Monotonix may not be one of the bigger bands playing this year's Bumbershoot, but they are definitely the most explosive. Maybe a better word is incendiary: They begin sets by lighting the drum kit on fire. Monotonix's stage antics are quickly becoming the stuff of legend—with every town they visit, they permanently brand themselves into the memory of all who witness their spectacle.
Hailing from Tel Aviv, Israel, Monotonix are a testament to the international unifying power of garage rock. The trio's sound is stripped down and basic: vocals, guitar, and drums influenced by Led Zeppelin, the Sonics, and Thin Lizzy. Asked to describe the band's sound to the uninitiated festival attendee, guitarist Yonatan Gat says: "Like heavy metal falling from the sky."
The band formed in 2005 and quickly outgrew their local Israeli music scene. "It's pretty small," says Gat. "There are some friends who do pretty exciting stuff, but most of them have jobs and lives, so they usually stay in Israel. The rest of the bands are probably like anywhere, just smaller—less bands, less going on. I wouldn't say we really fit in; this is why we had to start traveling."
And travel they have. For three years, Monotonix have ceaselessly toured the world, playing hundreds of shows. They've already made several trips through Seattle, most recently playing the Comet in February. At that show, they set fires and climbed the walls. The singer spent most of the performance on top of anything he could summit—the crowd, amps, PAs. He played the kick drum with his face. Then he set more fires. Everyone was dancing, crowd surfing, and participating in the chaos. There was sweat everywhere. The drummer played his drums on top of the crowd. Someone tore a light fixture from the ceiling. It was incredible. It was like an awakening: I had forgotten rock shows could be like this, if I ever really knew in the first place.
Is it possible for the band to give such a performance at a huge festival like Bumbershoot instead of a tiny bar? "It's hard to predict these things," says Gat. "We try to maintain a minimum level of energy, but it's all about the relationship between the band and the audience on a given night. We've played really wild shows at restaurants, festivals, and big rooms; and sometimes shows end up being less wild in dive bars. It has much more to do with the people in the room than the room itself."
The night after the Comet show, Monotonix played a bar in Bellingham with no stage. Tables had to be moved outside, and the band played literally on the bar, with explicit orders from the owner not to set any fires or break any bottles (as they had done at their previous show in Bellingham). The band ripped through a set every bit as eruptive as the night before, even without the dangerous stunts. Still, as far as Monotonix can tell, Bumbershoot hasn't placed any restrictions on their upcoming show.
"I don't know if Bumbershoot has issues with our performance," says Gat. "They seemed cool so far. We try to be respectful, at least with the fires, but some things we refuse, like setting up on the stage or not being able to perform freely."
"Perform freely" is a bit of an understatement. At a Monotonix show, the audience is the band's plaything—a giant hunk of clay to be molded with riff and flame. Monotonix don't perform to an audience, they perform inside of it.
Whether or not the band are asked to play it safe for the occasion, it's pretty much guaranteed their set is going to be a giant dance party. Their hooks are infectious, their energy unparalleled, and their mustaches unbridled. And so far, Washington crowds have had no problem amping Montonix up. "Seattle is always great for us, and I love the people who go to our shows there," says Gat. "So I'm assuming it's going to be great fun."
Dive bar or Exhibition Hall, it makes no difference to Monotonix. They are a band of the world, endlessly circumnavigating, shredding, destroying, and creating. With every show, they summon the true universal spirit of rock and roll—then they set it on fire and dance on the ashes.