Yeah, we need a revolution."
Later, Nwachukwu and Alexander accompanied the DJs to the Barzilay club, where everyone would share their tracks, both complete ones and works in progress. Unknown electronic artists from other parts of the world were also showcased.
"Think of it as a speed dating date," chuckled Nwachukwu. "The idea is to get to know each other. We want to get an electronic perspective."