Top Israeli Punk Band Graces Home Stage Amid Conquering the World

Useless ID will appear at the Ozenbar in Tel Aviv with Kill the Drive on August 26, they will at the Syncopa Club in Haifa with Pa'am Ahrona the day after.

Dafna Arad
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Dafna Arad

Useless ID is undoubtedly the most successful Israeli punk rock band in the world. Formed in 1994, it set out to try its luck abroad and became a respected member of the international scene, establishing itself within just a few years. The band signed with an American record company and gathered a devoted fan base, which knows all the words to its songs, in forceful and precise English.

What is less well known is that at some point along the way, band members did not forget where they had come from. In between appearances in a Canadian stadium and a tour in Australia, they continued to be a major influence on the Israeli scene too. Members of Useless ID have performed in every remote corner of Israel, drunk themselves silly with the kids on the local scene, and participated in endless numbers of discussions on the Tapuz punk forum - in particular, the band's guitarist, Ishay Berger.

Useless ID band members (from left to right) Ishay Berger, Yonatan Harpak and Haim Binyamini. Credit: Tali Mayer

On the local scene, people always suspected that the framework of a successful band has always been a limiting factor for the skinny guy from Haifa with wide-open eyes and tattoos all over his body - and who always has a lot to say. And then, one day, the penny dropped for him too; and he launched his anarchistic project, Come to the Bar, in 2005, a few hours before a scheduled performance in an English town.

"The band, Green Day, was appearing the same day at a different venue in the city and everybody went to see them. It was very boring. So the three of us started to write and play funny songs," Berger recalled this week.

It was one of the rare occasions on which the band played outside the usual framework of a show. Over the last six years, they have held "maybe seven rehearsals" in this format, says band member Yonatan Harpak. "But we've gained enough experience in rehearsals with our serious groups. With Come to the Bar we apply what we've learned," he said.

Six more musicians have joined them since - Guy Geller, Yair Campbell, Nir Doliner, Assi Midan, Matan Cohen and Avital Tamir, most members of other tough bands. Three of them are bassists, three are drummers, and three play guitar. It is hard to know in advance which of them will be playing at any given appearance of Come to the Bar.

"We're always performing because we haven't got preconditions. If someone asks one of us, he always agrees immediately. And then we hope that two or three other band members will show up at the right time and place. None of us is in control," Berger explains.

And how does he describe the Come to the Bar show?

"We always arrive at the club without equipment," he says.

"We get into arguments with the other bands playing that night. We latch onto someone in the audience who becomes our victim during the show; we come down on him hard in between the songs. We play up to the barman, and ask the audience not to dance," Berger laughs.

"We don't have a prepared list of songs, of course," Harpak adds.

"There aren't many people in the audience at our shows and some of them will get hurt. And there'll be a lot of people on stage, some of whom are drunk," Berger promises.

What motivates you?

"Because we're surrounded by bands that take themselves so seriously, we do the opposite. In any normal place, you wouldn't even call us a band," Berger exaggerates. "We are something that doesn't exist in music. We haven't got any desire [for our songs] to be played, to be loved or to improve."

Have you recorded any songs in an official format?

"Yes, our only album, Bong Rock, has been uploaded to the Bandcamp Web site [www.bolabar.bandcamp.com] and sells for $10. So far, we've sold six copies," reports Yair Campbell.

"We wanted to release the album only as a record but that's expensive, so we're waiting to sell at least 10 more copies on the Internet to fund the printing."

Sounds very serious.

"It is the most unserious it can be," Harpak corrects me. "Producing a record is like releasing a disk on a bottle. That way you can be sure no one can listen to it."

Useless ID will appear at the Ozenbar in Tel Aviv with Kill the Drive on August 26, they will at the Syncopa Club in Haifa with Pa'am Ahrona the day after.

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