Battlefield on the electronic dance floor

New York entertainment mogul Yoel Silber is taking on the dance music establishment in Tel Aviv with his first annual Electronic Music Festival.

Electric Festival 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Electric Festival)
Electric Festival 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of Electric Festival)
It’s not often you come across a tireless self promoter with a track record that speaks for itself. That’s part of the yin and yang that fuels Yoel Silber, a 35-year-old self-made entertainment mogul who’s channeling his boundless energy into realizing a dream – transforming Tel Aviv into one of the electronic music capitals of the world and by doing so, solving all Israel’s hasbara (public diplomacy) problems with one droning beat.
The driven mastermind behind the upcoming first Tel Aviv Electronic Music Festival on October 20 at Hangar 11 – featuring 12 hours some of the world’s top DJs, including Boris, Hex Hector, Chris Liebling and local electronic faves Astral Projection – Silber, the Bronx-raised son of Israeli parents, is pouring tons of time and effort into the project, which he boisterously claims will change the face of the country’s music scene.
He’s also putting his money where his mouth is, with oodles of funding (for mini-movie promotional videos at and multi-colored fold-out posters) garnered from his years as co-operator of The Sound Factory, one of New York City’s most influential dance clubs, and more recently the founder and CEO of the mega-successful Promtix, which provides special after-prom dance events for teens in the New York-New Jersey area.
“Every notable city and country in the world has a big electronic music event. In England there’s Queenfields, in Holland there’s Awakenings, New York has the Electric Soup Festival and Las Vegas has the Electric Daisy Carnival,” said the boyishly enthusiastic but hard-boiled, business savvy Silber.
“In Israel, you have some of the biggest electronic music artists in the world – Infected Mushroom, Astral Projection – but you don’t have much to show for it. For every Oman 17 [the landmark Tel Aviv dance club] there are there hundreds of New York venues of the same or better caliber. What I’m doing is going to be a game changer.”
Silber has been writing his own game plan ever since, as a teen entrepreneur, he joined forces with an older partner, Joseph Anthony Lodi, to build the Sound Factory into one of New York’s trend-setting clubs in the 1990s.
“It was about theater, a show, a scene, electric and fun. There were gay people and straight people, everyone together, which was kind of unique in New York at the time,” said Silber.
“People like Lady Gaga and Madonna will tell you that a lot of what they picked up and made their own derived from the New York club scene like ours.”
While learning and absorbing everything there was to know about New York nightlife, Silber discovered an untapped niche – prom night.
“Kids in New York would rent limos, drive around the city and do nothing all night. Parents had nowhere to send them and no way to know what they were doing,” said Silber.
“I saw an opportunity that nobody else was taking and started creating classy events for high school kids only at clubs and venues.”
“I was selling out venues like the 5,000-person capacity Rosebud on a Wednesday night – with no artists, no radio promotions, just credibility. I didn’t mix the teens with the general public, there was no alcohol, and parents knew that their kids were in a safe environment.”
Promtix has become a multi-million dollar business and made Silber a wealthy man, opening the doors for him to pursue other pursuits that strike his fancy – like taking on the Tel Aviv nightlife scene. It began when Silber flew to Israel in 2007 for a two-week vacation, the first time he had been in the country since a family trip when he was nine.
“There was this amazing energy in Tel Aviv that reminded me of the way things were in New York in the ‘90s,” said Silber.
“It was interesting to see people going out every night – ‘til three or four in the morning. Not just kids but adults with hi-tech jobs. I was like, ‘wow, this is something special that I don’t see anywhere else.’ I just fell in love with it and ended up staying for two months.”
THE IDEA for funneling that energy into an annual event – an electronic music festival – that would consolidate Tel Aviv’s status as a world nightlife leader was hatched and has been in incubation ever since. Silber saw the idea not only in business terms, but also in helping cultivate a new image for the country that he has identified with all his life.
“Music fans travel from all over the world to these festivals. Once a year in a certain time frame, they’ll know that Israel is the place to be, the DJs and the record labels would know it, support it, brand it and push it,” he said, adding that the specter of terrorism and unrest is an outdated mode of thinking.
“The days of Israeli minds justifying whatever shortcomings there are by saying ‘but we have terrorism’ are gone. You know, I’m sorry dude, you can go anywhere in the world and be subject to the same things Israelis experience here. But you know what the difference is? Israel is safer than any country in the world. And people in the US who I know realize this.”
“Israelis need to stop this primitive way of thinking that this is how people perceive the country, because from my experience, it’s not. People will come here to an event like this, and then it becomes a special attraction and will spur a world wide global effort to spread the word and support it.”
Crossing off one potential buzzkiller from the list, Silber then explained the advantages that Tel Aviv has compared to other electronic music capitals – primarily the weather and the entrepreneurial spirit that’s endemic in the country’s psyche.
“In New York, everything is based on weather. You can spend a quarter million dollars on producing a function, and then there’s a snowstorm,” he said.
“People kill for the weather in Israel. And the US is no longer the entrepreneurial playground it once was – Israel is. If you have a great idea, Israeli banks will support you.”
When Silber returned to the country earlier this year to lay the groundwork for the festival, he was met with opposition and apathy from many who he thought would be his greatest allies – those involved in the dance music business – who said that Silber’s grandiose New York plans would falter in Tel Aviv. But he doesn’t buy it.
“Here, you have four or five people involved in promoting dance music, claiming to be the biggest in the country. If they’re so big, how could they let someone come in and take this niche away from you? If they were as smart as they thought they were, they would have already done this,” he said.
Who is right will be determined only on October 21 when the strobe lights are turned off and the spilt beer is mopped from the dance floor at Hangar 11. But even if the Electronic Music Festival, under the auspices of his King Jew Enterprises, doesn’t draw the numbers that Silber is confident it will, it won’t lessen his determination to carry on with another event next year, and keep increasing it in size until it fills a stadium.
“The reaction has been amazing. Our flyer alone is something that most people here have never seen,” said Silber.
“I’m not cheap and my brand is not cheap. I’m going to spend $10,000 on printing a multi-color foldout flyer because I’m crazy, but stuff like that is the difference between A and B. I want to be A. I didn’t come here to do what everybody else does. I came here to do what has never been done before.”
If Silber’s walk is as good as his talk, then we’ll be witnessing an annual electronic music festival for years to come.