Chicks on Speed in Israel

by Pil and Galia Kollectiv

"A galaxy of fast-moving and colourful visual imagery exists constantly, almost imperceptibly, in supermarkets, animated television series for kids on TV, on record sleeves and in porn magazines. A collection of cheap and immediate signs originating in consumerism and our media saturated environment has accumulated on the perimeters of the twentieth century, the fast food leftovers of modern culture. Trash invites the public to an intergalactiv interdisciplinary ride to the outer limits of fine art and the fantastic plastic world that swallowed it. Featuring performance artist Anat Ben David, painters Eli Petel, Yoav Ben-David and Adam Rabinowitz, electronic musicians Grundik and Slava, video artists Vadim Levin and Maria Pomianski and Pil and Galia Kollectiv, DJ Avi Pitchon, lectures by members of the Shenkin University of Present Studies and live shows by Munich-based techno-trash metal-disco-house monster Chicks on Speed, the last hope of the art and music world".
Press release for Trash: A Twisted and Tasteless Event

Jerusalem was never pure enough for anybody’s liking. Everyone – King David, Jesus, the crusaders, the Zionists – just came in and tried to make the city a place of otherworldly glory, cloaked in dead poisonous purity. Growing up in Jerusalem, you simply take for granted the fact that people are still fighting over this false purity and try to concentrate on the important stuff – drinking a bottle of vodka from a plastic bottle behind the bicycle shed, taping the new Slayer album from a friend, getting a Sid and Nancy T-shirt – just like any other teenager in the world. Only, in Jerusalem – while suicide bombs, messianic militants and brain-washing Kabala cults are just the most tedious and miserable aspect of everyday life – are rock’n’roll, customised fashion and subcultural literature about the most exciting, exhilarating and meaningful experiences on earth. And only in a place like Jerusalem are these things taken with an almost reverential seriousness.

The lame, over-enthusiastic press release that accompanied Trash: A Twisted and Tasteless Event, three days of music and art mayhem at Habamah Theatre in Jerusalem, says it all. What seems in retrospect like stating the obvious in terms of the alleged collapse of high art into pop-culture felt terribly significant in the context of Jerusalem Israel. Living in London, Berlin or New York you could easily take for granted concepts like pop art and arty pop, but against the background of a dying city, controlled by religious and nationalistic fanatics, a city that doesn’t have a single gallery to call its own, situated in a country where everyday life is not political but politics are an integral part of everyday life, they are radical. Working together to assemble Trash in the unlikely setting of a small fringe theatre in the industrial area of the city, we had to spend countless hours with the theatre’s director, Hadas Ophrat, without whom the whole venture would have been impossible, trying to convince him that the ideas that interested us were valid, that they existed somewhere beyond the narrow minded reach of the Israeli media, that pop culture was more, or at least could mean more, than a disposable opium for the masses who were voting for the right wing government. When he wanted examples we pulled out our quotes from the Situationist International, some books about punk, the short history of subcultures in the late twentieth century, hell, even Pokemon felt more significant to our minds than most of the art that was being created in Israel at the time, self-righteously moralising about the interminable political ‘situation’. But it was only when we brought up Chicks on Speed, the only other group of people that we felt worked with the same concerns from what little we’d heard of them, that he was finally convinced.

What we knew was ridiculously limited by our access to international media. We’d seen the name in an occasional NME that we managed to come across and thought it was the coolest. Then we got our hands on a small feature in the Face that claimed these girls in the homemade leather cavegirl outfits were also artists, creating not only the most indescribable based techno-trash metal-disco-house but also swap shows on TV where people could exchange goods, DIY collage art and a record label set on self-destruction. This was our kind of thinking and we wanted to set up a local equivalent, curate an event where art would meet music and a place for everything inbetween. It never occurred to us to get the Chicks involved, but when Hadas said why not bring them over here to participate, we jumped on the opportunity and immediately decided to spend our entire budget (we’d never worked with one!) on plane tickets for this imagined like-minded band/art project. A few e-mails to Disko B and the Chicks and it was all sorted – they would come over and play two shows, staying at our flat while we camped out at our parents places (hotels were beyond our financial scope, never mind any payment apart from expenses). Only then did it occur to us we’d never heard or seen them and that we had no idea what to expect. Agreeing that this was actually very cool, we nevertheless mail-ordered ourselves a copy of Poptics, a compilation that featured COS’ "Mind Your Own Business" – even with our music journalism ties we had no local access to such "underground" releases.

