INTERVIEW

If Monotonix’s debut album failed to excite as much as you’d hoped, their live show definitely doesn’t disappoint

Photography by Owen Richards

If Monotonix’s debut album failed to excite as much as you’d hoped, their live show definitely doesn’t disappoint

‘Where Were You When It Happened?’ – the debut album from Israeli trio Monotonix – is a good-but-not-great record. If you believe our last issue, it’s a 6. Heavy on bluesy distortion and so light on low end it’s void of any bass, it sounds something like an unhinged Black Keys angling for Led Zeppelin and hitting Pearl Jam – all cock-extending riffs and fuzzy vocals. It’s a solid listen; far from a shameful first go but also a stretch from anyone’s rock album of the year. Live though, Ami [vocals], Yonatan [guitar] and Haggai [drums] offer the punk show of your life – Lightning Bolt by way of semi-naked My Name Is Earls; the funk of Rage Against The Machine without the righteous politics; a hairy, sweaty master class in performer/audience relations; the most entertaining thing we’ve seen since ever. We know this because we’ve watched Ami’s bum cheeks clamp some poor voyeur’s face, Haggai chase his drum kit around the room whilst his singer pours Guinness, beer and all other fluids in reach on his head, and the whole band perform above us and under our arms. Their Islington Garage gig was wild.
“It wasn’t too wild to tell you the truth,” says Ami, a man whose eyes bulge out of his face like a pantomimic WF wrestler “not compared to Leeds. It was really crowded there – you couldn’t move. People got wild, but not wild in a violent way, it’s wild because people dance and get free.”

Remember that – Ami’s trainer sole in your cheek is not violence; it’s getting free. Him snatching your pint isn’t bullying either, it’s just part of the show, and Monotonix shows are all about letting yourself go. Watching from afar, safe at the back of a soon-to-be-slippery venue is not an option, because before two sleazy tracks are over you’ll be at the front, and not because you’ve been unwillingly bumped forward by those around you.
At the Garage’s not-so-wild [pfft] tour stop, the band positioned their drums and guitar amp on the floor just in front of the stage and skulked around their setup in short shorts and little else. The eager sweat glands and handlebar moustaches added to the menace and tension. Still, we wanted to see if ‘Where Were You‚”‘ really could sound as unprocessed as we’d heard it does when played live, so the front was for us.

Before singing a word, Ami then finds the bar, mounts it and jumps feet first into the crowd. Held aloft, he trudges overhead like a bloodthirsty Viking wading in mud, back to his starting point. Pint 1 over Haggai, who will later display the ability to continue drumming with his front man’s face in his lap and balls on his shoulder (simultaneously), this is how Monotonix say hello. And then the room explodes. Instantly. There’s no warm up or gentle bobbing to a song or two; The Garage is suddenly a scene of complete chaos.

The front row becomes the back as the band soon drag their kit to the other end of the room (followed by the centre of the bar, the merch stall, and every other square metre of the venue to prove there really is no such thing as a safe corner to simply watch Monotonix from); Ami repeatedly hoists himself in the air, knocks over peoples’ drinks and – most worryingly of all – wipes his mooning arse with the microphone before continuing to bark inaudible lyrics. Maybe those rumours about being banned from all of the venues in their hometown of Tel Aviv are true.

“Yes, it’s true,” confirms Ami “because people are kind of conservative about live shows and rock’n’roll. When we started to play, 80 percent of our shows were ended by the police or the owner of the venue saying we’ve trashed his place. We don’t really play right now, back home. And it’s fine by me – I’m not angry about it or at anybody. We should play everywhere that fits to this [music], not places that don’t.”

A proud Israeli, Ami is also something of an anglophile, and a man far more calm and respectful than his band’s live shows suggest. He performs as if high on something way more synthetic than life alone, and yet he doesn’t even drink, especially before a gig. Right now he’s listening to little more than ‘Odessey and Oracle’ by The Zombies, and when he’s not talking about rock’n’roll, he’s enthusing about football. It’s no wonder his band spend most of their time away from Tel Aviv, touring Monotonix through lands that welcome their tastes.

“The UK tour was really great this time,” he smiles. “We get the feeling that people in the UK really, really get into rock’n’roll. UK/rock’n’roll, it’s basically the same thing. It’s really different from Israel; rock’n’roll is not really in the culture. There’s a lot of people that like to go to shows but not like in the UK or US; people didn’t grow up on this kind of music. In the UK, our drummer went to a bar and he told me that he was sitting with people who were around 50 and they listened to The Rolling Stones and Black Sabbath; you can’t even dream of people listening to this kind of music. But these are your bands. This is your music.”

‘Where Were You When it Happened?’ (named so because “it’s a universal phrase‚” and has lots of Ws”) was recorded in New Orleans and Ami admits that capturing the band’s live energy on record is always at the forefront of their minds.

He ponders: “This is the one million dollar question for us – how to get the live energy into the record. We started writing the songs in the breaks between tours and then we took two months in New Orleans, got into the studio and played like we play a show. No overdubs, just played like the live show. BUT, if you play so free and so loose like a live show, when you listen to it on your stereo it sounds too sloppy. We call it the golden line, between this and this. I hope that we’ve done it this time.”

And if people think you haven’t? If Monotonix are still considered a live band over a studio band?

“We’re doing our best in live shows, we’re doing our best in the studio, and I think it’s tied together. If people buy our record because of the live show, fine. If they come and see a show because they like our record, that’s fine too. I don’t mind if people only want to come and see us and drink and dance or whatever.”

Equally as optimistic, Ami has no desire to protest how worthy his lyrics are either – “They’re simple,” he says “it’s not politics, it’s not poetry, it’s only rock’n’roll.” – which is something of a relief considering how difficult they are to decipher when he’s sat on a spare drum stool, 10 feet in the air.

But what happens when climbing onto bars requires a Stannah stair lift? Or when falling out of a dustbin and breaking your shoulders means you can’t finish a show, regardless (true story)?

“I wanna work on a sports channel,” says Ami, excitedly. “There’s a really great show that’s on during the UEFA Champions League, and I wanna be in the studio and be one of the wise guys that makes jokes, because I really love soccer. It’s my favourite channel on TV, always the sport. The soccer in Israel really sucks, but it’s okay, it’s ours.”

I want to tell Ami that I don’t think Alan Hanson got his pundit job for his ability to make jokes, but it can wait. Monotonix still have plenty of venues to go wild in yet. And for the record, when it happened we were there, with a shoe in our face and a pint on our head, realising that all rock shows should be as fun as Monotonix’s.

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Originally published in issue 10 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. September 2009

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