Tel Aviv's Monotonix channel punk’s chaos
The beautiful thing about garage rock is that it can occur wherever a garage is available, and therefore, is by no means limited to being a North American phenomenon. Indeed, carports all over the world resonate with the sounds of homemade harmony and restless creativity. United by their mutual affection for all things rock ’n’ roll, Tel Aviv’s hardcore garage rockers Monotonix have been crossing borders and breaking boundaries since their formation in late 2005. Hailing from a region that is not typically known for its rock music scene, singer Ami Shalev, guitarist Yonatan Gat and drummer Haggai Fershtman knew they were taking a gamble when they first challenged hometown audiences with their unorthodox style and presentation.
“We set up our instruments on the floor and play with the people standing around us,” explains Gat. “It’s about engaging the audience in a real way and making them a part of the experience. We try to get as much audience participation going as possible.”
The effect of the band’s classic rock awesomeness Israeli audiences accustomed to the dulcet sounds of mid-80s Mediterranean soft-rock was immediate and electrifying. Crowds partied into the night, fuelled by the in-your-face performance tactics, and booed promoters when the cops finally showed up to cut the power. Having grown too big for their britches, Monotonix found themselves banned from half the venues in their home country. Moving to New York seemed to be the next logical step for the trio, who went on to play some 300 shows in Europe and the United States over the following two years, including a tour with Silver Jews.
“We had opened for Silver Jews when they played some shows in Israel in 2006,” Gat recalls. “They took a real interest in us and asked us if we’d like to tour with them. We don’t get invited to do much in the way of support shows, and I think we really raised a few eyebrows when we performed before them. Personally, I think it was a really good combination for both bands — the contrast worked great and it made for a very interesting show. It kind of helped that nobody knew what we were about. Silver Jews have a softer light side to them and Ami and I always have a tendency to be loud and heavy. We really like to have fun and play to the edge of our technical and physical abilities.”
Getting physical with their art, the kinetically charged group of friends finally focused their collective clout long enough to produce a fiery EP for Drag City. Aptly dubbed Body Language, Monotonix’s dynamic studio debut was released this fall, officially introducing North Americans to the trio’s unapologetically over-the-top indierock sound.
“In Israel, people are very open with their emotions, especially anger and frustration. We’re very rude, we’re loud and we cut in when people are waiting in line,” Gat says with a laugh. “It’s not good or bad, it’s just different. I think that’s where the in-your-face aspect of our show comes from. We intentionally invade other people’s personal space and enter into chest hair competitions with them. I’ve had a finger shoved up my ass, I’ve been spanked, and one time I had a naked guy fall on me while I was playing. Sometimes I think we’re a little too accessible.”
by Christine Leonard
Originally published December 25, 2008 in FastForward Magazine.