What can I say? Lana Del Rey was my personal highlight and the main reason I decided to travel to the Meteor Festival in the Upper Galilee this coming weeked. I was willing to sleep face down in a puddle of leptospirosis water, and all for Lana!
Let me qualify that immediately by saying I didn’t think the pre-Lana lineup was bad. True, you’ll hear voices here and there saying that there’s something too safe and clean about the festival, that it’s too much like some European festivals that lack the passion to set an agenda. But most people will agree: this is the first international festival in the history of the Syrian-African Rift that can be considered contemporary, and for that we all salute the organizers. It’s simply not to my taste for the most part, and to drag me to a festival at my advanced age there have to be a few names that hit the target dead on. (Avi Pitchon)
Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble
The only reason I hadn’t planned to go to the festival, even though Laeitia Sadier is taking part in it, is that I’d already seen her in concert, as the vocalist of Stereolab, one of the most important and best bands of the end of the 20th century. They specialized in an unparalleled fusion between sweet bubble-gum psychedelia laden with vintage keyboards, avant-garde repetetiveness in the best krautrock tradition, lounge music that demonstrates the wonders of Sixties stereo innovation and texts that read like Marxist manifestos in Godard movies.
Sadier’s current group does more or less the same thing, only more leisurely and with less emphasis on the retro. Yes, if it had been Stereolab I would have already applied to become a member of Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan in the hope of getting a backstage pass, and everyone who’s delighted that Sadier’s coming knows that. The performance of her Source Ensemble will be at worst pleasurable and magical, and at best sweeping and trans-galactic. (Avi Pitchon)
It’s a bit too easy, because Battles barely has any competition in the festival on the freak-out electro-rock front. They’re a sort of super-group that includes the founder, guitarist Ian Williams, previously in the instrumental math rock band Don Caballero; and the drummer John Stanier, previously in Helmet, Tomahawk and The Mark of Cain. There’s something very New York-hipster-like in Battles’ eclecticism, maybe overtly so; most of the time the group sounds like The Residents if they were a goodtime entertainment troupe in Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel.” That, like a great many experimental efforts from the past decade – is simultaneously exciting and tedious.
They also collaborated excitingly with Gary Numan just when it became quite safe and cool to do that. Yet after all misgivings, there’s no denying that this is a band whose cleverness contains volatile potential in a good way within the context of a live gig. (Avi Pitchon)
The first local representative on our list is a band that’s still in the process of formation, caught up in intriguing tension between two extremities. On the one hand, or so it appears at least, they know how to speak in the right language, at the level of sound, presentation, aesthetics and the general ability to create an atmosphere of “the right thing” (a despicable but door-opening term) around them. At the same time, when one listens to their only album, there’s charm in the vocalist’s locally accented English and in the way she’s still searching for her distinctive position.
Sometimes the start of one sentence in a song sounds like a heap of influences, then ends like none of them. In other words, when she’s there she doesn’t yet know it and you want to shout to her, “That’s it! Right there!”. There’s something puppy-like about it, and it’s sweet and stressful, brave and vulnerable. The alternative rock that surrounds her shifts between emo in the Nineties American vein, soft indie shoegazing and a dash of gothic garage. After the festival they should contact the band Afor Gashum and perform with them. (Avi Pitchon)
While we’re waiting for Zohar Shafir, aka Nico Teen, to issue a debut album with her band version, it’ll be fun to see them against the backdrop of Upper Galilee after they’ve already been seen against every backdrop possible – from Barbie in Tel Aviv to a shopping center in Kiryat Tivon.
In the solo version (which already exists on an album), Shafir was ahead of quite a few singer-songwriters who combine lo-fi electronica with melancholy-yet-catchy Eighties melodies; her band version is a mystical retro-rock monster, which exists on the continuum between doom metal and occult rock, and emotional cheesiness that’s expressed, among other ways, in the form of surprising covers (for Scorpions, for example). In the center remains Shafir’s paint-stripping voice and her stage persona, which just keeps growing. (Avi Pitchon)
Meteor Festival’s lineup abounds with male rappers, including some prominent names in American hip hop (Pusha T, A$AP Ferg). But the terrific English rapper Little Simz might steal the show from the men. Kendrick Lamar wasn’t overstating the case a few years back when he said that she “might be the illest doing it right now.” At the age of 25, Little Simz, whose parents immigrated to London from Nigeria (her real name is Simbiatu “Simbi” Ajikawo), has already released four mixtapes, seven EPs and two full-length albums.
Her songs feature production with a sharp edge, cutting, biting rap and a sort of psychedelic bruise. All that was very much present in her last album, “Stillness in Wonderland,” which in an original way entered the rabbit hole of “Alice in Wonderland.” “This is toxic, I know,” Little Simz sings on one of the tracks. Her performance at the festival might well be toxic, in the best sense of the word. (Ben Shalev)
It’s been almost 11 years since Faust last appeared in Israel (at the Levontin 7 Club in Tel Aviv), but the impression left by that performance hasn’t faded – it’s remembered as an awesome, one-time-only show. Violence and gentleness, madness and control, seriousness and humor, guitar volleys alongside electronic chirps, pure noise juxtaposed to beautiful songs – all those elements collided with one another, sent sparks flying and showed why Faust, which was the avant-garde marker of the krautrock stream, influenced music in so many disciplines – from noise to dance, from punk to ambient.
And while we’re on the subject of sparks, how can anyone forget the drummer Werner “Zappi” Diermaier wielding a jackhammer and a metal-slicing machine on stage? There was a whole thing there with construction workers’ equipment. If the members of Faust, which last year released the album “Fresh Air,” are in fine fettle this time, too, it’ll be one of the best gigs of Meteor. (Ben Shalev)
Ahamed is one of the giants in Ethiopian music of the past 50 years, a huge symbol in his homeland and wherever an Ethiopian community exists. At 77, his voice is astonishingly well preserved, and so are his energies.
His performances project authority of the best kind imaginable: soft, sharing and unifying. That was the atmosphere in both of Ahamed’s uplifting shows in Israel in recent years, at which the audience comprised mainly people of Ethiopian origin, There’s no reason why the gig at Meteor, with a crowd of a different profile, should be any different. (Ben Shalev)
Ata Kak is the pseudonym of a Ghanaian musician who in the 1990s, when he was living in Canada, recorded at his home, alone, using meager means, an album in which Ghanaian highlife music intersected with Western pop and electronic music. The music he created – which sounds like house made by someone who’s never heard of the genre – was available only in Ghana, and was forgotten. A few years later, when the American music collector Brian Shimkovitz visited Ghana, he bought the tape, fell in love with the music and spent several years searching for the person who recorded it.
After locating Ata Kak (who had recorded music after that tape and then forgotten about it), Shimkovitz issued the music on his label, Awesome Tapes from Africa. From there the path to festivals like Meteor, which are looking for surprising and interesting sounds, was short. (Ben Shalev)
Meteor Festival will host two architects of the jazz renaissance – in the broad sense – in recent years. The saxophonist Kamasi Washington will present the more traditional side, which continues hard bop and black spiritual jazz with a contemporary sound; Flying Lotus will offer the more electronic-experimental side.
The music of Flying Lotus, nephew of the pianist Alice Coltrane, moves between over-pretentiousness in its inferior moments, and adventurousness rife with momentum and inspiration in its fine moments. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of evening grabs him in Meteor. (Ben Shalev)
Meteor Festival, Sept. 6-8, Pecan Park, Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan, Upper Galilee.