When I first visited Tel Aviv about six months ago, the city welcomed me with open arms. I stumbled into meeting exactly the kinds of people that you'd want to meet when you're visiting such a unique desert city with so many twists and turns. One such person was Asaf Samuel, who for years has operated the city's well-known bar, Michatronix, and recently opened an underground club called TAHAT, which literally translates to "ASS." He is, in my opinion, one of the most talented DJs in the Middle East.
In addition to founding his own own label, Malka Tuti, in June, Asaf has recently become a resident and creative member of Tel Aviv's most important club, The Block—located in the basement of a bus station in the center of the city, and home to programming aiming to bring Israelis and Palestinians together on the dance floor. During my visit to his city, I got a chance to sit down with Asaf to discuss the iconic nightclub, the complications that arise when throwing parties in a turbulent nation, and why people in his city puff so many damn spliffs.
THUMP: When I visited you, the first thing that I noticed was this very communal atmosphere. Is this the unique atmosphere of your group specifically or is is it more connected to the Israeli mentality?
Asaf: Most people in Tel Aviv are just very kind and open. Just call it the "We are all one big family" type of vibe, or maybe the "We could all die tomorrow so let's make this day the best day ever" kind of feeling.
In August you've joined the family at The Block—how are they able to book acts like Seth Troxler, Dixon, Ben Klock, and Âme consistently and into the future?
I've been a resident DJ there for some time now and am able to use one of the rooms to host our 84% Creativity label night, where I invite some friends from overseas to play. I really believe The Block is maintaining a special vibe to keep this going—there are no cellphones allowed on the dance floor, no smoking on the main floor, and our sound system is one of the best in the whole world. Considering all that, you need the best bookings in the world to keep up.
I heard that the owner of The Block is a real sound and gear nerd, spending more time in front of the output stage and mixers instead of in the actual club areas. Is that correct?
Yaron is a true genius. I remember playing my first gig there and he was running back and forth between the floor and the backroom the whole time. I thought he was going there to snort some cocaine or something, but actually he was adjusting the sound. He came up to me and said that every track needs and deserves its own perfect conditions to flourish. While he was probably talking about something that only someone like him could hear and feel all the time, it's still really inspiring to see him in action.
Why is there so much hype around German DJs in Israel?
Maybe it's something to do with the cheap EasyJet flights between Berlin and Tel Aviv [laughs]. But I do believe that now the hype has slowed down a bit. Every club, bar, even restaurant, had acts from Berlin between 2009 and 2013. It just became too much at some point, maybe because the promoters had pushed it too hard.
I was surprised about how open nightclubs in Tel Aviv are towards drug use. Are you all not afraid of the soldier girls with their G36 assault rifles?
Most of the consumers are just smoking pot and want to relax from all of the stress and noise of life in Tel Aviv. People here work so much and just want to relax and roll a spliff—It's part of the lifestyle of everyone from doctors to lawyers and 18 year-old hip-hop producers. As long as you do that in a chill environment, nobody will be after you. The police here focus their work on the top dogs, not on small fries.
Do you see any connections between the Israeli ethos of "standing at attention" and the powerful nightlife vibe in Tel Aviv? And do you associate any of this with the memorial term "We will not stop dancing"? Is this incident still present in people's minds today?
The connection you're talking about is undoubtedly very strong. The people here, knowingly or not, are living each day like it could be their last on this planet. Maybe the reasons for this come from our bloody past and problematic present. Our future doesn't seem that bright—Tel Aviv was blinded by the lies about a better future for all of us, but in the end the people have spoken and once again Bibi (Benjamin Netanyahu) is leading our country towards an unknown, but certainly worse future.
In your club TAHAT you regularly host events featuring Arabian electronic music. How present is the conflict between Israel and Palestine in your everyday life?
First of all, that's like my favorite genre—the slower the better! We do believe that everything we do can make a difference. We can break another brick from this "wall of hate" that our governments are building. Bringing Israeli and Arabic people together and letting them dance to Arabic music in an Israeli club literally lets you feel how something is changing right before your eyes. Maybe it's happening slowly and subliminally, but it's happening. Tel Aviv might be some kind of a bubble, but I think that it could be more influential than it seems.