One of Israel's Best Indie Music Events

The Menashe Forest Festival has everything a good music festival needs: Good music, a beautiful forest setting, and an intense encounter with young, exciting bands.

First, a clarification. This isn’t a review of the entire Menashe Forest Festival, but rather a small part of it. The festival, which opened last Thursday and ended Saturday, lasted for more than 48 hours, and this review is based on a visit of only nine hours ‏(from Friday afternoon to Friday night‏). During the course of the weekend, this wonderful musical happening attracted an audience of 6,000 people.

It’s not certain that my nine hours constitute a representative sample, but they did have everything that explains the festival’s status as one of the most beautiful events in indie life here in Israel. Good music? Yes, and consistently so. A beautiful forest setting? Definitely. And, most importantly, an intense encounter with young Israeli bands that have something to offer and are at that exciting stage of emerging into the world.

Buttering Trio, for example. The encounter with this threesome − consisting of singer Keren Dunitz, bass player Beno Hendler and Rejoicer on the beats − was surprising and very enjoyable. At an outdoor festival, most bands − even the best of them − tend to emphasize the energetic dimension at the expense of the aesthetic dimension. With Buttering Trio, though, there was good energy and, more than that, aesthetics − relaxed, with the danceable combination of wonderful beats, deep but floating bass, and clear and excellent vocals.

The songs flowed, sometimes without a pause − a bit like a deejay’s best work. Within this flow there were always changes and developments, and a sense of dynamics and the joy of invention. Electronic pop is one of the drier branches on the local contemporary music tree, and Buttering Trio’s performance sounds like a fresh green leaf.

It’s just a shame that Dunitz, unlike most of the singers who performed at the festival, didn’t tell the audience when and where the trio will perform next. There was no alternative but to catch up with her and Rejoicer on the festival grounds and ask. The answer: May 25, at the Frenkel 13 Bar in Tel Aviv.

Super performance

If there was a lot of air in Buttering Trio’s performance − both in the music itself and on the stage peopled by the three of them − there was no space to breathe in the performance before it, by Botimzog. About 10 people crowded onto the stage and the sound coming out of the speakers was a collective, exuberant and sweeping cry. Botimzog released its debut album a couple of months ago, and its in-group vibe caused me to listen to it with only half an ear. The band’s performance at Menashe Forest showed me that this was a mistake.

Their combination of tranquillity and irony is interesting − and those words don’t usually go together. The irony contradicts the tranquillity, and vice versa. With Botimzog, the contradictions mingle on a rolling and laid-back musical bed, starring a violin and mandolin. A super performance. I must check out the disc again.

The enthusiastic cheering elicited by Tatran was very surprising, in light of the fact that this trio play quite complex instrumental music. Their basic musical “food” groups, to guess from their sound, are jazz, Frank Zappa and metal. In one number, they played around with the harmony of Matti Caspi’s “Friday is Back” and they took it to totally non-Caspi places.

The music of the trio ‏(Tamuz Dekel on guitar, Offir Benjaminov on bass and Dan Mayo on drums‏) is built on sharp cuts between silence and melody, and between noise and mind-bending. This a welcome aesthetic, especially as the trio has a fine sense of melody and not only noise. However, after about 20 minutes, the trick of cutting to the contrasts begins to get old. However, kudos to them for their good performance, during the course of which a number of the band’s friends circulated among the audience and handed out flyers for their next show, on May 16 at The Zone in Tel Aviv.

Jazz-rock trios playing complex instrumental music that also bends the mind are clearly hot on the Israeli indie scene ‏(inspired, perhaps, by the success of Tiny Fingers‏). Bassist Gilad Abro belongs to one such combo, LayerZ, although they didn’t appear at Menashe Forest. Instead, he performed in a different trio, with drummer Amir Bresler and guitarist Ofer Ganor.

It wasn’t all about trios. The voice of Talis Klein − the lead singer of 1, 2 Many − is one of the strongest, steadiest and most beautiful voices on the indie scene here, which is not over-endowed with rangy female singers. When her excellent singing is joined by her band’s easy-going rock’n’pop, its sharp sound and an approach that combines guile and sweetness, you get a band that is fun to listen to and to watch. Their debut album, Klein informed the audience, is coming out really soon.

The decision to schedule Malox − the wild klezmer-punk duo headed by saxophonist Eyal Talmudi − during the pastoral sunset was a subversive one. Talmudi, in an unzipped red jumpsuit, performed with a particularly free style and walked the stage like a heavyweight boxer ‏(albeit one playing saxophone‏). Malox has had more focused performances than this, but Talmudi’s scattiness had its advantages, especially during the final stretch of his set when he played his wonderful version of Meir Ariel’s “Modeh Ani.” ‏(Why were so many people in the audience chattering instead of listening to this quiet and beautiful piece?‏) He then traded the saxophone for a clarinet and released some inner demons into the forest atmosphere.

At the end of the performance he picked up a bagpipe, came down from the stage and performed the band’s final number on it as he meandered through the audience. As he was doing that, the next band, the Ramirez Brothers, plugged their instruments into the amplifiers. It’s worth making the idea a standard for next year’s festival. Maybe that’s the way to cut the time between performances. The organization of the festival was exemplary and the sound checks were pretty short. Nevertheless, if it is possible to cut them even shorter, that should be done. The less “Give me guitar on the monitor,” the better.

Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Avishag Shaar-Yashuv