Sekuencias de Culto interview
In a scene supposedly filled with people fascinated with every proposal that may provide a special touch of uniqueness, it’s hard to avoid the exotic, romantic charm of a label hailing from the far Israel. Do the remote location of the country; its peculiar politic, social and economic circumstances; and above all, the richness and multiplicity of its historical baggage, play a role in the idiosyncrasy of its people and their perception?
Uri Shaham, responsible of Topheth Prophet, chats with us about his view in this and other questions, trying to reveal why the single label from his country is probably one of the most interesting outfits nowadays with just a couple of releases; and unintentionally exposing what distinguishes culture from just another trend on the spot.
Eternal thanks to Uri for his time and his personal, sincere visions.
Sekuencias de Culto: Why did you decide to create the label? What’s your trademark, what does distinguish Topheth Prophet from the rest of outfits out there nowadays? Please, explain the meaning of your moniker and why did you choose it?
Uri Shaham: The idea of starting a label was in my mind for a long time. Possibly years. A turning point happened when just before my thirty birthday in November 2001. I was on holyday in Spain with my wife (girlfriend then) and we were sitting on a beautiful beach in Costa del Sol (‘Sun Coast’, in the South of the Iberian Peninsula – ed.) and I was thinking about my life and my dreams and decided to try and do something for the support of the music I love.
I am an experimental music fan since I was 15 or 16. At the start it was mostly New Wave and Punk but slowly I started to look for extremer forms of art and projects such as Einsturzende Neubauten SPK, Psychic TV, Coil, Nocturnal Emissions and others.
It was also the last events in Israel and the world which encouraged me to step and start doing. In our days culture is counted as an enemy by those who worship ignorance and bigotry and that was my way of saying ‘I am here and I am supporting human culture’. The moniker was also influenced by the historical events of our time.
Topheth is what we see every day on TV. In early times it was the name of the fire used by the Molech worshipers to sacrifice their sons and daughters for protection from their gods. (it is not sure if Topheth was the place or the fire itself). In modern Hebrew ‘topheth’ is used when someone wants to describe flesh consuming fire such as in a battlefield or in the middle of a bomb attack. People are watching the modern Topheth on TV and put their faith in their Molech gods/leaders which are modern false prophets.
SDC: How did your first encounter with the Industrial-Experimental scene happen?
Was hard to get this kind of music in Israel then? And now, how has the situation changed with the pass of time? There’s any other mailorder service carrying related titles apart from your distro?
Uri: As I described, the first encounters were in different clubs related to some kind of a Punk\Goth scene I was involved with when I was a teenage. At the time there were a few shops which carried the records imported from Europe (mostly from UK) and the only way to know what’s new in the scene was the mail order catalogues arriving from Europe from time to time.
There were also quite a few Industrial acts. The most famous were DXM and Duralex Sadlex. Both had a few tape releases and were known to those who were in the ‘scene’.
Today, of course, when we have the Internet, it is much easier to find all the needed information. There is a large Goth, Industrial Metal and Electro-Industrial scene (fans of Apotygma and VNV Nation) but only a small community of what is called now ‘Post Industrial’ music (and even fewer like Noise). One of the main ideas I had when I started the label was that there are many more fans and artists of the genre but they have no connection to each other so there is no real ‘community’. I was proven right because since I started 2 years ago I received more than a few demos and met lots of people who are looking for crazy folks like they are. There are also some sporadic projects but no other label related to this music. Some CD shops import releases by the big labels like Cold Meat Industry, Ant-Zen and Tesco but as far as I know I am the only one who works with all the less known projects and labels.
(by the time this interview is re published in topheth.org that has changed. -uri)
SDC: The couple of Topheth Prophet releases we’ve seen until now have a clear link with the context that surrounds the country of origin of the label, Israel.
Will this attitude keep on or we will see an aseptic work of a foreign artist in the future?
Uri: Well, the main idea of Topheth Prophet is to support the local scene but it is not impossible that I will release a foreign artist in the future.
In fact, there is one project from the US that I might release but it is closely related to Israel although recorded abroad.(that is obviously BARZEL. -uri)
SDC: When I take a look at the selection you made for the ‘Tel Aviv Aftermath’ compilation, I appreciate a huge diversity regarding style, was the aim of the CD to become a presentation card of the Israel scene?
Uri: I am a great fan of diversity. The main reason I went into the uneasy listening music scene is that I am always hungry for something different, something special, something unique. I want to drift on the music like a small boat on huge waves. I want it to take me to as many different places as possible. I tried to put some of that feeling to the compilation and to the label in general.
SDC: All of these acts have a sound that differentiates them from the standard stagnated categories that usually classify every European and US project. From your point of view, in which sense does the context of Israel may affect artists and their artistic work, from the positive point of view (historical roots, spiritual traces, geographic conditions, etc.)?
Do you think that the isolated and remote situation works positively for the musicians in this sense?
Uri: I don’t know. I think today it doesn’t really matter where you live. Vadim Gusis and Igor Krutogolov recorded ‘The Geometry of Soul’ with Bastard Noise’s Eric Wood who lives in US. Grundik + Slava also work together but live in different countries. Recently they released a collaboration with Ambidextrus, an Ambient musician who lives in Russia. All by sending files on e-mail (the album was released by Ack-Duck label).
