Why DJs From Around the World Are Suddenly Flocking to Israel

After over a year of restrictions, DJs from all over the world are flocking to perform for eager Israeli audiences. Producers celebrate the scene's revival, but strict coronavirus policies lead to clashes with an audience that espouses freedom

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Dixon & Ame, who performed in Ramat Gan last month.
Dixon & Ame, who performed in Ramat Gan last month.Credit: Matt Cowan / Getty Images for Co
Nitzan Pincu
Nitzan Pincu
Nitzan Pincu
Nitzan Pincu

Canadian DJ Spacey Koala is excited to be back at the turn tables, playing for Israeli audiences, after a year without night clubs or parties. “My favorite moment at a party is when my inner animal emerges, when I see how this music gives people a spiritual high.”

Koala, aka Francois Clavet, specializes in psychedelic trance, and played at last weekend’s Desert Bass festival in the Arava desert. He’s one of the many international DJs landing in Israel in recent weeks for a flurry of activity that spans the broad range of styles between house and trance, and transcends the narrow boundaries of the Tel Aviv party scene.

Along with Midburn – the Israeli version of the Burning Man festival, and one of the most important events for electronic music lovers in Israel – October saw a slew of events: Mind Against and Dixon & Ame performed at the Yarkon National Park in Ramat Gan, Boris Brejcha staged Live Park in Rishon Letzion, Marcus Worgull came to the Forum club in Be’er Sheva and Roman Flugel deejayed at The Block in Tel Aviv.

The airlift is ongoing: On Thursday two international duos will be coming to the Forum: the Italian duo Mathame and the Mexican duo Øostil. Romanian DJ Herck will visit Israel again to play at The Block on Friday, November 12. French duo Polo & Pan will be coming for two performances at Havat Shalem, on November 12 and 13.

Party-goers at the Desert Bass Festival in 2019.Credit: Gal Or / One Heart Creation

German DJ Boris (Dolinski) says electronic music is flourishing because of its profound ability to bring people together. Heis a regular musical guest at The Block, where he performed last weekend, like many of his colleagues. He was glad to be back in the DJ’s natural environment, on the dance floor, after a year stuck at home during lockdowns.

“The thing that I missed most is when people understand what I’m trying to express with my music,” he says. “I recorded sets during the pandemic, but it’s not the same. The camera doesn’t give feedback, but people do.”

The Israeli audience has an enthusiastic love of beats and is open to innovation, which is perhaps why DJs from all over the world flock to Israel. “The culture of electronic music as entertainment was widely developed here even before it ever caught on in the mainstream,” says Elad Kord, one of the producers of Desert Bass, the manager of a Facebook community dedicated to electronic culture – and himself a DJ.

“There were already raves in Tel Aviv by the 1980s, and in the 1990s the Love Parade festival took off. It stemmed from the Israelis’ need or ability to open up. Electronic culture existed even before the culture of fine liquor or foodies. There’s openness in the Israeli public, a sense of acceptance,” Kord says.

DJ Spacey Koala performing at Desert Bass.Credit: Gal Or / One Heart Creation

“Acceptance” is a word that cropped up repeatedly in all the interviews for this article. The DJs raved about the welcoming they receive from Israeli audiences, who embrace unfamiliar musical worlds. Koala says that of all the places he has performed, he has never felt love like that of an Israeli audience.

Many speculate that the longstanding popularity of the electronic scene is a product of the prolonged post-trauma of Israeli life – helping ravers release the frustrations amassed through military service and life in the Middle East. The raging beats presumably offer a necessary release and escapism.

Kord rejects this explanation, instead attributing the popularity of the electronic scene to an element of Mizrahi culture, characteristic of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East: the “hafla” (the Arabic word for “celebration”). Kord says that as Mizrahi culture made its way into the mainstream, so did the desire for collective ecstatic experiences. “There’s clear joie de vivre in Israeli culture,” he says. “There’s a culture of joy, togetherness. Over the years, as Mizrahi culture became more prevalent, Israelis became more capable of celebrating in a popular, lighthearted way.”

