‘I had a steel trash can thrown at my head in Athens, Georgia,” says Yonatan Gat, guitarist for the Tel Aviv band Monotonix. “Ami broke both shoulders in New York. Haggai got a disco ball in the face. It’s part of the job.”
When Monotonix’s perpetual world tour reaches the UK this November it is unlikely its three members, Gat, singer Ami Shalev and drummer Haggai Fershtman will emerge without further injury. Monotonix are more than Israel’s wildest musical export. They are arguably the most wilfully chaotic live band on the face of the earth.
“We all played in different bands before Monotonix,” explains Gat. “We all felt that it got pretty boring. The bands were very similar to each other and gave people a similar experience. We wanted to break out from that and try something different.”
The difference was Monotonix’s music — punk remoulded with grooving drums and classic rock influenced guitar riffs — and their performance, where the line between band and audience was blurred beyond logic.
Dispensing with the concept of a stage entirely, Monotonix set up their equipment in the crowd and play their whole set in a perpetual melee of writhing limbs and flying bodies. As the show progresses the band will regularly relocate between songs; the crowd performing their role as unpaid roadies, moving the drum kit around the room, into toilets and even on to the streets.
Shalev is almost perpetually airborne; crowd surfing from the word go, prone to snatching drinks to pour over himself and spectators and occasionally setting himself on fire. The crowd, inspired by the music and the mania, respond accordingly. It is a Health and Safety officer’s worst nightmare.
“Some shows are mellower. Some are more extreme,” laughs Gat. “It would take a lot to make us calm down. If someone in the audience is really out of control I’ll grab him and tell him to cool it down. We’ve never stopped the show from our end because it was too dangerous. Although it’s been close. Six hundred shows over three and a half years and we haven’t stopped one yet.”
Gat is proud of his band’s threshold for lunacy, but not everyone sees Monotonix’s appetite for chaos in the same light. They’ve long been banned from the majority of music venues in Israel. “We don’t play Israel very much,” admits Gat.
“Most of the places there that booked us didn’t know what they were in line for. Our shows would get stopped all the time by cops because of noise complaints and what they called safety issues. Now it’s weird to play guitar without people falling on me.
“It’s giving people an experience that’s different from what other bands give them. Playing on the floor is just one part of it. We’re Israeli. That’s a big part of it too. We’re still playing rock and roll. It’s just a little different.”