Bigger Isn't Better at Israel's Leading Indie Music Festival

The InDNegev indie music festival expanded in size but not quality this year, with most of the high notes coming from veteran performers.

The InDNegev music festival, which was held over the weekend, has undergone its second metamorphosis in its seven-year history. The change included a significant expansion of the festival’s site. In addition to the original space, a large new area has been allocated for the festival, and it was here where most of the festival’s key elements were housed - including the central stage, food stands, shaded areas where festivalgoers could relax and a DJ tent.

The expansion has been carried out in an impressive manner, improving some important aspects of the festival-attending experience, and reflecting the organizers’ understandable and justifiable desire to turn InDNegev into a major music festival.

Their ambition, as demonstrated by this year’s roster of performers, is to have the festival represent a broad musical spectrum – from indie performers to popular artists who share some of the latter’s ethos. Unfortunately, the massive expansion of the festival site has not been accompanied by a concomitant and dramatic increase in the number of people permitted to be there. The police closed off the entrance to the festival grounds on Friday afternoon and some 200 to 300 people who had bought tickets were denied admission.

An independent music festival such as InDNegev is based on finding the correct dynamic between two kinds of performer: On the one hand, there were seasoned indie veterans – artists like Geva Alon and The Apples - who have come a long way and have a sizeable following. And on the other, there were also performances by new artists. Without the first category, the festival would be too esoteric; without the second, it would lack the ingredients of freshness and surprise.

Although there were many new and relatively unknown artists on stage, this is the first time at InDNegev that I was not really wowed by an artist with whom I was unfamiliar. I still found the festival delightful, but the main reason was its package of social and artistic entertainment, with appearances by performers with whom I am familiar.

The second stage was a little too big for some of the groups appearing on it, and that might be why happened there was a little dry. Some of the performances were pretty good – such as those by Megason, Sha’elet Nefotza, Germany’s Coogans Bluff and Please the Trees (from the Czech Republic) - but other artists found it hard to really take off.

Alas, what I saw on either stage did not really light my fire. InDNegev’s new central stage is not the ideal platform for indie artists and groups lacking charisma or a strong groove. Some of the groups felt awkward on the stage - for example, Ta’ani Esther. However, there were other artists, like Avi Adaki, Noga Shalev and Haya Miller, who were able to cope with the problem of the new stage’s immense dimensions.

But enough with the complaints. I do not want to give the impression that InDNegev 2013 was not an excellent festival, and that it did not include some magnificent performances. There definitely were some incredible performances, and they were given primarily by the aristocracy of the Israeli indie scene.

This year, The Apples said goodbye to one of their founders, DJ Ofer (“Schoolmaster”) Tal. The farewell added a little moisture (in the eyes of some members of the audience) to the performance, but did not detract from the wonderful dryness of the group’s sound and the band’s superb coordination. The excellent wind musicians were even tighter than the dress worn by singer Marina Maximilian on stage a few hours earlier. And trumpeter Arthur “Energizer” Krasnobaev definitely deserves the Best Dancer award for his performance on stage – simply splendid.

Geva Alon appeared with his original band, The Flying Baby. For me, this was one of those performances that began with a number of reservations but ended with a sense of amazed delight. The Flying Baby is a muscular power trio, and I am referring here both to the music itself and the mighty arm of bassist Gadi Altman. Although Alon plays and sings like an archetypal male rock singer, he does it so well that all my reservations fell away. There are very few guitarists who know how to demonstrate stunning mastery of their instrument without degenerating into the realm of hollow virtuosity. That is what Alon managed, and it was a sheer pleasure to see and hear him.

Ester Rada closed the festival with a performance that, naturally, could not replicate the surprising freshness of her appearance at last year’s festival. Nonetheless, she did include all the other ingredients that make a performance excellent, placing particular emphasis on two of them - a sea of groove and an ocean of love for humanity. In addition to sprinkling her appearance generously with Ethiopian spices, she performed songs made famous by Nina Simone and Chava Alberstein.

Daniel Tchetchik
Daniel Tchetchik