Are you looking for Israeli punk bands to follow? Headed to Tel Aviv and looking for punk gigs to catch? Or maybe you just want to find out more about the history and reality of punk in Israel? If any of these apply to you, read on.
History of punk in Tel Aviv / Israel
Israel has a small but awesome punk scene with a strong and dedicated following. You may already know that the Tel Aviv punk scene is very real and very much alive and kicking, but did you know Israel’s punk scene has been going for over 40 years?
That’s right, Israel was very quick to adopt the new punk style. The video below is an item on the Israeli news from 1978(!) talking about Punk in Israel and showing the famous Rami Fortis (still going strong!) performing in Tel Aviv on Israel’s Independence Day. Israel only had one TV channel back then, so the fact that the national news decided to dedicate a whole 10+ minutes to the genre is a pretty big deal. Obviously, this is in Hebrew, but Youtube’s auto-generated subtitles seem to do a pretty good job at translating it.
As you’ll see in the video, it took a few years for the punk fashion style to follow the music, but rest assure that it did. From the 80s on, Tel Aviv’s punks did more to dress the part. The Israeli punk fashion scene was never quite as huge or wild as, say, London’s, but in the 80s and 90s you could totally see groups of people with mohawks, safety pins, and punk band T-shirts hanging out in clubs, or outside in specific places.
How did such a small Middle Eastern country discover punk before so many other countries? Well, Israelis like to travel, and we love music, especially obscure, eclectic music. Musicians like Fortis spent time living in Europe, while radio hosts such as the famous Yoav Kutner went all over in search of new, exciting sounds. Soon, you could hear both local and international punk on the radio, ironically more often than not on the Military radio station’s alternative music shows. Many Israeli punk musicians were inspired by stuff they heard on these shows.
Also, politics and life in Israel have definitely sucked for a long time, so there’s always something to be angry about. Israelis quickly connected to the angry sound.
Israel’s punk scene was originally actually a bunch of smaller punk scenes that sprouted all over the country. These included political punk, skater punk (when that became a thing), the uniquely Israeli “arso-punk” and a bunch of other sub-genres. Sometimes these scenes were related, sometimes not so much. After all, when they kicked off, nobody even knew what the Internet was, so small, underground scenes didn’t necessarily discover each other straight away.
It was common for small gigs to happen in all kinds of unusual places, from carparks to people’s houses, bomb shelters, etc. Lots of punk gigs happened outside of Tel Aviv, and, in fact, outside of big cities, in the smaller towns around the country.
Nowadays, Tel Aviv, and, to a lesser extent, Haifa, are where most of the action happens, with gigs mostly moving to more established (or semi-established) venues.
If you want to see the history of punk in Israel in videos, check out the Israeli Punk Archive on Youtube, where there are dozens of amazing live videos, full albums, and tracks by some of Israel’s most interesting punk bands. Some still exist, some never really existed (well, maybe for one or two songs), and some existed but are gone today. You can also check out the Facebook page for some cool photos and stories.
The Israeli Punk Scene
What should you expect from the Israeli punk scene? First of all, it’s a friendly scene, and people are generally nice. People do go for it at gigs, but there isn’t any violence and people look after each other.
Gigs vary from tiny, intimate gigs in secret or semi-secret places to medium and even big venues for the more popular (I won’t say “mainstream”) acts.
The scene is small. Some of the same people play in a bunch of bands across a range of different styles. As bands form and break up, members will reappear with a different name again and again.
Most punk bands in Israel are at least somewhat political. Many in the past have been strongly political. We’re talking left wing / radical left wing politics like punk is meant to be. You’re unlikely to find religious Jews moshing to songs about the Sabbath or anything like that, if that’s what you were hoping for.
There are many vegan punks, many queer punks, and many hardcore anarchist punks who are active in the anti-occupation movement.
Politics have traditionally been evident in many song titles and topics covered by Israeli punk bands, and also in some punk bands’ names, especially in the first 20+ years of punk in Israel.
At some point Israeli punk became less overtly political, though there are still political songs (and band names) to be found.
Here’s an album by Marmara Streisand, a band that sadly no longer exists. They were named after the Mavi Marmara, the ship that sailed to Gaza as part of the freedom flotilla. This album was released in 2014. Among it’s almost 100% political content is a cover version of a football chant by fans of HaPoel Tel Aviv that calls for giving Jerusalem back to Jordan:
While you may not find that that many recent songs with lyrics taking an outright stand against the occupation, you will definitely find plenty of anti establishment / anti-Israeli state / anti right wing politician ones. It’s important to note that many of these political songs are by people who’ve been active in the scene since the days when it was far more political than it is now.
Some of the younger punk bands grew up in the Internet age and are more influenced by the musical style and general dissatisfaction pushed by European and American bands, so their politics may not be quite as radically left, though that is not always the case. Many of the punk bands active today may not feature political names or sing about outright political issues, but their politics are still the same.
Political Israeli punk songs
The political punk scene in Israel started early and started strong. Here’s a song by Raash Lavan (White Noise) from 1981 titled “the state is falling apart”. It’s in the more American punk style and was actually recorded in NYC:
The Hebrew lyrics are simple, but call out Israeli MPs for fighting in the Knesset and Israel’s then PM, Menahem Begin.
and here’s one by Useless ID, titled “State is Burning”:
And one from Tabarnak (2020) called “Sick State” that even mentions the occupation briefly. They just released a new album in 2023, which is far less political.
This brand new one from political hardcore punk band, Jarada, is pretty self-explanatory and proves political punk is still very much alive in Israel (at least in Tel Aviv):
You’ll also find more universal protest songs against the police, stuff about life in Israel in general, various nonsense, funny songs, and more universal themes.
Here’s Mahleket Hanikot Shotrim (“Police choking department”) with a 2017 song about animals dying in the meat industry:
Punk styles in Tel Aviv
Styles you can find here vary from hardcore punk / crust, to more American-sounding punk rock.
There are also some uniquely Israeli (or at least Middle Eastern) fusion styles.
Here’s a song by Melakhekhey HaPinka, a popular Israeli punk / rock / metal band that blends western punk influences with Mizrahi music (Hebrew pop inspired by Middle Eastern pop), creating a locally unique sound:
Not punk enough for you? Here they are at a much earlier phase in their development, playing inside a bomb shelter:
Many punk bands in Israel started out by being “heavily inspired” by global trends, but as they progress, they bring in a more unique and fuse more local influences into it. Musicians in these bands often have other projects that are not necessarily punk-related and that sometimes shows, like in the band above.
Israeli punk bands to check out
Apart from the classic Israeli punk bands featured in the Archive, there are plenty more current bands you can still see playing around the Tel Aviv punk scene. Here are some to check out, in no particular order:
- Hakol Hozer
- Kav Layla
- Useless ID
- Kids Insane
- The Zabari Brothers
- Silent Cut
- Not on Tour
Punk gigs / Live punk music coming up in Tel Aviv
Many of the more interesting punk gigs in Tel Aviv happen at secret or semi-secret venues, but sometimes there are punk nights at the Levontin 7 club, the Gagarin Club, or even the Barby (big venue), so it’s worth checking out what’s going on there.
To see if there’s anything going on soon, check out the events page. Sometimes, some punk events may magically appear under this text as well. I list some of the grey area ones, too, but for the really secret ones you’ll need to follow the bands and get to know people on the scene.