An Israeli band with no distinct Israeli flavor is making inroads into Europe's indie scene, and it's aiming for America next.
By KARIN KLOOSTERMAN / ISRAEL 21C
Israelis are well known for the sweet Jaffa orange, but an increasingly popular Israeli group - The Apples - is a sweet treat that's better eaten up on the dance floor.
Unlike other international Israeli acts like Noa (a.k.a Achinoam Nini) or the Idan Raichel Project, which have a distinctive "Israeliness" to them, The Apples, a nine-member super group, project their sound to an underground audience that usually has no idea where The Apples come from. And that's their charm.
While they haven't yet performed in the United States, the band, which defines itself as funk with elements of jazz, is creating a sensation in the UK underground music scene. Having released a few tracks and a full album with the UK label Freestyle records (the LP Buzzin' About), The Apples have been played on mainstream UK radio stations like the BBC and on indie US radio stations from New York City to Los Angeles.
With some 50 shows performed in England, and a couple dozen more in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium, The Apples are looking to break out in America, where they have a significant number of fans.
According to the band, thousands of people been experiencing The Apples' powerful sound on dance floors worldwide, with their two popular 7" singles, 2006's "Attention!" and 2007's smash cover version of "Killing in the Name?"
The success of these singles fueled the band's sold-out visits to Britain, including the London Jazz Festival and the Jazz Cafe in Camden, while the UK newspaper The Guardian wrote: "It was an unexpected treat to catch Israeli band The Apples at the end of their storming set at Cargo. With four horns, bass, drums and turntables, their oddly effective mix of instrumental hip-hop and soul-jazz got the crowd dancing and jumping, while giving listeners plenty to latch on to."
Since forming in 2002, The Apples have released three albums. The band includes members from Tel Aviv, New York, Jerusalem and Haifa who have all been getting praise from where it counts - by top UK DJs including Annie Mac and Zane Lowe, and by getting invited to play at large clubs and festivals.
CENTERED AROUND four turntables, flanked by a sharp horn section and served up by thick double bass lines and steadfast drumbeats, "We are mainly instrumental, without lyrics, and are international without any language and affecting everyone. The music is inspired by the West and is not Eastern or Jewish," says The Apples manager Zack Bar.
Mixing funk, big-band jazz, hip-hop and klezmer, The Apples are put together by different music masters, all well established in their own right. "It's pure music and fun music which came from jazz and funk roots and developed to all sorts of influence directions," Bar tells ISRAEL21c.
Working to expose the band to the American market and audience, the band is now laying foundations in the US in order to grow. Despite "not being a mainstream kind of music" says Bar, the response around the world and from the US has been encouraging.
In terms of percentages, local Israeli youngsters are the group's biggest fans, and The Apples have seen sold-out shows, with "more than 3,000 people, something phenomenal" in Israel, says Bar, who has been managing The Apples for the past three years.
With a population of less than eight million people, and so many talented artists in Israel, few new indie bands see such success. "Israel is small and it's hard for this kind of music. We've never played on mainstream radio [in Israel] and grew up with followers and people from the street," says Bar.
It's tough to label the band under one genre. "Because the band has two DJs and no harmonic instruments like a guitar, keyboards or a front man who sings; and because of the turntables and DJs and more contemporary beats - it has a 'breaky feel' and some people tag it as electronic, although the band is organic," Bar says.
Inspired by music from the global village and playing for the global village, "we never insist on saying that we are Israeli. We are not coming [to gigs] as Israeli artists - just artists," says Bar. "It's not a secret that we are Israeli, but it's more about the music.
"We are trying to reach out to our audience without politics - where we are coming from and where we are going to," he adds.
Are other countries ready to take a bite?
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