Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

A Rich Media Day

I'm in Seattle for the Experience Music Project's annual Pop Conference. My presentation, which centers on the record Sesame Street Fever and considers the role it played, together with the television show, in the musical and political education of my generation on multicultural matters, will be tomorrow at 2pm in the Learning Lounge at the museum. This morning, at 11am Pacific Daylight Time, I will be on the air, briefly, at KEXP talking about the conference and my topic. The day also promises a meeting with my friend Rich, the former manager of Sub Pop and co-owner of Up Records, the label that gave us Modest Mouse.

It also happens that today also marks the publication of my latest piece for Zeek, where I will be serving more vigorously as Music Editor in the months to come. It's an in-depth review of the Israeli band Monotonix's show last month at Tucson's Club Congress. I wrote it in the immediate wake of the concert, but Zeek's busy Pesach-related schedule delayed its appearance until now. I'm pretty happy with it, all in all. It even shows the first glimmers of the rich media approach I hope to to be taking in my work over the months to come:
“L'chai-im!,” the boozy voices blare, “L'chai-im!” The surging mass is a sea of open mouths and raised arms. But the solidarity is overwhelmingly cheerful. Even those who came reluctantly or in a mood to judge have succumbed. No matter how frantic things get, this is a crowd tuned to a non-violent pitch. The irony of the situation is that so many young, hip people keen to avoid ridicule have abandoned their impulse to find irony in the situation. The chanting, in other words, is sincere.

Since this scene took place, not in some quaintly progressive summer camp where Theodore Bikel songs fill the air, but a dark concert venue whose patrons are usually more interested in pairing off than achieving unity through music, this behavior is remarkable. Once again, Tel Aviv band Monotonix has pulled off its special brand of performance art, making something whole out of a crowd that had seemed hopelessly fragmented.

Given the difficulty that Israel has been having at getting any good publicity in the world, Monotonix’s achievement might seem like grounds for a commendation or, at the very least, a fat government subsidy. For a demographic that encompasses young Americans who love alternative music – and those who pretend to love it, in the hopes of becoming a “Friend With Benefits” – the long and frizzy-haired threesome of guitarist Yonatan Gat, drummer Haggai Fershtman and front man Ami Shalev is doing more to inspire goodwill towards their homeland than heavy-handed propaganda ever could.

The same might be said for Bar Refaeli , the Israeli model who recently graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue. But whereas Refaeli’s elaborately preened loveliness informs Americans that Israel can be a place for musing on the body as well as body armor, Monotonix conveys a more complex message. Their performances also celebrate the body, surely, but in a less goal-directed sense. They urge us to rethink the standard usage of the word “concert,” since the crowd is as much a part of the show as the musicians who lead it. Everyone, in a sense, is working in concert, their bodies fused together by the desire to move as one .

While there is nothing overtly political in Monotonix’s art, they remind us that Israel wasn’t only created by the conservatives who currently steer its foreign and domestic policy. Their shows feel like a slice of life on a progressive kibbutz, where individual differences dissolve in the recognition of common purpose. Israel’s strong heritage of a leftism committed to decentralization and the do-it-yourself ethos has largely vanished from public view in the past few decades. But vestiges of it can still be discerned in the country’s libidinal life, where transgression can still be conceived of as a goal instead of a pitfall. Perhaps Monotonix’s greatest achievement has been to reactivate this attitude and present it in a form that holds appeal to young people in the United States and Europe. They might not be the sort of cultural ambassadors that government bureaucrats approve, but that’s precisely why they are right for the job.
That's how my review begins. As it progresses, I take a step back from the good feelings generated by the band's approach to second guess its cultural and political efficacy. And I also manage to give my ritual nod to "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Let me know what you think, whether about the piece, the KEXP bit, or, if you're in Seattle and can attend, tomorrow's presentation. Over and out.
Tags: clips, music, travel

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