The beats joined 'em: Meet Polar Pair
Music duo Polar Pair are an unlikely couple - one was a boundary-breaking club DJ with a show on Army Radio when the other still had military service ahead of him. Many years later, the pair has released an album.
Nadav Ravid has learned to be more efficient. "When I make music, I try to finish fragments faster than I did in the past, and to divide my time correctly," says the DJ and musician. It seems that the birth of his son, a year and a half ago, hasn't hampered his productivity. Last month Ravid, together with Malkiel Grossman, his partner in the genre-breaking Polar Pair group, released a new album.
Along with a number of other musicians and DJs, Ravid works as a presenter for the Internet radio station KZRadio, which hit the airwaves at the start of the year. One of them is Quami, with whom Ravid collaborated on a show called "Hakatze," which was broadcast on Army Radio for 13 years, before the plug was pulled in January. Ravid also lectures on the fundamentals of radio broadcasting at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. Between these roles, he composes and produces music, and manages the record label Botanika.
"I've had 'Hakatze' with Quami since 1999," he says, "and Botanika with [Amir] Egozy since 2004, and I've been making music with Malkiel on and off since 1993. My connection with him is the longest I've had."
You've forgotten to mention NDV.
Ravid: "Under the name NDV I release my own works - mostly things I've worked on alone. Sometimes they are less suited to Polar Pair."
Malkiel Grossman, 45, is a veteran radio professional, and one of the first DJs to bring techno, acid and house music to Israel during the 1990s. He became a popular remixer and producer, and also presenter of the "Dance Party" radio program, on which he exposed Israeli listeners to a range of electronic music.
In Ravid's eyes, Grossman is a kind of guru. When Ravid was a Jerusalem youth waiting for his army service to begin, Grossman had already been a "superstar DJ" in Jerusalem - in Ravid's words - and was also a well-known figure on the Tel Aviv nightlife scene. Grossman, recalls Ravid, "began to record at the end of the the 1980s, when I was in high school and, in my eyes, he was authoritative at the time." Ravid started to create original music before his Israel Defense Forces induction, "with a synthesizer and a drum machine and a recording system at my parents' house."
Ravid's work with Army Radio during his military service was a source of satisfaction which, he says, gave him self-confidence and opened up doors. But on the other hand, it also put a stop to this process of original music composition. "I was exposed to all sorts of awful music at the Army Radio station," he says. "In order to make music in 1991, there was a need to invest a lot of money, and the vast majority of the work was really crappy music. I asked myself what causes people to go out and waste all their savings to pursue their dreams in this way. In contrast to them, I didn't have anything or anybody to tell me that what I was doing was good. That caused a kind of crisis."
Ravid met the well-known DJ Grossman during Ravid's military service on Army Radio. After he returned, slowly, to creating music, Ravid played Grossman a fragment he had written, and got positive feedback, and the two started to work together as a duo. After one year, in 1994, they flew together to London for three years. "That was an incredible time to be in London. I went to a huge number of concerts, and the most inspiring things were drum 'n' bass and trip-hop, which were just starting to emerge then. I discovered the whole club scene on this trip."
Collaboration from afar
Four years ago, Ravid released "Shirbul" - a remix collection featuring Israeli music that he loves, including reworked versions of songs by pop musician Emil Karpel and the group Yuppies with Jeeps. And, amid his flurry of other activity, day-to-day he earns a living working for a high-tech company that deals with musical start-ups.
The new eponymous Polar Pair album features singers from Israel and overseas. These include Talia Klein from the group 1, 2 Many, and Josef Laimon from the band Umlala. Also, American singer and multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lee appears on one track, as does Cornelius "Atlantis" Harris, manager of Underground Resistance - a respected techno-rock label from Detroit. "The concept is completely unlike 'Shirbul,'" says Ravid of the new album. "Here, the tracks are our own originals, and we wrote most of the lyrics."
Why only "most" of the lyrics?
"When you manage to work out the lyrics and music, that gives a deep feeling of satisfaction, but that didn't happen with all the tracks on the album. Sometimes we have some beat, some melodic line, and we can sit down and listen to it on a loop for hours - we try to develop it without any success, until somebody from the outside brings in something you would never have thought of, and sometimes that's great."
Did you write the songs to be consciously part of a certain genre, for a particular instrumentalist to play?
In most cases, first came the lyrics and music. We designated instrumentalists only after the lyrics and music were written. When we add elements to a song, the sort of genre to which it might belong becomes clear, and then we always try break away from this direction, and choose some instrumental role that will take things in another direction. The whole idea is to bring about some sort of twist." As an example, Ravid mentions that on the new album, the duo gave female singers lyrics that wouldn't have seem suited to them, on a first listening. "Sometimes when a singer is out of his comfort zone, interesting things can happen."
