For nearly a decade now Itai Biri and Yaron Amor have been ploughing their own furrow when it comes to deep, underground techno. Their career has been a blend of dedication and hard work that has led them to become one of the most respected production and DJ duos in the scene. Hailing from Israel, they emerged from a rave scene that saw partying as a way to shift focus from the fraught political situation and regular violence that plague the region. They’ve just released a new LP "Dominance" on their Black Crow imprint and it’s a tour de force of deep, atmospheric techno. I caught up with them over skype to discuss the album, and discover the story of how they got to where they are today.
Having worked together for so long, the first thing I wanted to know was how they met, and how the relationship took hold. Yaron, much older than Itai, explained that he had been DJing and putting on parties for a while, and then this kid got in touch with him out of the blue. “He contacted me back then, through MySpace I think it was, just sending me some of his music. And we started to talk and I realised he was just 16 or 17 years old and I couldn’t believe he was making this music because it was too good! So I took the bus to Jerusalem and went to his place, and he was recording in his bedroom and I said “ok let me see the project” then I saw it was real.” From there they slowly started to build a working relationship.
For both of them their love for electronic music took hold at a young age. When Yaron was 9 he had an older cousin who used to bring home dance records. Whenever the house was empty, he used to steal the records and record them to tape, taking his bootleg cassettes into school to play to his classmates. From that day on, Yaron voraciously collected and consumed electronic music and never looked back. After a few years his friends encouraged him to start DJing because of his deep knowledge, so he bought some turntables and started to play.
At the time there was a strong illegal rave scene where he lived and Yaron jumped right in. “I was already going to all of the underground parties in Tel Aviv, back then we had lots of really raw warehouse parties. I took the courage to record a demo and give it to some of the organisers and it started from there”. From humble beginnings playing for free to 50 people in an abandoned parking lot. Yaron soon started playing regularly at techno parties and then a club called Barzilay opened. After playing a few times Yaron found his true home, becoming a booker there and regular DJ.
For Itai, the roots of his love for electronic music also came from his family. “My brother was also into electronic music. He used to listen to things like early Plastickman mixes and things like that. At first I didn’t really get it. It was weird to me, but it was special. I didn’t really know what I was hearing.” Those initial encounters sparked something in the young Itai, and he was spurred on to find out more. “From then I learned from Youtube how to produce some basic stuff. It was one year on from that that Yaron heard my music and we went from there”. Being too young, Itai had never set foot in a club before, but Yaron took him along to a rave, and played some of his tracks and it blew his mind. “Everything sounded so different, I was a little bit terrified but I was amazed as well”
After they initially linked up the pair began to play fairly regularly back to back at Barzilai and they definitely hit the ground running. Their very first gig together was warming up for Derrick May. That same night they passed him a demo CD and before long they had a release on May’s seminal Transmat imprint.
I wondered whether the fertile illegal scene was due to a lack of legitimate spaces but apparently this wasn’t the case. “Back in the 90s and the early 2000s it was happening alongside mega-clubs playing progressive house with big DJs like Sasha and Digweed, but at the same time you could find raw drum & bass and techno parties in Tel Aviv for 300 people.” This wasn’t to last though. “Around 2001 the club scene totally collapsed with the political situation and suicide bombings and all that stuff, the big names from Europe were afraid to come and people were not feeling like they wanted to go out to a big club. So for 2 or 3 years the scene of big clubs totally disappeared.” But that only made the illegal parties get stronger, which then fed into more underground clubs opening, making the music scene more interesting, exciting and open. “For me it was a way to escape the reality around me. The parties were still going on. Some weekends we had missiles landing in Tel Aviv but people were still going out.”
The conversation moves on to their new album, which has just dropped on their own imprint Black Crow, but before we get stuck into that I was really interested to hear how the dynamics of them working in the studio together play out. Itai explains how the process began for them “We change it a bit from time to time, but in the first place we stated producing only with computers, and maybe a little bit of hardware. We would just send some projects to each other. It was really natural, because for me it was also the beginning so I didn’t really produce on my own for a long time before that. So it was really natural for me to sit with someone and I can learn from him and he can learn from me and it was really fresh. From there we just spent time together jamming, going with the flow, and digging deeper until we found what we both liked in our own sound and what we were both passionate about. That was the only thing that mattered for us”.
I’m keen to find out about how their decision making works in the studio. Whether they are having discussions on how they each feel that a track should go and work out a compromise if their visions don’t align, but Yaron explains that they don’t usually need to do this. “I think maybe 80% of the time things just develop naturally. Normally we don’t have to talk a lot about these things. But sometimes there may be a track that I think can go in this direction and Itai might thing differently, but we normally just try the two ways and see which one will develop and feel better, and then go in this direction. I think the most important thing is not to cancel each other out.”
The genesis of their new album came gradually, and not with one decision. The pair were slowly building up a collection of tracks that they felt they didn’t want to release as EPs, they felt it was too special for that, and wanted to focus on telling a larger story. So once they had put together a collection of initial sketches, they just worked away and tried to do realise them in the best way they could. Yaron explains that it was a long process “we started thinking about doing an album maybe 2 and a half years ago, and then we had 2 years of writing music in the direction of the album, and mapping out tracks. This was a hard process, trying to get the best tracks and try to put forward the right message.”
When it comes to their new album, it’s not just the sonic content that is worthy of mention. For the cover they’ve worked with Avraham Barchil, a very different artist to who you might expect to be working on techno projects. “We found him kind of by mistake” Yaron explains. While in a dentist’s waiting room in Tel Aviv, Yaron looked into a prayer book for the Jewish holiday Passover. In the middle he came across some crazy images. “I saw in the middle of this book that’s supposed to be for the family, some really bizzare drawings that weren't supposed to be there.” He took the book home with him and googled the artist’s name and found all his amazing artwork.
He’s a deeply religious orthodox Jew, and the ideas for his works come from the darker ends of the spiritual tradition of Kaballah. This intense and hallucinatory imagery really resonated with Itai and Yaron so they got in touch and asked him to do all of the artwork for the label. As Yeron says, part of what makes the work so captivating is the fact that he’s coming from such a different perspective, “he’s inspired by the Bible and a more religious side. We think it’s an interesting match that maybe was not supposed to happen but did happen.” I wonder what Avraham makes of their music, because I’m not sure that techno plays a big part in orthodox Jewish culture. Yeron explains “I think from the conversations we’ve had, he’s really open. Not a closed minded orthodox. He also was not religious before he decided to go into the orthodox faith. So he knows both worlds. I think he used to listen to metal and was a surfer”.
After all their years of being involved in the Tel Aviv scene, Itai and Yaron began to feel that they needed new surroundings so six months ago they moved to Berlin. Yeron explains “we just wanted to refresh and try something different.” They’re still very new to the city but it’s great to see that they’re always looking to challenge themselves and try something new. I’m keen to find out what keeps them moving forward with music after all these years and the answer is, of course, the music. Itai explains “we’re still getting excited the most from music, so that’s what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives.”
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