As soon as the record arrived we knew we’d done the right thing – it was amazing. It also featured a couple of other bands that we were to fall in love with, like the glorious Helen Love. Unfortunately, no one in Jerusalem had heard of any of them, and we found ourselves faced with the daunting task of promoting this weird event, headline by an anonymous group from abroad, in a city where even the most local bands struggle to get an audience wider than their families and classmates. Getting people from Tel Aviv let alone anywhere else outside the city to come in was nearly out of the question. The few media people we did manage to convince to come down we had to get rides for, and it took some convincing to get the out of town participants of the Shenkin University to come down, as no one in their right mind would come to just hang out in the terror stricken capital.

In spite of our concern, we did manage to fill the place up. Both dates were filled to capacity with an audience thirsty for action, riled by the bizarre performances and art displays that preceded the Chicks Israeli debut. An auction of trashy toys repackaged, customised and sold off by a Sotheby’s auctioneer, a series of lectures on messianic and the Darwinistic logic of the evolution of man into artist and some big brash paintings and videos dealing with porno and fetishism, propaganda and pigs all served to perplex a very mixed group of people who were for the most part unsure what they were doing there. As beer bottles started flying in the direction of some of the speakers, the whole thing was threatening to collapse into chaos. But with the opening refrain of the Chicks show, a robotic intonation of their self-explanatory name, it all came together and even started making some kind of sense. Abolishing the seating arrangement of the theatre space, COS got the crowd on stage with them, egged on by our close friends’ coerced manic pogoing.

The rest of the Chicks stay was spent on attempts to shoot the video for Glamour girl. We tried in vain to stuff into one week the entire incongruous diversity of the multi-faceted Israeli experience, from beachfront night clubs in Tel Aviv to the old city in Jerusalem, from the Dead Sea to the desert. Most of these places we wouldn’t even go to on our own, so caught up are people in their own small immediate surroundings in the conflict ridden society of Israel. We already knew that to start living the culture we were talking about we would have to leave soon – we’d already been accepted to art school in London and we had always known our future lay there. But looking back, we can’t help thinking that nothing would ever feel that important without that overpowering sense of oppression and we can’t help wondering whether it’s a prerequisite for any kind of subcultural activity.

Strange as it seems, the world needs places like Jerusalem because it is only in these godforsaken suburbs of the culture industry art and music can truly function as progressive challenges to the status quo. We’re not trying to glorify Jerusalem. A constant unrewarding struggle to even have something like art in a place that precludes less subtle forms of expression of opinion is a burden shared by all artists trying to work there. But where there’s misery there’s also hope and music is its purest form, and in misery you realise that the worst enemy of culture is apathy – simply not caring about boring music devoid of even a hint of fun, uninspiring fashion houses, smug DJs and stuffy galleries. The Chicks on Speed gig in Jerusalem was brilliant because they cared about these things just as much as their audience, and made it their mission to reinject pop culture with the intense meaning it had for us and those like us living on the periphery of the first world.
As Chicks on Speed face their future as a ‘real band’, their work having grown beyond its conceptual origins, the balance between external critique and active participation is bound to become harder to maintain. Absorbing potential criticism about their willingness to co-operate with the system of mass media and corporate consumer culture by directly addressing the ideas of ‘fakeness’ and ‘selling out’, they seem to try to pre-empt the inevitable co-option of their projects complexities into the simplified discourse of the music industry, to survive the difficult negotiation of art and commerce, still a challenge even after decades of art’s collapse into pop into art into pop. But in some ways, their work will never be as subversive as it truly was for us and for the few who were won over by Trash and went on to start their own bands and create their own art in Jerusalem, April 2000.

More about Trash and Chicks on Speed