Four years ago, popular British indie rockers Alt-J were onstage at the Tel Exhibition Center performing before a sold-out crowd of adoring fans. Just as they began one of their better-known tunes, “Taro”, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets from Gaza toward Israel, part of over 180 rockets and mortars were launched toward Israeli civilian areas that day.
“I had no idea any of that was going on,” said the band’s keyboardist Gus Unger Hamilton, during a phone call from Hungary, this week. He and the band are in the middle of a summer European tour that will see them play major festivals and return to Israel to headline the inaugural Shuga Festival taking place at LivePark in Rishon Lezion, on August 17.
They’ll be joined by Germany’s Milky Chance and the UK’s Jungle Rap, homegrown artists J. Lamotta, Atar Mayber and Jasmine Moallem, American rapper Freddie Gibbs and electronic R&B Israeli duo Echo.
Alt-J’s return to the country coincides with the 10th anniversary of their debut album An Awesome Wave, which featured their signature tune “Breezeblocks” and the release earlier this year of their most recent album The Dream.
“It’s actually been really nice for us just to reminisce and remember what a crazy time we’ve had and how lucky we’ve been,” said Hamilton. “I feel for the first time – with four albums out – that we can really make a set that doesn’t have any low points in it, in terms of energy, we can keep on hitting people with the kinds of songs that keep the energy going.”
“I feel for the first time – with four albums out – that we can really make a set that doesn’t have any low points in it, in terms of energy, we can keep on hitting people with the kinds of songs that keep the energy going.”Gus Unger Hamilton
Hamilton formed the trio with Leeds University schoolmates Joe Newman (guitar/lead vocals) and drummer Thom Sonny Green, in 2007, and since their 2012 debut, they’ve entered the pantheon of British rock. When their 2014 album This Is All Yours was released, it immediately went to number one in the UK and encouraged sold-out shows around the world.
This summer’s tour is the first major one for the band since the COVID pandemic hit, and Hamilton isn’t sure who is happier: the fans or the band.
“The audience is really happy to be there and we’re really happy to be there,” he said. “Everybody kind of thought COVID might ruin things forever. Were just really stoked to be back on stage”
That includes the stage in Israel, despite some of the expected pushback from pro-Palestinian activists who go after any big names showing up in the country. Hamilton said that the band takes their concerns seriously but ultimately decide for themselves what to do.
“There’s always messages and communication from people urging us not to come play in Israel, and we listen to what they have to say and make our decision based on that,” Unger-Hamilton said, “We play in a lot of countries we don’t necessarily agree with everything the government does. We play in America a lot. If you start to base your decisions on where to play on whether you like the government or not, we’d be possibly left with nowhere to play.”
Headlining the Shuga Festival instead of playing on their own this time provides an added spice to the band’s return to Israel.
“Festivals are always a nice opportunity to go and discover new artists, and hopefully some Israeli artists and some local bands. I’m looking forward to it a lot,” said Hamilton.
So are the Alt-J fans around the country. Hopefully, this time the only roaring sounds will come from the stage and not the sky.
Tickets are available at https://9964.co.il/shuga.