Nimrod, Israel’s Lady Gaga, Tones It Down

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It’s now or never, thought Nimrod Peled, before he launched a music career four years ago. That's how the well-known fashion figure and producer of eccentric, colorful video clips became Hybrid Lava.

Now he's found a partner, as reflected in the newly pluralized name. The second half of The Hybrid Lavas, an electro-punk group, is Rico Montana (real name: Uri Tzidon, age: 27), a beat-maker and producer of electronic music and former drummer of the now-defunct punk band Under Pressure.

Peled, 39, got his start on the reality show “HaDugmaniot” (the Israeli version of “America’s Next Top Model”). “I moved to Tel Aviv when I was about 20 years old, after I worked a bit in dance," he says. "I used to give lessons to the models on how to walk on the runway.”

The Hybrid Lavas isn't his first musical collaboration: At one point he was playing with Bruno Grife of the band Terry Poison, but his current collaboration “feels right,” he says.

He and Montana plan to launch a single and new video in the coming weeks and will perform at Rothschild 12 in Tel Aviv on December 5.

Aside from the music, the duo differs from Peled's earlier solo projects in their toned-down visuals.

“I used to do some pretty screwy things onstage,” he says. “I could be hanging upside down from a flight of stairs, swallowing the lamp swinging above me, dancing around a pole or just throwing beer onto the audience.”

Montana is wary of such exuberance on stage. "It makes a difference whether people relate to you as a musician or as an entertainer or performer," he says. The two have managed to strike a balance, with Montana tending to stand in a corner while Peled is a bit more animated.

"God only knows what he’s doing," says Montana of Peled. "His nature is to be really out there as a performer, and I’m more naturally on the sidelines. “

Radical costumes and an androgynous thing

For Peled, the visual component of the performance is vitally important. He's known for some radical costumes which have included white face makeup, professional styling with bizarre accessories and a kind of androgynous thing. But he says those statements are no longer a must for him. “It has to do with my self-confidence," he says. "Now I’m tired of it, and all I want is for people to enjoy the music.”

Of the style of his current project, he jokes, "Anybody who saw me back then can’t figure out who those two grungy guys are who look a bit like American rednecks.”

Still, aesthetics are important to him even if during shows Peled has been known to go onstage with a bandana over his face, unshaven, wiping his sweat with an American flag. He takes issue with the casualness of Israeli performers, many of whom perform in jeans and t-shirts.

"People come in dressed nicely, so you dress nicely, too," he says. "If you’re going to wear ugly clothes, then at least make sure they’re ugly in the extreme.

The Hybrid Lavas have played quite a few times, mostly underground shows that weren't advertised, many at the Taxidermy Club in Tel Aviv. “We’d do shows without telling anyone, just a few friends," says Peled. "The idea was to grow from the bottom, the underground.”

A wink to Lady Gaga

Electronic music has been accused of lacking content and depth, focusing instead on the power of the beat, the dance, and the body.

But along with all the glitz, glamour and fun identified with electronic music Peled wants to put a bit of seriousness into his work.

That means integrating elements of punk and glam-rock into the work. Peled notes that rock has been a big part of both his and Montana's histories. With all these influences, it won't be as easy to compare Peled to Lady Gaga, as he has been repeatedly described, in part because of the theatrical flair he shares with the American performance art/pop princess.

“It’s not pop the way it used to be," he says of his new sound. "I cut off the old stuff, erased it, threw it out.”

The EP that the duo released this year on the Internet begins with a fairly sleazy song called “Color It White,” which expresses a desire to lose control, get screwed up, and like it. In the song's accompanying music video, Peled plays a little boy with a drawn-on mustache who walks around in an alienated world.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve felt the urge to get onstage and explode at the world,” he says, noting that this is “Not just because of how I am, but also because of the country and its political and social character, which trickle into my work. It’s a repeating theme for me.”

He feels that in Israel, everything is arranged in boxes, categorized. “This is rock. This is folk. This is I don’t know what,” he says. “But abroad, people really do get it. When I performed at the CMJ Festival (in New York) about two years ago, people came to me who got the combination of the Grace Jones beats with the David Bowie sound and the look. Abroad there’s much more openness to gender bending, the blurring not just of sexual identity, but also of different musical genres.”

On his EP, Peled chose to sing “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen (in a dark, danceable version). His low voice is just right for the job. The song also expresses a similar desire for chaos, for throwing off all responsibility, even if its style is much different from that of “Color It White.”

“There’s something in the lyrics that feels relevant to the pressure cooker we live in. Sometimes I feel as though I wrote the song.”

‘We need a war’

All of the songs are in English – a fact that does not stop them from feeling Israeli. This is especially true of “Hybris,” with its refrain in which the phrase, “We need a war,” is repeated in a gloomy, unapologetic tone.

Peled explains: “It seems like here, we need to fight all the time so we can feel good. We need to be in the minority so we can feel good. It’s obviously a cynical song. I am upset when people take it at face value.”

The music of The Hybrid Lavas is not by any means primarily heavy and down. It’s mainly dance music, and most of it is at least 120 beats per minute. But the duo also improvises between songs, and sometimes they perform bits of light pop such as “Pump Up the Jam,” a 1990s hit by Technotronic, or Samantha Fox’s “Touch Me.”

“No two performances of ours are alike,” says Montana. “The music is played using Ableton Live software. We don’t bring a playback. The song’s baseline stays the same, but the rest is totally fluid.”

“For example, the song that opens the show, ‘Nylon,’ was created by accident during a show at Nylon Club (which has since closed),” recalls Peled. “Rico, who had just come back from abroad on a flight that was delayed, arrived just ten minutes before the start of the show and started playing an improvised beat that just blew my mind. I told him that whatever happened, we were going to do it in the show. I think ‘Nylon’ is one of our best songs.”

Are there Israeli musicians who have influenced the duo?

Peled has a tough time coming up with a name. But he says that Elyott (Sharon Ben-Ezer), a member of the 1980s band Pollyanna Frank, who also works with the band and has done mixes for it, was an important influence on him. “She came on the scene at a time when it really wasn’t accepted for a lesbian to scream out political and sexual songs,” he says. “But Elyott proved you could do something daring, in-your-face, new and unapologetic.”

Montana says his major influence comes from French electronic music, specifically from duos like Daft Punk and Justice. About the Hybrid Lavas, he says, “We’re right for a club stage, more of a party-type atmosphere.”

The Hybrid Lavas adds some interesting color to Israel’s musical landscape, which is dominated mostly by rockers, black groove artists and melancholy singer-songwriters. But does the duo want to break out of the border and take a project abroad? Yes, but they’re in no hurry. They note that they’ve gotten – and declined – numerous offers to perform abroad, including at the CMJ festival in New York. Says Peled: “We’ve decided not to do that until everything’s in place.”

Uri Tzidon (left) and Nimrod Peled of the Hybrid Lavas.Credit: Yanai Yehiel

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