Not like Shlomo Artzi

To a great extent, the development of the electronic scene is thanks to active cooperation among its leaders. “We’re in a moment of blossoming after a long period of drought,” says Kord. “For example, in all the variations of the bass scene, downtempo and glitch hop. It expands our audience, elevates the genre and the scene as a whole. There’s a lot of cooperation among us – we coordinate dates and artists, and don’t cross into one another’s territory. The production heads communicate, spend time together, and play on the same stages.”

DJ Boris: 'I recorded sets during the pandemic, but it’s not the same'

“There’s been a very strong wave of electronic and techno music in recent years, in line with what’s happening all over the world,” says Guy Dreifuss, who produces lines of electronic festivals, including the DGTL Festival. “Israelis like to celebrate, to have a good time. The audience is very varied, from all over the country, and all ages: 18 to 60.”

He adds that Israel is a popular destination for international artists: “The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is less evident in our scene, although there are opponents, and the last spat was very damaging in terms of global public opinion. But in contrast to bands, maybe, DJs ask and want to understand what’s going on.”

The dominance of Israeli artists in the electronic music world also contributes to Israel’s status as a powerhouse in the field. Koala excitedly recounts that Infected Mushroom was his first and life-changing encounter with electronic music. “Maybe it’s kitschy to say that I grew up on Infected Mushroom, people like to criticize them because they’re popular,” he says. “[Their music] was the first time that I heard the connection between computers and music.”

Israeli event producers are still in a precarious position, as they recover from the losses and uncertainty of a year without gatherings. “There’s both economic uncertainty and a surfeit of events. The supply is greater than the demand,” Kord says. “The new coronavirus policy is characterized by complicated bureaucracy, a great deal of financial risk and lack of clarity.”

Revelers at Midburn, last month.Credit: Daniel Bar On

Are you able to make a living?

“None of us are building villas or buying luxury cars. We all have this unshakeable bug. In most cases, the producers refer to it as a burden: You know that you’re a little screwed up, that there’s a Robin Hood complex here or a philanthropic movement, a community confronting an establishment that’s hard to work with.”

Among other things, Kord describes the spike in supervision amid COVID-19 regulations and rising prices of suppliers, who are also trying to recoup after a year without work. Under the current regulations, audience members must show a Green Pass at the entrance or a negative coronavirus test. Events are limited to 1,000 people in enclosed spaces, and up to 5,000 outdoors. At events in closed spaces and gatherings of over 100 people outdoors, everyone is required to wear a mask. In addition, producers must appoint an inspector who is responsible for enforcing regulations.

“And still, we have a lot of events,” says Kord, encouraged. “We’re one of the first countries in the world to let artists in. Although it’s under a system of laws that I don’t agree with, we benefit.”

The producers are careful not to question the Green Pass policy, despite their misgivings. “There’s a major conflict among producers regarding holding events under the Green Pass system,” says Kord cautiously. “In the electronic scene, the proportion of people who support the Green Pass policy is pretty different from, say, the audience at a Shlomo Artzi concert. Many raves and electronic events encourage a culture of freedom, unity and refuge. Suddenly there’s this other element – a document that determines who can or can’t enter, which doesn’t conform with the basic values of the scene.”

According to DJ Boris, frequent COVID-19 tests are a small price to pay. “We have to deal with it like this, at the moment, and be responsible for everyone who attends our parties,” he says. “It’s our responsibility. Without health there’s no way to live. Unfortunately, in Germany there’s a large movement of people who oppose the vaccines, but it stems from lack of information. There are no absolute solutions, because we’ve never been in this situation before. Of course there are some people who oppose it, but we have to try and change their minds. It’s always difficult, but all you need is an attentive ear and open heart.”

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