Michatronix, Tel Aviv

Still reverberating to this day

By Institute for Sound and Music

People in Tel Aviv like to say that the city is like a village—on the different music scenes, everyone knows each other, of course, but the same is true overall. You don't have to walk more than two or three blocks to meet someone you know. On the Mediterranean beaches, in bars and restaurants, or just in the street: you keep on seeing familiar faces.

Details of Michatronix by Natalie FeldesmanInstitute for Sound and Music

Tel Aviv nightlife, 2018, From the collection of: Institute for Sound and Music
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It's surprising, really, because the city has 500,000 inhabitants—and over 3.5 million people live in the whole metropolitan area—so in fact it's not much smaller than, say, San Francisco or Amsterdam. 

Tel Aviv skyline and beach, From the collection of: Institute for Sound and Music
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Yet Tel Aviv has always kept itself apart from the mainstream, not least because of the notoriously tense political situation. The electronic club scene developed a bit later here than elsewhere. Whereas even at the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, scene structures were developing in other places that are still legendary today, in Tel Aviv it took until the early 2000s before that phenomenon of subcultural mainstreaming really took off. 

Asaf Samuel and KatzeleInstitute for Sound and Music

Katzi Kenneth:

"The problem is that Tel Aviv and Israel were very slow to develop their own cultural identity at all. That was particularly evident in relation to pop and underground music. The situation was quite comparable with postwar Germany." 

Numerous different influences come together in Tel Aviv. The most obvious are, on the one hand, the Jewish European roots, seen for example in the Bauhaus architecture of the White City, and on the other, the Arab-Levantine lifestyle. 

Bauhaus at Tel Aviv, From the collection of: Institute for Sound and Music
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When you talk about Tel Aviv, you have to include Jaffa, the other part of this city of two halves. The ancient harbor city dates from Ottoman times. In Tel Aviv, none of this is usually much of a problem, because everyone knows that the city is a cultural melting pot that brings together both ultra-Orthodox Russian Jews and ultra-liberal hippies who don't distinguish between Hebrew and Arabic: and certainly not at the dinner table or on the dance floor. 

"Our big hits, our chansons, were always strongly influenced by traditions from Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. There's no denying it. It wasn't until the seventies that a distinct Israeli style developed. Nowadays, unfortunately, people forget that the differences are vanishingly small," says Kenneth. 

Then along came trance music, bringing a cosmopolitan feel to the city. Whereas in Europe the music scene was trying to pick itself up after the demise of techno, and the Love Parade, people could escape to Tel Aviv for nights of heavy partying with trance sounds. The city kept this branch of electronic dance music alive. For most young people in Tel Aviv, though, the situation was not ideal.

Detail of Michatronix (2008) by Natalie FeldesmanInstitute for Sound and Music

Kenneth:

"To be honest, we trailed along behind the rest of the world for years. That wasn't very satisfactory. We wanted to make something that was our own. The main mover there was Asaf Samuel, that's who you should talk to about Michatronix!" 

Asaf Samuel, who runs the Malka Tuti label with Kenneth, still speaks with huge enthusiasm about his business—because "it was a period when a style was being defined." 

Details of Michatronix (2008) by Natalie FeldesmanInstitute for Sound and Music

Details of Michatronix by Natalie FeldesmanInstitute for Sound and Music

Details of Michatronix (2008) by Natalie FeldesmanInstitute for Sound and Music

Michatronix, which held only 80 people, looked more like someone's living room than a club. This wasn't surprising because "I simply moved my apartment into the club", recalls Samuel. When it all began in 2007, he was still a student, says Samuel. On the side, he was running a restaurant in the north of the city at the time, "with mainstream music in the background and very good seafood." 

Asaf Samuel, Natalie Feldesman, From the collection of: Institute for Sound and Music
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Michatronix would not have been possible without the preceding changes on the club scene in Tel Aviv, he remarks. "There was the legendary Shesek, one of the first clubs to offer DJs and live acts of all kinds on 30 days a month. Or the Zinger, which for me marked a step change in the way music was consumed here."

