„I am searching for the rollercoaster drop feeling that make my lungs explode.“
Although Chen Moscovici has, despite the rainy fall day that patters on the windows from outside, been super relaxed up until now, the anger starts to surface. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to swap the record players for a band. But it is too late now, and he is on the stage of the Radion Club in Amsterdam to play his live debut as Moscoman as part of ADE Festival; and he is at odds with the sound system that is somewhat less than perfect for live concerts and a noticeable overwhelmed sound technician.
But let us start a little earlier with our story. Since his move from Tel Aviv to Berlin two years ago Chen Moscovici positioned himself brilliantly on the dance floors of the world between Salon zur Wilden Renate, Dalston Superstore, Good Room, and The Block with his uncanny seeming productivity and releases on labels like I’m a Cliche, Correspondant, Renate, Eskimo Schallplatten, and ESP Institute. Beneficial for this extremely dynamic establishment was his label Disco Halal where he attends to electronic music from the Middle East, transcending genres and borders, no matter if it hails from Turkey, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt or Palestine. The label represents a bridge over the cultural gaps of his splintered native region. Obviously Moscovici does indulge in the illusion that he might be able to change the complicated circumstances, but “to contribute a small part to the rapprochement is already worthwhile”, he indicates.
We start talking about the strange duality of aversion and hipness that is part of his everyday life. On the one hand he sense the scepticism, fear and oftentimes aversion that is world-determining since 9/11 and that is felt by Arabic appearing people in the world, on the other hand he meets through his music many people who cherish and love him for his origin and the music that results from it. “Sadly, I realize and think about this all the time. I see people looking differently at me, because I am from Israel or, god forbid, Rumania”, and adds immediately that this does not have to be something bad per se. He tells me about his DJ gig in Cologne last year during the Birlikte Festival that is paying tribute to the wounded from the NSU pipe bomb assault. “I played at some weird café, where normally Turkish people play domino, and it was packed and people were dancing, although or because I was banging all the weirdest Arabian music. I was wondering: What is wrong with the Germans? Why do they connect to this music, especially with all the bad stuff the Arabic world is representing now. The answer that I found for myself: Family plays an important part in the Arabic world and we manage to bring this feeling of coherence as a new element into the Western dance music.”
On the morning after the concert – that turned out great, despite the complications mentioned initially – at a time when most DJs are assumed to be asleep, a joint set from Moscoman and Lovefingers is about to happen at Red Light Radio. The radio institution from Amsterdam is associated with the Red Light Records store. Every week famous DJs from all over the world drop by for a free gig, before they will be playing in the clubs in Amsterdam. During ADE there is a constant stream of them.
Chen Moscovici and I are meeting up a couple of hours later in his hotel room to weave the conversation threads a bit narrower, that had been quiet loosely up until now. The heart of our conversion is of course his debut album “A Shot in the Light”, that was released on ESP Institutes, despite the hype around Disco Halal. ESP Institutes is the label of the musician Andrew Hogges who is based in Los Angeles (it is that Lovefinger who just was with him in the radio studio). This decision was obvious for Moscovici, because he does not want to use Disco Halal for his own stuff, but solely to promote other producers. „I’m sure the label is so successful precisely because I put all my energy into the work of other people and not mine, just like Lovefingers took care of me on ESP, I now do it for others.”
„A Shot In The Light“ subsists on Moscovici’s talent to melancholy break simple melody lines with trance moments so that you get in rotation to it somewhat elated but also contemplated. The opening song of the album, “Nineteen Eighty-Two” is an object lesson on how to confuse your listeners; isn’t an air of tropicana in there? How did that get there? Anyway, the thirty-something doesn’t seem to have any interest in clear sound relations. As daringly collaging and confronting as his sets are (mixing everything from punk, pop, techno to African and Arabic music – his explanation: “The region I come from is a boiling point, it is very hot and humid, you just want to scream all the time. That is exactly what lead to this crazy mixture”, the album is also arranged likable heterogeneous. “It is a menu of everything I did within the last years”, explains Moscovici. “From melodic and percussive stuff to trancy productions to weirdly jungle and afro beat influenced ones.” Whereas the sad melodies that he loves so much are the connecting constant. But it couldn’t work out all right completely without inner conflict, he emphasizes: “Philosophical speaking: this conflict of sounds represents my inconsistencies. All my tracks are a combination of who I want to be and who I am.”
You could assume that this ubiquitous sadness would stem from the Jewish heritage of the musician who was born and raised in Tel Aviv (his mother worked in the public health care system, his father was a bus driver), especially having knowledge of the great importance that Arabic music has for his work. But he astonishingly emphasizes the influence of Scandinavian music. „When I started as a musician I had a longing to have been born in the North, because they have their own distinct kind of sadness. If you hear the old stuff of the new disco guys Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas.
If one mentions sad it is not far from the word depression – Chen Moscovici’s reaction to the word is irritatingly happy. With downright glowing eyes he tells me that he calls his music “happy-sad”, “as it is saturated with a manisch depressive feeling. Although I may lead an autonomous life in the Western world, travel a lot and eat at great restaurants, there is… People may think it is crazy, but I think it is part of our DNA that we cannot simply be happy.”