How did you reach the overseas artists who appear on the album - for instance Shawn Lee?
"Every social network has a short period of time during which it remains legitimate and cool to reach out to people. So we asked him on My Space." To supplement this simple explanation, Ravid adds, "We sent him the lyrics, with a few words of explanation. He changed the words a little, and added some harmonies. We didn't tell him that [the changes] meant that the track would have to be rerecorded - we rolled with it."
You worked with the Israeli artists face-to-face whereas you had to correspond with the overseas singers from afar. What's the main difference between the two approaches?
When you correspond, you receive a prepared fragment, and there isn't much leverage to edit the track - you simply superimpose the prepared bit on the track. What's difficult here is that you have less control over the final product. In contrast, when you work with an artist in a studio, there's the possibility of doing things anew, to direct the work in the direction determined by certain intuitions, and to try different things."
Did you choose the name Polar Pair because you bring different musical polar extremes to your work?
"Yes, that was the idea at one stage," says Ravid. "In the past, we were even more different from one another. Today, our musical tastes are more similar. Once, Malkiel would bring more of a disco-house emphasis - one that I couldn't connect with at al. Today, I very much connect with such things."
You released a Polar Pair album called "Cresh" 10 years ago.
"Yes, then came a pause in our work. The work rejuvenated around 2008 and became more intensive, and we released two singles on Botanika. Since then, we've set a schedule of meeting once a week to work, no matter what. We set aside intense days of creative work together, and after a certain period of time we had accumulated a lot of material and decided to assemble it all as an album."
Why are you presenting the new album, really the second one by Polar Pair, as a debut?
"Ah, after 10 years, there's a statute of limitations," Ravid says, smiling. "At the time, we were content [with 'Cresh'], but today we can't listen to it."
How old are the tracks on the new album?
"We started to work on some of them eight or nine years ago. You know, just the idea of them, the preliminary beat."
Music in a bubble
Doesn't your awareness of what is going on all the time in the music world compromise your work as a creative artist?
"A lot of our tracks stand alone in a kind of bubble and don't belong to any particular scenes. So they sound good to us after a number of years. They don't belong to any specific sort of trend that has already passed by. One thing I learned to do is not to try to complicate a musical direction. That is, when you work on a beat and something sounds good, you should go for it. You shouldn't try to screw around with it and force it into something that sounds more complicated and sophisticated. That isn't always necessary."
Recently, Polar Pair's music has been played on the "Solid Style" radio program and on the BBC Radio 6 Music program hosted by Don Letts - the man who connected legendary punk band The Clash with reggae music. "I met Letts one time at the Big Chill music festival in England," Ravid recalls. "I summoned up some courage and went up to him and presented some of our tracks. To my surprise, he played them after a few weeks."
That festival focuses on electronic music - so I assume you've been to it more than once.
"I've been to it six or seven times. But that's it - it's over with us."
As someone who has seen a number of nightclubs, do you recall some special parties?
"The first party with [Philadelphia-based DJ] Diplo at the Caliph club [in Jaffa] was amazing. I DJed it with Egozy."
Referring to success overseas, or the possibility of Polar Pair's signing a deal with an international record company, Ravid says, "We don't live overseas, and so it's very hard to communicate with the industry over there. We also don't perform live, and today labels don't sign groups on the basis of demos they receive. Today, given the situation in the music market, there's a very high bar to get over, before anyone gives you money."
Are you saying you need to get a reputation through live performances, rather than by distributing recorded materials?
"Yes. Or you have to have a certain amount of 'Likes' [on Facebook] or have created a buzz on the Internet."
Polar Pair only appeared in concert twice - at the Sofabeat club in Tel Aviv, which was owned by Grossman, and they don't have plans to play live concerts in the future. "Malkiel has retired from all such things," Ravid says. "He doesn't want to give interviews and stand on a stage. All he wants to do is make music - and he doesn't care if it's a massive hit or not."
The fact that Grossman stays out of the limelight means there's no reason to expect a star-studded album launch performance?
"Maybe there'll be a launch, we're working on that. But it could very well happen that this would be without Malkiel."
Grossman, who didn't consent to take part in this interview, stated: "I very much love making music, but I don't love everything that accompanies it - everything that happens when the music leaves the studio. I live my life happily, and have no interest in any sort of act of media exposure. Neither in concerts, interviews nor photographs. That's my choice and I'm happy it is respected."