Asaf loosing his mind, Natalie Feldesman, From the collection of: Institute for Sound and Music
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Nevertheless, the idea was for Michatronix to chart a very different course. Below a cheap hostel there was a similarly cheap room—the perfect place for not "either playing bad music or charging high prices," like all the others. As he said, Samuel brought furniture from his own home and set up a bar—and people started to gather at the club. 

Dancing at Michatronix, Natalie Feldesman, From the collection of: Institute for Sound and Music
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Or not. Because "at first it was often quite empty," he recalls. "But we still stayed open until three o'clock in the morning, every day. Gradually word spread about the club and people started coming from the nearby bars and restaurants—we became the cool cats. A refuge for open-minded people. And it was a question of playing the right music."

Wall behind DJ-booth, Michatronix, Natalie Feldesman, 2008, From the collection of: Institute for Sound and Music
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While chilled hip hop was still the order of the day during the week, at the weekends the texture of the music gradually changed. Electronic music was opening up in all directions—guitars were becoming more prominent. "Unlike the other clubs in the city, we paid our DJs in cash. Word got round about that, because most clubs only made a bank transfer after several weeks. Besides that, it was an opportunity for many friends of the club to be more creative. After a time, we built up a scene made up of musicians who no longer wanted to take the well-trodden paths." 

Live-sets at Michatronix, Natalie Feldesman, 2008, From the collection of: Institute for Sound and Music
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Looking back, the list of regular guests and DJs reads like a who’s who of the electronic underground scene: Red Axes was born here.

"The all-nighters were completely crazy. Seven to nine hours of music from all over the world—suddenly guitars became cool!

Nadav Spiegel, aka Autarkic, sang in public for the first time here; Moscoman mixed it here, who later founded Disco Halal with Naduve, and is now a sought-after DJ in Berlin, London, and Ibiza.

Psychedelic vibes at Michatronix, Natalie Feldesman, From the collection of: Institute for Sound and Music
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The club's success grew faster than the premises could keep up, so they started organizing monthly open-air parties in addition to the day-to-day business: "For many people in Tel Aviv, it was their first chance to hear Superpitcher or Optimo. Johnny from Optimo and Aksel played together, one on the decks, the other at the microphone." 

Despite the rather limited resources and potential at the club, Samuel always tried to do new things. The furniture was rearranged and replaced several times a year, and they kept trying new experiments like the Chatroulette nights, when the club made the world happy by playing good music, while other people made each other happy on a randomized portal.

Michatronix eventually fell victim to various changes. Socioeconomic upheavals that led to a housing crisis and job insecurity had a devastating impact on the club and the whole city of Tel Aviv. It was no surprise that, in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street campaign, young people in Tel Aviv also took to the streets and set up tented protest camps for months on end. The general cost of living was going up, and that had a bearing on alcohol prices. 

For a club that was dependent on its bar takings, the position was virtually hopeless. In the end, the result of it all was that creatives in the Israeli city looked around for alternatives. They began to migrate to Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin. Samuel himself moved to Barcelona, while Kenneth ended up in Berlin. 

After five years, Michatronix closed its doors for good, and the legendary camera that showed everyone inside who was coming in from outside was disconnected. But big, famous clubs and bars are not judged by the way they end but above all by their lasting impact. 

Michatronix changed the music scene for ever—and not just in Tel Aviv: electronic sounds were mixed with guitars, percussion, or bass—and that organic-analog sound is now popular the world over and is even in demand at the Burning Man festival. The Disco Halal label subsequently played around with combining Turkish, Arab, and Israeli samples to make a style that had not been heard anywhere in the world before. In the meantime, Samuel and Kenneth founded the Malka Tuti label. That goes a step further: electro, krautrock, EBM, industrial—it's all jumbled up together here and is performed in the same way at the label's party nights. Of course, Michatronix was just one club among many others around the world: small, brash, crude, quirky; but it was created with love and the repercussions reverberate to this day. You can't say that about many bars.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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