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We Found a Protest Anthem for Young Israel

You're welcome, J14.

Wherever there’s a protest, there’s a soundtrack, right? Billie Bragg set music to the rebellion against Thatcher’s war with the trade unions in 80s Britain; Chinese students sang Cui Jian’s songs in Tiananmen Square, 1989; Sixto Rodriguez’s Cold Fact inspired South African anti-apartheid revolutionaries, etc.

Obviously, when we went out to Israel earlier this year to shoot our film Israel's Radical Left, we assumed that the main protest group J14 would have their very own songs that would fit our documentary like a glove. We shouldn’t have assumed, because we quickly learned that trying to find a good Israeli band means spending a day trawling through the websites of various cliché singer songwriters wailing about peace in Hebrew and Green Day-influenced skatepunk outfits.

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We’d just about given up all hope, when we got the brain flash of asking our Tel Avivian buddy and talented journalist, Yuval Ben-Ami, why finding J14 protest music proved to be such a headache.

He confirmed that the Israeli protest movement sorely lacks an anthem, and that the closest thing to one was something soppy composed by an early 20th century poet. He also showed us a protest song from the 80s called “Hero of the Defence Forces”, in which the singer wishes she was a military hero with a pretty woman waiting for her in bed to give her hand jobs. Which is too confusing to ever make for effective rhetoric.

But then, finally, he told us about this great garage noise band called Tsenzura, from the periphery Negev Desert town of Beer Sheva, surrounded by Bedouin shanty towns. We became so obsessed with Tsenzura’s jammy, energetic music, we blasted it throughout the film. J14, we know you’re busy changing your country and stuff, so we’ve done the work of finding some good protest music for you. Here’s an interview with your new J14 protest band, Tsenzura. You’re welcome.

VICE: Hey guys. Tell me the story of Tsenzura.
Karin (vocals): We’ve been a band for ten years. We started it in high school as a joke, but it caught people’s attention pretty fast in Beer Sheva. Our lyrics are usually about shit that happened to us growing up together. Over the years we’ve written songs about our time in the Israeli Defense Forces, suicide, our neighbours and about music in Israel.
Alex (bass): The whole conflict in the Middle East has been pounded to death in Israeli music. We are talking about life in our peripheral desert city.

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I read somewhere that the only city known to man that's uglier than Beer Sheva is Ankara, the capital city of Turkey that no one gives a shit about because all the good stuff happens in Istanbul. What’s the deal with Beer Sheva? Were you born there?
Dani (drums): I was born in the US and came here when I was four. Alex came at the same age from Russia. That’s when we met; we’ve known each other forever. Beer Sheva is cool, actually. It’s a small, working-class town that’s starting to look more and more like a big city. People here like music and take no bullshit. I think we fit the mood here.
Alex: It's a special city. Perfect for rock ‘n’roll.
Karin: Shlomi and I are born and raised here. I see Beer Sheva as a grey colouring book, which is up to creative people to add as many colours to as possible. What do you do for fun in Beer Sheva?
Shlomi (guitar): We have pretty good bars here. If you happen to be in Bash [that’s the city’s nickname], you should head to Coca, it's a beer brewery and we get drunk there often. They have the best burgers in the country. Another good place to visit is Ashan Hazman, which is a small bookstore with live shows. It’s one of the cornerstones in Beer Shevaian music. Weird shit happens there.

The film we're using your music in is about young people in Israel who demand social justice, democracy and equality. How do you relate to Israel and its social issues?
Dani: Israel is a young country that had a rough childhood. People here have seen wars in every generation, so issues like social justice kept being a lower priority. Last summer, people got fed up and took it to the streets.
Alex: We played during one of the larger nationwide rallies, with a crowd of 15,000. You could feel the energy there.

How do you write your songs?
Dani: For our latest album, we had a week-long drinking and drug frenzy in the studio, trying to unleash what we’re doing during our live shows.
Karin: We write all the songs together and we never stick to a certain route. Sometimes we can't seem to get a song working for a long time. Usually, that's when a good song just pops out.

Have you played abroad?
Alex: We’ve barely played outside of Beer Sheva. We keep hearing nice things from people outside Israel, so getting to play abroad would be great. What's next for you?
Karin: We want to record another album, but it's financially impossible right now.  We made a lot of noise, opened a lot of doors and influenced a lot of young musicians, so we are happy just to keep playing together.

If listening to Tsenzura while watching the film isn’t enough to satisfy you, click here to listen to or get your hands on their album.

Follow Milene on Twitter: @Milenelarsson