Courtesy the author
Las Michelles perform at the Patiphone, circa 2003. The author is on the right, playing bass guitar. Courtesy the author
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Indie Rock, Israeli Style

A new documentary traces the life and death of the Patiphone, Tel Aviv’s most beloved indie club of the 2000s

Dana Kessler
April 27, 2023
Courtesy the author
Las Michelles perform at the Patiphone, circa 2003. The author is on the right, playing bass guitar. Courtesy the author

Every major city in the world has at least one active independent music scene at any given time. Tel Aviv has had a few of those over the years, but none as well documented as the one that thrived from 2000 to 2009 inside a small, now-defunct club, which I had the pleasure of being part of.

The live shows at the Patiphone (meaning record player), as well as the goings-on at the indie label that spawned it, Fast Music, were obsessively filmed in real time by director, actor, comedian, and music fan, Amit Itzcar, as well as by others. Now Itzcar has compiled this footage into one of the most exciting Israeli music documentaries ever: Furious and Fast: The Story of Fast Music and the Patiphone. It was originally released in Israel last year to hype and praise, and is now up on Vimeo-on-demand with English subtitles, so American indie lovers can enjoy it too.

The obvious jokey reference to the famous Vin Diesel film franchise aside, the title is a pretty accurate description of a large part of the music released on Fast Music and played at the Patiphone. Most of the bands involved played alternative rock, garage rock, punk, noise, and other loud and abrasive guitar-driven genres. Some sang in Hebrew, others in English, some even in Spanish. This scene thrived independently, without any radio airplay and very little mainstream attention.

Prolific indie scenes, anywhere in the world, are always a cause for excitement, and even more so in Israel. It’s hard for an alternative scene to flourish in a country like Israel, where even the mainstream is small. Plus, there is the reality of mandatory military service, which cuts short the normal period of teenage rebellion and puts creative and independent-thinking youngsters on the “normal” track of army-university-marriage-career-family. Every time a scene like this emerges in Israel and survives for more than five minutes, it feels like a miracle.

Fast Music was established in 1998 by two local musicians: Amir Schorr and Jango (Amir Rosiano). The former was a soundman with a purist outlook, the latter played bass for two well-known ’90s rock bands—Ta’arovet Eskot and Rami Fortis’ Fortis Brothers—and wanted to get away from the fakeness of large record companies. Like the name they chose for their label implies, the two felt that the right way to record music was fast. No fancy production, no artistic interference on any level, mostly analog recordings. Generally, they subscribed to the ideals laid down by legendary American record producer and audio engineer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, The Breeders).

Fast Music gave their artists control over all artistic decisions, be it their sound, their look or their album cover design. With today’s technology, anyone can record music on their laptop and distribute it themselves, but Fast Music existed at the tail end of an era in which musicians still needed a record label behind them, especially if they were making rock ’n’ roll. Like most indie labels around the world, Fast Music’s aim was to steer as far away as possible from the commercial thinking of the music industry and to capture each musician or band at their most genuine and authentic. They also printed their records on vinyl (as long as they could afford to do so), temporarily reviving the format that disappeared from Israel in the early ’90s.

After a while, Schorr and Jango felt the label wasn’t enough. They found a run-down space in the east of Tel Aviv, cramped between auto repair shops and brothels, in which they opened a recording studio with a rehearsal room and a tiny club for live shows. Together with their bands and friends they did it all themselves: They built a stage and a bar, painted the walls, installed equipment, brought in crates of beer, stood behind the bar, and cleaned the place at the end of the night. Thus, the Patiphone club was born.

An unflinching DIY ethos was at the heart of the scene, and keeping it real was everything. You didn’t have to look like a rock star or to sound like a rock star. If your heart and ears were in the right place, you were in. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Fast Music’s garage rock goddess Michal Kahan asked me in 2002 if I wanted to join her band as bass player. This strange occurrence took place at the end of an interview I conducted with her after the release of her second album on the label. “Umm, but I don’t play an instrument,” I replied, a bit confused. Was she pulling my leg?

At the time I was a music journalist. I had (if I do say so myself) great taste in music and a decent fashion sense, but no musical experience whatsoever other than some piano lessons as a child. I had never even held a bass guitar in my hands. For Michal—a peroxide rock ’n’ roll amazon with a vision—my reasoning was nonsense. She told me to trust her and somehow persuaded me to join the all-girl garage-punk band she was putting together. I borrowed my first bass from a friend, Michal taught me the basics (in other words, I learned the basslines to her songs like a parrot), and less than a month later I played my very first show at the Patiphone club as one-third of Michal Kahan & Las Michelles.

