Back in early September I had the fortune of attending Monotonix's show at MusicFestNW. Their short and explosive set was one of the most impactual concerts I've attended for a very long time. When I heard that Monotonix was returning to Portland to open for The Silver Jews I knew I had to see them again. I had to know if the show at Satyricon was some sort of anomaly. Was it just something that happened in that time and place?
It was clear from the get go that the show at the Wonder Ballroom was going to be different than Satyricon. The slightly sparse crowd was filled with thritysomething couples, out on a Tuesday night date, all of which seemed more interested in a mellow beer and music. Most of them congregated on the 'other' side of the OLCC beer barrier (a ridiculous regulation for all ages shows that bifurcates an audience in the worst way). The Silver Jews are a toe tapping, sway back and forth, geee aren't they cool kind of band; so the idea of a wildly flailing and explosive Israeli punk band opening for them is an extremely unlikely paring.
As with the Satyricon show Monotonix set up their drum set out on the floor. The band entered to a few hoots and hollers. One of the guys next to me exclaimed, "This is going to blow your mind". I wondered if that would be true. Could they blow my mind again? Would Monotonix able to catch lightening in a bottle and unleash it again and again? With their explosive start I knew from the beginning that the answer was a resounding YES.
Playing a much longer set than at Satyricon, Monotonix unleashed their music on to the fairly unsuspecting Silver Jews crowd. At one point guitarist Yonatan Gat lept across the OLCC barrier, followed by vocalist Ami Shalev who was shoved back by Wonder Ballroom security. It was the first scuffle between a band's lead singer and security I've seen in years. Undaunted Ami plowed ahead taking out the barriers and one of the security guards. If punk is a state of mind vs. a musical genre, I'd submit that this scuffle was punk.
Crossing that line seemed to really engage the otherwise mellow crowd who encouraged the band. Both Avi and Yonata took to the air, floating above the crowd… It wasn't the whole room bouncing at once experience of their Satyricon show, but a similar energy was there. Avi fond his way up onto the stage where he thrust a water battle into his pants and then pretended to ejaculate with it on one fan. He then stripped down stuffing his shirt into his shorts and proceeded to sing an Israeli folk song. Leaping off the stage the band ripped through another song, this time with their signature trash can dump over drummer Ran Shimoni.
The band then lifted the drum set and moved it to the back of the venue. Monotonix isn't just a band that plays on the floor, the entire venue is their stage – no matter where you are, you are part of the show. Soon after Ran picked up his snare drum and ran it up to the balcony where he continued to play. Avi follows, running up onto the balcony and and then over the railing. As he balances precariously on the balcony ledge Avi yells that he's going to jump on the count of four….and then he does. The audience catches him and he continues to belt out their final song.
There is a distinct feeling after a Monotonix show that something has happened. Monotonix brings the music off the stage and into the audience in a way that make the audience a part of the music. In may ways this is what's been really missing with music lately. Music has become a very personal and individualized experience: people download music on to their computer, move it on to their iPod and then listen to it on their headphones. Often the only real sharing people do of their musical experience is when they snag music from Bittorrent. The reason to go see live music isn't so YOU get to see the band in person, it's much bigger than that. Concerts are a communal experience where the audience is just as important as the band on stage.
Most people seem to have lost sense of this communal experience. At many of the concerts I've been at lately I see people checking their phones, texting each other, shoe gazing, generally consuming the music without any consideration to the people around them. At a recent concert I even witnessed an event where someone almost got into a fist fight over someone singing along with the music.
There's no question that the music industry is broken. It's easy for people to blame record companies for the poor state of music, but I think audiences are as much to blame. Monotonix is a reminder of a time in music where music was experienced not just consumed. When the band plays from within the audience they change the dynamics, they break the personal bubbles surrounding so many of us and force you to stop watching and start participating. So many of people dance around and sing to the music when we think no one else is looking, but it doesn't have to be that way. Concerts aren't just spectacle, they are the shared experience of music in a deep fundamental way. When we all dance together and sing together to the same music, it connects us in a way much more powerful than adding someone as your friend on facebook or shooting them an IM. We all become a part of something bigger than ourselves and help create an experience which can only happen in that space and time.
This is why Monotonix is so important to music right now. In my mind they may be one of the MOST important things going on in music. Sure, anyone can set up their instruments on the floor and play (and maybe more bands should), but so few bands are so committed to destroying that barrier between band and audience, so committed to changing the musical experience that I think they're worthy of being held out as an example of what should be.
Be sure to listen to my: Interview With Monotonix