The following night, in a matchbox-sized cinema on the other side of the city, the dark filmic quality of Juju & Jordash productions found its ultimate outlet, via a seething, brooding live film score for 1915 silent horror film Der Golem. The performance was a one-off, commissioned for the Glorious Basterds Jewish film festival, but the concept has since been developed by the duo, resulting in a four EP and single DVD project for Golf Channel, to be released in the coming months.
Back in November, the day after Der Golem, the seat-of-your pants nature of the previous two nights was still fresh in the minds of Gal "Juju" Aner & Jordan "Jordash" Czamanski. The pair's preliminary visit to Moufang in Germany the previous summer, to potentially flesh out some collaborative ideas, had resulted in a four-day lock-in studio session, and nine hours of recorded material. Once Dekmantel—the young Amsterdam collective responsible for both Het Kabinet and for the duo's self-titled LP Juju & Jordash—got wind of the meet-up, they offered the trio a performance slot to debut some of their joint work. Due to clashing gig schedules, however, the first rehearsal took place on the Het Kabinet stage, just a few hours before their set. The next day's comparably low key Der Golem show offered no less anxiety: Aner's laptop perished minutes before the performance, forcing him to rely solely on guitar improvisations that he had recorded to a sampler by chance during rehearsal.
"I'm even more happy with these performances," says Aner. "It wasn't scary, but we didn't know what exactly to expect after setting everything up."
"I'm not, I'm never happy," counters Czamanski. "I always complain. He has more foresight—I'm always a party pooper, and he can see beyond the first five minutes that I get pissy about. I'm happy about yesterday even though we had technical difficulties... It [usually] takes me a day."
Since 2003, Aner and Czamanski have been working under their childhood nicknames as a contrary twosome. Their productions are largely sample-free but are tethered to the various histories of house, techno, jazz, kosmische and industrial. An extended jam-now-edit-later working process was established early, and plays to the improvisational strengths of Aner ("We can then either add or subtract..."), the guitarist, and Czamanski ("...usually subtract!"), the pianist. As illustrated by their blow-by-blow account of the making of 2010 single "Tattoo Island," it's a painstaking approach that still works for them.
It wasn't always this way. Just ask the guest saxophonist of their debut single, "Hush."
"We made his life very difficult," remembers Czamanski.
"We wrote a ridiculous score," continues Aner. "We spent weeks and weeks programming. We wrote it up on a synth first and later decided, 'Let's do it on the saxophone.' It was possible, but he was stretching his abilities to the max, playing a lot of different syncopated lines. We did a few different versions and a few different mixes and it was just really painful. I mean I'm happy with the end result, but after that, we knew that we have to work more efficiently."
"And to enjoy it more," adds Czamanski. "And to get off our high horse."
Despite their ease nowadays in the studio, a sense of friction lingers in the music, even moreso with recent projects which are edging ever closer to heavier themes. The track "Quasi," which featured on Juju & Jordash as druggy, jagged and mostly instrumental dub house, was reincarnated in late last year as a 12-inch EP for Dekmantel. In the interim it mutated into "Quasi Quasi," a track which juxtaposes the spoken word of Guyanese reggae artist Zuku Ras ("Let's leave those negative things behind / Let's live as one / No quasi quasi politician wanna divert our path, art, art, art.") against a schizophrenic fusion of nervous cymbals, mournful saxophones, abrasive synths and solid pillars of reverb. Messages of peace rarely sound so sinister.
"We had the track and something was missing," says Aner. "We said, 'Do you want to do some vocals?' and he was like, "Yeah, cool," and went to smoke a cigarette, and came back with all the lyrics. He did one take, it was perfect and we just kept it. I wouldn't call it political, I mean you could say it's naive, but we did connect with the expression."
more. And to get off our high horse."
Given the back-to-back release of Quasi Quasi and Der Golem, however, it's easy to assume that there is a deeper narrative forming, despite the reluctance of Juju & Jordash to ever be overtly political. In Der Golem, the titular creature is crafted by a rabbi from clay to protect a Jewish community from persecution, yet becomes an uncontrollable force that turns on those that he was created to help. Aner and Czamanski are willing to admit to the significance of Israeli artists making explicit references to golems, peace, conflict, and injustice in their work. The press release for the Golf Channel project approaches this with a characteristic one-two of candour and subversion, revealing that the inspiration for the project stems from "years wrestling with thoughts of Zionism, victimhood and vengeance," and ending with the punch line "...and who said dance music couldn't be about the Holocaust?"