We continued playing the club, as well as other clubs across the country; filmed a video to one of the songs from her last album; and recorded a new song that never saw the light of day (my first ever recording). This was the first band I ever played in, which put me well on my way to starting my own bands, writing songs, and making my own music. Michal sensed I had it in me even before I knew. It was a perfect example of how things worked at the Patiphone.

In this world, professionalism was deemed overrated. There were a few guys in-house who knew what they were doing technically, but they never looked down at those who didn’t. All you needed was an ear for music and the right attitude. Attitude truly was everything, as proven by the fact that one of the label’s most beloved bands, Ha-Meyutarim (literally meaning The Unnecessary, but translated at the time to The Disposables), were a trio of geeky looking middle-schoolers. Ha-Meyutarim started playing at the club at the age of 14. Their songs were short and fast anthems about teenage angst, and their live shows were gravity-defying noise rock explosions. They released their debut album on Fast Music when they were in 10th grade.

For most of the 2000s, the Patiphone was home to local indie bands, as well as to visiting talent from overseas. American indie heroes like The Silver Jews, Bonnie Prince Billy, Kimya Dawson, Bill Callahan, and Calvin Johnson all played live at the small club. And the Patiphone not only imported talent, but exported it too, most notably the chaotic garage rock band/traveling circus known as Monotonix, remembered for their insane stage antics.

Monotonix toured the world, wowed audiences at SXSW, and became notorious favorites in the international rock festival circuit. Lead singer Ami Shalev, who played in different bands for years, was one of the owners of Fast Music and the Patiphone. He was known in the scene as the behind-the-scenes go-to guy, recording bands and producing their records. No one saw it coming when Shalev reinvented himself as the eccentric lead singer of Monotonix who stage-dived and crowd-surfed his way across the world wearing nothing but tennis shoes and 1970s sports shorts.

Shalev always gave his audience an unforgettable experience—setting the drums on fire, hanging from the ceiling of the venue, or shoving the mic up his behind. But for the folks back home, the most incredible thing he ever did was getting an international crowd of thousands at some rock festival or other to follow him in a demented singalong of an Israeli mainstream staple by MOR icon Shlomo Artzi. Monotonix weren’t called “the most exciting live band in rock ’n’ roll” by Spin magazine for nothing.

In 2008—a year after Fast Music ceased to exist and after a couple of releases on the label—Monotonix signed to Chicago-based indie label Drag City, where they released two albums, one of them produced by none other than the aforementioned Steve Albini.

While Monotonix ventured outside of the country, Fast Music and the Patiphone were crumbling. Financial as well as artistic difficulties brought on the end of the scene. Amir Schorr and Jango fell out over artistic differences. The label closed down around 2007, after close to 40 different releases. The Patiphone, now run by two of the kids who grew up at the club who reinvented it briefly as a hardcore punk club, followed about two years later.

Anyone who was ever there remembers the Patiphone. People left inspired, invigorated. Brian Eno is often quoted as saying that “the first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.” When Itzcar launched the crowdfunding campaign that enabled him to finish his film, he declared: “Everyone who was exposed to this scene started a band. I made a movie.”

Amit Itzcar set foot at the Patiphone club for the first time around 2004, when he was a 25-year-old film student. “Ha-Meyutarim opened for the band I went to see and they blew me away,” Itzcar remembers. “I kept coming back to the place. I loved their DIY attitude, which was the same attitude I had when making films. I loved that it was a small place. Everyone knew everyone, it was like a family.” Itzcar and I first met at the Patiphone, too, and we have been friends ever since, collaborating on various projects.

During his time as a Patiphone regular, Itzcar filmed live shows as well as behind the scenes shenanigans (“I’m a documentation freak, I always document things I love.”) He made music videos for some of the bands in the scene, and made a documentary about Ha-Meyutarim, The Disposables: I’ll Hate Myself in the Morning, which was released in 2006.

Years after both the label and the club closed down, Itzcar knew he had to turn all of the footage he accumulated into a music doc, which he worked on for five years. The film is full of live footage that he and others shot at the club, as well as interviews with the people who opened and ran the label/club, with the musicians who were part of this world, with fans and music journalists (myself included). They all discussed the essence of the scene, its importance and influence, as well as recounting crazy anecdotes, like the time the Patiphone was robbed or the time guitar player of punk band Got No Shame accidentally cut off a part of their lead singer’s nose midshow and they had to rush to the hospital with a piece of nose on ice to have it stitched back on.

Furious and Fast: The Story of Fast Music and the Patiphone premiered at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque last summer to much excitement. “Even more exciting than the responses from people who were part of the scene, were the responses from people who never heard of it,” Itzcar told me. “A lot of people told me the film caused them major FOMO.”

Dana Kessler has written for Maariv, Haaretz, Yediot Aharonot, and other Israeli publications. She is based in Tel Aviv.