10 More Jewish Punk Bands I've Never Written About
Punk-Slanted Klezmer and Klezmer-Slanted Punk
Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird is "far more interested in playing real Klezmer with a punk approach than 'Jewishy' punk music," says Kahn, a veteran of Detroit's punk and folk scene. The singer and accordionist cites The Pogues as a major inspiration, noting that there's no reason why The Pogues' "crashing down on you like a wave" approach to Irish folk music can't be applied to Jewish folk music. Kahn adds, "Yiddish is no more dead than punk is. They are both involved in the history of great failures and subversive triumphs. Although some people say that punk died the minute someone first said, 'Punk's not dead.' I hope the same isn't true for Klezmer music."
The band's new CD, Partisans & Parasites, features lyrics in Yiddish, English, German, and Russian. I'm partial to two songs that Kahn wrote the lyrics to, "Six Million Germans" and "Dumai." The former, allegedly based on a true story, talks about a gang of Holocaust survivors who sought to kill Germans in revenge. "Dumai" is a reflective and absolutely beautiful song about Israel. Go to PaintedBird.net to read the album's lyrics.
"Di Nigunim is definitely a punk band with a klezmer slant and not the other way around. We try to make up in furious dance energy what we lose in musicianship," says Forest Borie, a vegan Jew and the accordionist for San Diego–based Di Nigunim. The band formed two-plus years ago and has released one EP. Out of the band's "about 13" current members (they have performed with as few as seven), Borie thinks that only three are members of the tribe. "I think that makes us not a Jewish band, just people playing very Jewish music," he says.
Borie's bubbes haven't seen the band live yet, but if you live on the West Coast, you don't have to meet the same fate. Di Nigunim will be playing shows across California, Oregon, and Washington in August. Click here for tour dates, and click here to see a video of a high-energy live performance.
Josh Lederman y Los Diablos
I couldn't reach Josh Lederman y Los Diablos, the self-professed "Kings of Irish-Jewish Folk-Punk," in time for my 2006 "Is There a Jewish Connection to Celtic Punk/Rock?" post, but I did hear back from Lederman last week. Lederman, who is Jewish and Irish, says that while the disbanded Massachusetts group's "Irish-Jewish folk-punk label was tongue in cheek, ... it was pretty accurate." Lederman doesn't think that Irish and Jewish folk music are very similar in nature. The singer and guitarist adds, "The punk element really came more from the underlying musical philosophy of feel over technique, coupled with beer and screaming. But the music itself wasn't all that punk. But it was very Pogues-influenced, too, so their punk roots were certainly part of our early inspiration." Josh Lederman y Los Diablos released four albums on Nine Mile Records between 1999 and 2005.
Lederman says his new band, Josh Lederman & The CSARs, features more klezmer and less Irish-influenced music.
Jews in Skinhead Bands
A T-shirt for the French skinhead band Hard Times boasts "Paris Skinheads Glory" on the front and "No Discrimination: We Hate You All" on the back. But singer Philippe "Avichaï" Wagner says, "Deep inside, of course, we got no real hate; it's just an answer to [the] common point of view about skinheads: We're neither racist nor Communist; we're just all about music, clothing and friends! Politically correct isn't our thing."
Wagner says he is a longtime skinhead and a ba'al teshuvah Jew, but he doesn't connect the two, saying "even if I put [on] tefillin with boots & braces, well, there no link in between." The band's founding bassist was also Jewish, and the current bassist is Jewish on his dad's side. Wagner says that Hard Times formed in 2003 "to shake [up] the Parisian & French skinhead scene" and that the outwardly Zionist and anti-racist band has been targeted by Nazis and Stalinists at shows. In September, Hard Times will celebrate the release of their upcoming album with their second U.S. tour.
Illinois skinhead band Bleach Battalion formed in 2006 and is not currently playing shows. They have released one album, called Model Citizens.
Singer-guitarist Natassja Noctis is a Jew and a skinhead, but she wouldn't call herself a "Jewish skinhead." She clarified, "A Skinhead who happens to be Jewish, yes, but 'Jewish Skinhead' sounds as if the purpose of being a skinhead is ... something to do with Judaism, which is inaccurate." While Noctis thinks that Jewish and skinhead cultures both focus on pride and tradition, she says the connection is "not really a topic that comes up a lot (unless Israel is being bombed or something)." Noctis thinks that being a skinhead could fit into anyone's "religious worldview" and concluded, "Oi! and ... Oy!"