I think each one of us, artist or not, has his own unique circumstances, influences and roots, no matter where you live, you are special even compared to your next door neighbour.
Of course working with characters such as Vadim, Igor, Ant Weiss, Slava, they all are very special people and very special artists. No wonder they sound different than most of what can be found in the scene. They are original.
SDC: And from the negative perspective, which circumstances would you like to remark as the biggest handicap for these creators? Do you know of anyone in this scene who has ever been in trouble with authorities or censorship due to his artistic proposal or any other Industrial-related artistic implication in Israel, the way that, for instance, some labels like Tesco suffered in Germany during the past?
Uri: The main problem is that the community is very small and most of the time we fail when we try to organize shows and events.
There are not enough of us to pay the cost of a venue. On the other hand, we have no problems with the authorities, there is a famous story from the 80’s when Duralex Sadlex added four 9mm bullets to their first tape. That caused them some problem with the police for obvious reasons :o), but there is no political censorship in Israel.(at least till you try to promote der blutharsch…-uri)
Israeli underground music is full of artists who are very critical about the political, cultural or religious aspects of life here and using provocative lyrics and symbolism is quite common. Of course they will not broadcast it on national radio but that is acceptable.
SDC: I remember that my copy of ‘Tel Aviv Aftermath’ came with a beautiful little coin. What is it and what is its significance? Please, explain the does the artwork mean? How important is symbolism and semiology in your culture and how is it reflected in your view of art?
Uri: The coin added to each copy is a old Israeli currency.
In the 70’s it was 1/100 of an Israeli pound. It is no longer in use. The reason I added it to the CD is that like the coin, I hope ‘Tel Aviv Aftermath’ and Topheth Prophet will become an integral part of Israeli history and culture.
The artwork was designed by Valentine Klayner. It was designed in propaganda style which seemed to match the message behind Topheth Prophet. People are looking for something to believe in. Even if it is the false prophets they see on TV every day. We object that, we feel one should strive to be loyal to himself, to his wishes and emotions. The artwork was designed with the idea that people who are trying to be the same like others become nothing more than faceless images waving flags.
It doesn’t really relate to current Israeli culture but to the same ideas people have since the beginning of culture.
SDC: The tenth track of the compilation was especially significant: ‘One minute of silence – for the memory of all those who violently lost their lives in the middle east conflict, except those who took other lives while losing theirs’.
Do you see it as a political or as an ethical statement? At the same time, we can see a quote taken from the Old Testament in the back of the booklet in close connection with my previous question about the name of your label (‘…And they have built the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughter in the fire;’ Jeremiah 7, 31). There’s any definite ideology or belief behind the concept that Topheth Prophet represents?
Uri: The silent track was in respect for those who died in the last years because of the stupidity of the leaders, priests and those who follow them. No matter Jews or Arabs. Some great people I’ve known lost their lives their. On the other hand, I do not see the terrorists as ones who are worth for my respect even though they can be viewed as victims as well. There is a thin line where one can choose and some people choose wrong. The Bible quotes the thing I explained above. I am a great Bible fan. There is a story there about every kind of human behaviour. Those who don’t remember their past are doomed to repeat it ;o), right?
SDC: Has Topheth Prophet received any response from Israel or was the label made just as a way to spread the word outside, rather that in your own country? There’s any sort of scene apart from the artists related to your label? You even have your own radio show focused upon this kind of music, there’s a significant amount of listeners?
There’s any kind of local ‘zine dealing with the experimental scene?
Uri: The main effort is to build our community of experimental music lovers and to make Topheth Prophet one of the main foundations of that community.
We had some feedbacks from the press and we are invited to all kinds of events to dj and to sell our CD’s. There is also the radio show and our activity in different Israeli forums. I think slowly we are getting more attention in Israel as well as outside the country.
Yesterday I received an e-mail from ‘The Jewish National University & Library’ and they asked me for 2 copies of each release for their archive so I think we are on the right track.
SDC: Most of the Israeli artists seem to have some sort of personal connection, and in fact, in most cases we find the same persons behind most of the projects in ‘Tel Aviv Aftermath’. Is this collective of artists located around a precise small area?
There’s any other connection apart from aesthetical similitude? As far as I know, the cooperative act The Crossfishes has offered several concerts in your country.
What kind of activities have you all organized in the past in Israel? There are plans to expand your activities in the future, like an Experimental Music festival or something similar?
Uri: There is a personal connection between most of the people in the Israeli scene.
We are not many so it is quite obvious. There are no distant places in Israel. You can cross the country north to south by 6 hours and east – west in less than one hour. The links between the different people here are more complicated than a soap opera :o).
For the near future, there are two CD releases planned for 2004. The budget is always a problem and I prefer to make a small number of releases each year and not to spend more than I can afford. This is the main goal for this year. Make the label financially stable. There is so much great music done here and it is a shame not to release it.
SDC: Can you let us now some of the upcoming releases of Topheth Prophet in advance? Something you’d like to set clear about Topheth Prophet, clarifications, last words…
Uri: All I can say at the moment is that the 2004 releases are very different of the 2 released by Topheth Prophet so far. I would like also to thank all the great people who supported Topheth Prophet over the last year.
Interview conducted by Marcos Alcocer and was published by the late Sekuencias de Culto in winter 2004