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Meet Tel Aviv’s Emerging Independent Musicians

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In Tel Aviv, music is everywhere every night. And from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday you can enjoy non-stop live music: DJ sets and shows of all genres, in many languages.

While the big venues feature mainstream Israeli artists, most of the music is independent, presented in smaller clubs and bars.

Julia Garnits and Anton Dimitriev, new immigrants from Russia, are the partners of the electro-pop group Hokku ice creamwho regularly sells out concerts in Tel-Aviv.

“There are so many different styles on the market, and Israeli music has its own style of songs with lyrics. Words are very important in Hebrew. And even instrumental music is popular here. The sound and vibe are wonderful, and there are so many talented artists, so many choices, so many flavors, Garnits told ISRAEL21c.

‘Tel Aviv’s independent music scene, or ‘underground’ as it is known locally, is at a very high level. Israel is such a small country and yet there are so many talented musicians.

Julia Garnits and Anton Dimitriev of Ice Hokku Photo by Konstantin Khanis

This overabundance of great sounds means that visitors to the White City are sure to find something to their liking on its musical menu.

It also means that the supply of sublime sounds often outstrips the opportunities for artists to share their brands with audiences.

To solve this conundrum, Ice Hokku created a Spotify playlist called “Ole Hadash” (New Immigrant) for artists who are newcomers to Israel.

let’s get together

Collaborations also make it easier for independent musicians to bring their audience together. Even established musicians like to collaborate because it gives them new perspectives.

“There are a lot of communities and meetings out there that teach musicians how to get started, how to grow, and that’s really encouraging,” says Garnits.

“Like the music accelerator program Synthesizer, where we met rapper Isaac The 2nd, and we just finished a collaboration with him.”

For the duo, Synthesizer was “an incredible experience, because we met real Israeli musicians, and understood how different the scene here is from what we were used to. We also met producers and big names.

Anton Dimitriev and Julia Garnits of Ice Hokku. Photo by Ksenia Timofeeva

An artist’s rise ultimately depends on the buzz they create and their ability to grow their fan base and sell tickets.

Innovative live show concepts are emerging, such as rapper and reggae artist Rasta Hai’s recent live show Silent Disco. He performed at the famous 420 King George Street store as ticket buyers stood and danced outside with headphones on.

The international Breaking Sound franchise is another innovative way for emerging independent musicians to secure bookings.

The organization holds monthly three-hour concerts featuring up to five artists in a single evening.

awesome scene

“Awesome” is how Adina Korn, a singer and songwriter from Los Angeles who distributes her songs on television, describes the music scene in Tel Aviv. “Everyone knows everyone, and everyone is so talented.”

Talent scout Adina Korn backstage at Ozen Bar at a Breaking Sound event. Photo by Manuel Guzmankiser

Stuck in Israel on a family visit when Covid broke, Korn coincidentally became the talent scout for the Israeli branch of Breaking Sound. Since then, she has held six sold-out concerts at Ozen Bar and EPGB radio.

Bringing in crowds and selling tickets is the name of the game when it comes to advancement.

That’s why Breaking Sound has a waiting list of hundreds of talented candidates. It specializes in filling venues with an audience cap of 250, with tickets available for NIS 50 (about $15) in presale, “a price that is at the lower end of the scale for live music”, explains Korn.

“That way, fans of a particular band discover new music and new artists meet,” she explains.

Tapash performs at a Breaking Sound concert at Ozen Bar, Tel Aviv. Photo by Manuel Guzmankiser

The Barbie

Gibraltar-born Isaac Mâchec, aka Isaac The 2nd, who performed in December’s Breaking Sound showcase, said: “It gave me the chance to have four times as many people as I would have had all alone, while reducing the cost of production and marketing, and I didn’t have to secure the location.

Isaac The Second performs under Barby’s iconic chandelier, 2021. Photo by Yoram Allouche

He explains that Tel Aviv’s iconic club Barby is “the holy grail of indie artists, but also the ultimate test of the size and power of your fan base”.

Once a performer can easily fill the Barby’s 1,000 capacity, larger venues and national tours are the next step.

Natan Galili, bandleader of the folk-country music group Jacks of Diamond, defines the Barby as “Tel Aviv’s flagship indie venue, with its graffiti on the outside and its huge iconic chandelier in front of the stage”.

“It’s not difficult to perform at Barby,” says Galili. “You just rented the place; but of course the responsibility for ticket sales lies with you. My group, Jacks of Diamond, was invited to attend an event that someone else was hosting, so we didn’t have to worry about that as the place was full beforehand.

While occasionally indie artists may fill the Barby, it regularly hosts sold-out shows from household names such as Teapacks (aka Tipex)Atar Mayner, Jasmin Moallem, Shotei Hanevua, Lucille Crew and Teddy Neguse.

Avri Zaphnat (aka Avri G), founder of Pele Rekordz – and producer MC (a rapper who is also an event host) and former DJ for his Pele Ozen rap group – suggests that the legendary reputation of the Barby is partly due to its many years of existence.

“But really, today there are also other big venues no less prestigious than Barby,” he says.

Producer and MC Avri Zaphnat aka Avri G. Photo by Rom Eliaz

Avri G names other clubs with a 1,000 cap, in particular Gagarin, Reading (Hangar 11) and Zappa, as equally reputable venues. Kuli Alma is another great place, he says, but even if your show is paid for, people get in for free, so you’re not really selling tickets.

“The main thing I love about the music scene here is that it’s such a small community and such a small country – everyone knows each other. It makes things easier. If you have a good buzz, everyone will hear about you, says Avri G.

all for peace

Apart from MC Avri G, the group Pele Ozen consists of Brill Hatzil, Roison Harais and Flow Nevo (Nevo Shirazi) as well as DJ Smilez.

Members of the Pele Ozen group from left to right: Brill Hatzil, Roison Harais, Avri G. Front row: Nevo Shirazi, DJ Smilez. Photo by Eddie Botshtein

“Most of the stuff I produce in my studio goes to Pele Rekordz and that’s also the outlet for the band’s music,” says Avri G, who produces a long list of artists that includes Sebastian, Yona, Shaanan Streett and Ash.

Avri G also teaches hip-hop and rap in private and group lessons and in schools and seizes the opportunities that arise.

He says the main problem with the music scene in Tel Aviv is its geographical limitations.

“We only have this small country to do our business with, and it’s not really easy because you don’t have a lot of places to go and play. But you have so many amazing artists in Israel,” he says.

“We cannot travel by car to the countries around us at the moment. I would like that to happen. I am all for peace, peace in the Middle East, and for us to do whatever we need to do to make that happen for our children.