The manner in which Moscovici over and over addresses his homeland suggests the assumption that it wasn’t easy for him to exchange Tel Aviv for Berlin. He shakes his head approvingly and notes that although it’s just three hours away with a plane life in Berlin everyday feels like a diaspora. “I had to leave my family in Israel. Although I now live with my girlfriend in Berlin and I have quite a few Israeli friends in the neighborhood, but the majority of my life is not here.”
In Berlin he consciously chose Mitte as his adopted hime. “This is due to the fact that there once was a huge community of jewish people. I am a very spiritual guy, I could sense souls and feel at home by their side. I can of course feel their sadness here.“
After a previous stay in Berlin he was fueled to move there permanently by the urgent desire for an affiliation with a circle of musicians that seemed too far away and inaccessible from his vantage point in Tel Aviv. And despite the sincerity with which Moscovici devotes himself to his goals he is quite surprised by the fact that quite a few of the names he used to admire from afar are now connected with faces and that he calls more than a few friends whom he is traveling the world with and playing records with. He hasn’t reached his goal yet. “It would be presumptuous to claim that I am already a musician on their level.” Moscovici who after a long time with normal jobs (from pizza delivery boy to jobs in sales and programming) only took the plunge to become a DJ in his late twenties, humbly points out that there is a lot he has to work on with his music. But that it is a good thing, “music is the important part, all the rest, including DJing, is a bonus.”
We talk about the concert of the day before. Despite the complicated circumstances he is really happy about it, says Chen Moscovici. „I am totally sure that no one in the crowd realized that last night was only our second show besides the trial one in Berlin.” And immediately delivers the explanation: “When you do something with 100%, things will work out.“ The last remark is almost something like self-affirmation, “the process of becoming a band is not yet finished” he continues. The next step will be to approach songs with lyrics. Up until now this endeavour has fallen through over and over – although he has a drawer full of LCD Soundsystem-like material – due to the fact that he doesn’t like the coloring of his voice. But thanks to his collaboration with the bass player Tamir Chen and drummer Shachak Itzovitz this is changing now.
Responding to the question why he, as a well paid DJ, would commit to the wearisome life in a band, he astoundingly does not have an answer. “Well, so i thought it would be a better way for people to connect to it”, he says quietly after pondering on it for a bit, “because I don’t really like to play my own stuff as a DJ.” And what does music have to have to captivate him.„I am searching for the rollercoaster drop feeling that make my lungs explode. That does not happen very often, then you feel it in your hair that „this is it“, that they made it right.” All kind of emotions stimulate him: “Sometimes a track is inspired by calmness, but it could just as well be irritation or being stuck in a problematic situation, so the music is the catharsis.”
Due to my manner to overinterpret things politically the title of the album “A Shot in the Light” spoke to me as a statement on the state of the world. Kinda like the days of secrecy are over. As nowadays everything happens in public, whether it’s the indecency of politics or the deviousness of terror. You would think that this is an obvious interpretation for someone who grew up in Israel. Chen Moscovici hesitates and comments scarcely: “There is always a lot of room for interpretations in my titles – but to be honest: No, that’s not it.” He sees it as a twist on the phrase “a shot in the dark”, because he knows what he is doing, “but I still do not know what will happen.”
Now that we’re already on the topic of politics he starts immediately: „Well, we asked for it, didn’t we? And now people shoot us straight into the face. That’s the price we are paying for our behavior. What has changed about it: If something happens in Syria, Turkey or France, we feel it now as if it was happening to us directly. 20 years ago people in the Western countries were not yet worried about this kind of stuff.“
Interestingly he emphasizes at this part in our conversation that he is thankful to be part of the dance music industry, as he considers the people that surround him to be intelligent. “Me and my DJ colleagues are permanently in discussion to each other to get to new levels, we are downright fueling each other. It is not like it was in the 80s, 90s, 00s were all the DJ just gathered to drink a lot and get fucked up.” This might fortunately be true for his Disco Halal surroundings, but the status quo out there looks different, a glance out of the window of the hotel room on the ADE-activities in the streets of Amsterdam.
Chen Moscovici looks at me for a longer time and the subject fades out almost on its own. Instead he tells me that his parents were sceptical for a long time regarding his “techno-Hollywood-dream”. This had not always been easy for him, but his optimism managed to persuade them. A factor for the success story of Moscovici that cannot be underestimated, since the 34 year old talks several times a day with his mother. Like every good, jewish boy he cannot let go and thinks about her a virtually constantly – you do not want to imagine how stifling it might have been if Mom would have talked insistently to him with demotivating, negative remarks.
It’s only a couple of hours until Chen Moscovici will perform again tonight, this time as a DJ as part of the ESP night st label boss Lovefingers’ side. Therefore we spend the time together with his bandmates Tamir Chen and Shachak Itzkovitz and his friend and manager Alex Lemieux, drinking Sake and eating chips and talking about the legendary LSD performance of Leonard Cohen in Israel, about the impact that the nightlife of Berlin has on teenagers ending in the city and about Chen’s upcoming tour in Brazil – and then end at the subject of Jewish humor that is very important to him. “I think it is a jewish thing to make jokes about everything”, he states.”This makes it possible that we are able to talk about every situation. Even if it is the worst
(Translation by Denise Oemcke)