"It's interesting," says Czamanski of Der Golem. "On the one hand, there's all the anti-Semitic imagery but on the other hand, I don't really think it's meant to be anti-Semitic in a direct way. We like other overtones, like political overtones, that we can utilize."
In previous interviews, Aner and Czamanski have made passing references to political messages in Hebrew that sometimes feature in their productions and live shows, but have tended to either sidestep the issue entirely, or diffuse it with quip. When pressed on the subject, the flow of Aner's speech stalls somewhat, and Czamanski's crossed arms and legs tighten into pretzel posture.
"Israelis get this question no matter whether they do music or not," reasons Aner. "You meet someone for the first time, very soon it becomes a history lesson and a whole political debate about the Middle East."
"As it is, we're a couple of angry guys and we have bottled up a lot, so we're kind of in a difficult situation," says Czamanski. "It's a tough, very complex issue for us. We don't want to preach—I don't need to convince leftist Europeans that some policies are bad. I want to do that in the setting of Israelis. We feel uncomfortable with this duality. Because on the one hand we're really against Israeli policies but on the other hand..."
"We're not against the Israeli state," says Aner.
"I personally think that yeah, unfortunately, there needs to be an Israel somewhere. We're in a difficult position and we always kind of try to bite our tongue now. It's very hard for us."
Do they feel that music helps to resolve some of those personal conflicts?
"I think that's the main outlet," says Czamanski.
There's a saying about the Israel's three largest cities—"Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, and Tel Aviv plays." American-born Czamanski arrived, reluctantly, in Haifa at the age of eight with his family. "It's not the most happening city in the world," says Aner, a Haifa native. "It's a very beautiful place, it always has nice weather, but as a teenager you realize it's a little bit depressing. Once you're 18, you're so bleaked out that you want to move."
The duo met as teenagers in the '90s through a mutual friend, bass player and longtime collaborator Ilya Ziblat Shay. Aner and Czamanski were budding musicians, jamming in various rock and jazz outfits, with a shared interest in bebop asymmetry. For Aner, Thelonious Monk was a huge influence. "When I heard his stuff, something clicked. Maybe it was the fact that he's not the most technically prominent player, and some people don't like it. I think he's one of the best composers of the 20th century." For Czamanski, Miles Davis' fusion opus Bitches Brew "changed everything forever." They both gravitated towards the experimental space jazz of Pharaoh Sanders and Sun Ra, and were grateful for Haifa's lone nightlife bright spot, Second City, a club and live venue that educated a generation of young locals about new wave, industrial and electronica. After forming a hard bop and free jazz trio with Shay once they had abandoned Haifa for Tel Aviv, Aner and Czamanski's increasing experimentation with electronic hardware led to the formation of Juju & Jordash.
Things have gathered pace in Amsterdam ever since. On the same day that the duo sent the tortured "Hush" demo to Reggie Dokes on a whim, the Psychotasia label boss replied that he wanted it. Fellow stateside imprint Ropeadope fell for the duo's early work, and released their debut album Major Mishap in 2008. House music mavens Keith Worthy, Lerato, Dubbyman and Soulphiction have all followed suit, drafting in the misfit duo for their Aesthetic Audio, Uzuri, Deep Explorer and Philpot families respectively.
I caught up with Czamanski recently via Skype, and it's clear that since that winter weekend of accidental triumphs, Juju & Jordash have entered their most prolific period yet: a sound art project for Dutch festival 5 Days Off, a retooled live performance of Der Golem with Move D, an increasingly demanding DJ schedule, the official launch of Magic Mountain High, forthcoming tracks for Future Times and Aesthetic Audio, remixes for NRK and Vakula, and a third Juju & Jordash album in the pipeline for Dekmantel. Once Czamanski had reeled off his impressive list, I wondered how Juju & Jordash were coping with this amount—and breadth—of commitments. For all their wisecracks, hepcat intellect and next-level musicianship, the sense of disquiet that pervades the sound world of Juju & Jordash stems, at least in part, directly from the two individuals behind it.
"We're letting ourselves do what we love," explained Czamanski. "All different directions at the same time, without feeling that there's any kind of contradiction between our love of house and techno and more heady stuff. We're getting deeper and deeper in the studio, and on the other hand we're starting to enjoy more and more our DJ gigs as well as our live ones. I think we're loosening up. And that's the bottom line."