For generations, the Middle East has become a focal point for the Western world in various ways. Americans can rarely experience current events in the media without some story explaining our intricate ties to the region. While the majority are political in nature, the music of the region is also an important aspect of the ongoing cultural exchange.
The members of modern garage punk powerhouse The Monotonix displayed intense power with their style, but their hometown of Tel Aviv, Israel did not seem receptive to the style of music from their local talent. Monotonix guitarist Yonatan Gat would cite the collective mindset in the area as a reason that they were eventually banned from virtually all music venues in not only Tel Aviv, but also the rest of their native country.
“Israel is a really intense place, for better and worst,” Gat explained prior to his show at Soul Kitchen tonight. “It’s full of conflict. People are very direct, honest and intense. Everyone is screaming and driving like lunatics. I believe that in a place like that, people are not looking for release in music the same way Americans and some Europeans do. People in Israel like to listen to sad songs on the radio. That is their release from the intensity of the streets.”
While The Monotonix might have not found the acceptance they sought from fellow Israelis, the rest of the world welcomed them with open arms. After venturing out of the Middle East, their popularity spread rapidly through countries including the U.S., Canada and Australia. The Monotonix’s reputation intensified with the release of their 2008 EP “Body Language,” followed by 2009’s “Where Were You When It Happened?” and 2011’s “Not Yet.”
The Monotonix was also featured on several split 7-inch albums. In spite of an impressive tour schedule that usually resulted in sold-out shows, The Monotonix decided to go their separate ways shortly after the release of “Not Yet.” Instead of citing “artistic differences” or behind-the-scenes personal drama, Gat said the band felt like it had “made its point.”
“It was strange because the band was growing really fast when we stopped,” he said. “It seemed unintuitive to the people working with us or to our fans, but playing bigger shows or more huge festivals would not change the fact that we felt we had said what we had to say.”
After two years of plotting his next move, Gat decided to explore the boundaries of his own talent. In October 2013, the guitarist surprised fans with the release of the single “Escorpiao.” While Gat still embodied the garage punk foundation of The Monotonix, his first single permeated with exotic overtones bearing witness to his evolution as an artist.
“Monotonix was an all-immersive experience,” he said. “Being in a band is like being the scientist and the lab rat at the same time. I needed a moment to plan the next idea. This time, it started with one person and not a group, so it’s more personal, more political. Slowly more and more people are taking part in this new way, and it’s slowly leaving my hands again.”
Gat found assistance in creating his fresh rock sound with Portuguese drummer Igor Domingues. The two bonded over their backgrounds in punk mixed with African and Middle Eastern rhythm. Gat refers to Domingues as an “inspiration for the rhythmic aspect” of his new material. Together, they created the EP “Iberian Passage,” an album called a metaphysical experience pulled from the world conscious.
“The goal is always to know yourself,” said Gat. “It’s about exploring your ideas in ways that go deeper than words. In ‘Iberian Passage’ we were fusing African and Middle Eastern drums and guitars with the energy of punk rock. It was like combining elements of where we came from and where we were. I saw it as a political album, about the music of the future having no nationality whatsoever.”
When Gat comes to Soul Kitchen, there is a possibility he will introduce the audience to tracks from his upcoming album “Director,” which is due out in March. Domingues will not be joining him on this tour, but Gat revealed that drummer Gal Lazer has been a proper replacement. Lazer has been providing “radical jazz and experimental dance beats” for the tracks on his upcoming release. Gat also recruited Brazilian bassist Sergio Sayeg, who is best known for his work with the band Garotas Suecas. Even though the album has yet to be released, Gat is already busy planning on its follow-up.
Soon, he will be traveling to Chicago to work with legendary producer Steve Albini (Pixies, Nirvana, The Stooges) and Calvin Johnson (Modest Mouse, Beck). Gat attributes this stellar work ethic to the natural flow of creation that he experiences in the studio.
“The records we are currently making are very enjoyable to make, as opposed to Monotonix who often suffered in the studio,” he said. “Monotonix built songs in a system that was kind of ordered, then the live aspect was more chaotic and really exciting. The new band is far more chaotic in the early stages when we are creating the music. We never know what is going to happen. The music is built on improvisation and raw energy. It is who we are.”
The Monotonix were well-known for physical onstage antics that matched their music. While Gat’s live shows often capture the same energy, he explained that his current performance relies more on the power of music over the performance itself.