Balkan Beats in the Tel Aviv Heat
Tel Aviv may be a world capital of culture, but the music scene can’t compare to New York’s, and as a new immigrant (olah chadasha, as the natives say), that takes some getting used to. That being said, live music in Tel Aviv is exciting. The people here are starved for it. The energy level at concerts is through the roof, and the bands that come to play tend to respond in kind. When Balkan Beat Box came to play at the Barby recently, the band and audience were unstoppable; it was hard to maintain my ‘cool’ when everyone around me was hands in the air, jumping and singing, from start to finish. The energy level never, at any point, dipped below ‘explosive’ — even during the songs that weren’t typical crowd-pleasers, the pit would dance and sweat (and sweat — this is Israeli summer) in a frenzy that rivaled those so-called Beliebers.
Because Israel is a small county, everything here functions on a very familial level. Chances are, if you need something, and one of your five closest friends can’t get it for you, one of their cousins can. This is especially apparent in the music scene here; there is rarely a concert without a special guest and that special guest probably knows at least half of the audience. When I walked into the Barby with fellow SR writer Nina Wanerman, she was quick to recognize a familiar face on stage: Eyal Talmudi, an Israeli musician usually associated with Malox and Oy Division. Talmudi, who wrecks on the saxophone, seamlessly fits into Balkan’s established groove. Though Balkan’s lead singer is energetic and exciting enough on his own to Pied Piper an audience to the Syrian border, the addition of special guests Talmudi, Ben Hendler, and Ron Bonker made the show a can’t-miss event for any Tel Avivi worth their weight in MP3s.
The Barby is a venue worth discussing. There is an elevated standing area, a regular floor area, and a pit, with many exits to the outdoor smoking area, where the show can still be heard perfectly. There is no question that this is the best venue in Tel Aviv, and the most fitting for a Balkan dance party; though the pit gets squishy, the standing areas have more than enough room for dancing with great visibility. The sound is great, and ticket prices tend to be reasonable. Also, the venue is not far from the Florentin neighborhood and the Central Bus Station, making it more accessible than some bigger venues in northern Tel Aviv.
Balkan Beat Box has quite a hold on South Tel Aviv; though it is fair to say that the neighborhood has been gentrified and hipster-fied to near-complete apathy, the Balkan show was the talk of the town. No matter how popular Balkan seems to get, no one is too cool to get down when “Move It” comes on.