Jay Diamond's Jewish Punk Adventures
Around 1999, singer-drummer Jay Diamond formed Fear of a Blue Planet when he was in college in Chicago. The group's name is a spinoff of the Public Enemy album Fear of a Black Planet. Diamond says that the band's songs "were about 30 seconds long and was me screaming stuff I copied down from my grandfather's collection (Talmudic discussion, Exodus, it all makes for interesting sounding metal lyrics) mixed with lyrics of a disenfranchised, angry young man."
"We were three Jewish kids who were struggling with our Jewish identity in our first years of adulthood," says Diamond. "Two of us had grown up in Orthodox/traditional households, and the other one had a typical Midwestern Jewish upbringing (Reform). Playing in a loud, fast punk band that sang about being Jewish." Two out of the three went on to become lawyers.
Following graduation, Diamond and two friends formed Shabbos Bloody Shabbos in Park Slope, Brooklyn. "We were three Jewish kids from upper-middle class families and wanted to be hardcore like Agnostic Front except wthout the tattoos and the street cred. I'm sure we would have gotten the crap beaten out of us," says Diamond. Shabbos Bloody Shabbos wrote some songs and tried to practice once, but it never got off the ground.
Diamond, a Jewish vegetarian, has interviewed The Clash's Mick Jones (himself a Jewish vegan) for Heeb.
Sinat Hinam formed in Israel in 2005 but broke up when singer Oleg Blecher moved to Sweden. Blecher describes Sinat Hinam's music as "raw-d-beat punk" initially before "moving more and more towards a metallic crusty sound, and more serious lyrics."
In the wake of my 2008 "Jewish Punks Embrace Nazi Rhetoric and Imagery" article, I was struck by the band's logo, which looked like a swastika split apart. Blecher explains: "The logo is actually a Hebrew acronym for the band's name, which is the two letters 'shin' and 'chet,' which is almost identical to the symbol for Israeli money, the shekel, with a twist, so it almost looks like a broken apart swastika. It's like a double pun." I aslo noticed that one song had "Shoa" (the Hebrew word for Holocaust) in the title. Blecher, a vegan Jew, says that "Shoa Atzmit" is "about the meat industry, the fact that on this planet human beings and other living beings are not parts of two different entities, thus by slaughtering millions of animals we are slaughtering ourselves."
Predecessors to Other California Bands
Jews From the Valley might have been the first punk band to focus on Jewish identity. Gefilte F*ck's Web site says, "Gefilte F*ck was one of the first Yidcore bands from Los Angeles. Jews From The Valley, a punk outfit featuring Gefilte F*ck's Mark Hecht and local scenester Bob Moss (of Wednesday BBQ fame) preceded it by a few years." Gefilte F*ck formed around 1991 (and Total Passover formed in 1990), but it's possible that Jews From the Valley formed in the '80s.
Moss replied to some of my messages, but he never answered any of my questions. "There were a few silly flyers and I'm sure some photos but I have no idea who would have any of that stuff," Moss said. He suggested I talk to Hecht, who apparently wrote most of the music and some of the lyrics. Former Gefilte F*ck singer Howard Hallis said that Hecht "had a dead-animal removal business in LA called 'Under The House,'" but I was unable to track him down.
Little is known about G.I. Jew, the predecessor to California skinhead-parody Jewdriver. Jewdriver's singer, who goes by the stage name Ian Stuartstein, did not respond to my e-mails. The leading source appears to be the liner notes to Jewdriver's Hail the Jew Dawn, although it's tough to separate fact from fiction. According to the tongue-in-cheek legend, G.I. Jew formed in Oakland, Calif., around 1994 and was conceived of by Stuartstein and "a fellow named Jay Oniskinwitz," who "discussed the idea with Max Bagels that evening." As G.I. Jew, they allegedly played shows with Green Day and Rancid before those bands hit it big. Around 1996, Stuartstein supposedly "fired the entire band" and "renamed the band Jewdriver"; Max Bagels apparently rejoined Jewdriver in 2001. I simply can't say how much of this is true.
The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's author Steven Beeber has written that Jewdriver formed "out of the ruins of the briefly lived GI Jew," but he says he didn't have a better source than what I'd found. Beeber notes that a book called GI Jews "discusses the experiences of American Jewish soldiers during WW II, and how their fighting against the Nazis helped them to form a new, perhaps prouder image of themselves." While this could conceivably explain the meaning behind the band's name, GI Jew the book was published a decade after G.I. Jew the band formed. Of course, the name might have just been a silly Jewish knockoff of G.I. Joe and nothing more.
Note (1/4/10): The original version of this post misidentified Bleach Battalion singer Natassja Noctis. Her name and pronoun references have been corrected, and a link to the band's new Web site has been added.