Marko Kutlesa spoke with Moscoman about Tel Aviv, his record label plus his love for world cuisine and music.
Last updated: 9th Mar 2018. Originally published: 8th Mar 2018
The sound of Moscoman is that of a global traveller under the influence of the musics he collects in each place he visits. His is a distinct voice within an often all too predictable dance music movement, one which he now presents at DJ sets around the world. Combining post punk, disco, house music and some times Middle Eastern themes, his is a musical journey without limitation and one which continues to evolve.
Now a resident of Berlin, from where he runs his Disco Halal label, Chen Mosco aka Moscoman is originally from Tel Aviv, Israel. He began his recording career on Cosmo Vitelli's I'm A Cliché label in 2013. He has since recorded for Renate Schallplatten, Eskimo Recordings, his own Treisar imprint and ESP Institute, on which he released his debut album A Shot In The Light in 2016. He has remixed the likes of Calexico, Henry Saiz and his friends, the Tel Aviv duo Red Axes.
Prior to Moscoman playing Maschinenfunk at Invisible Wind Factory in Liverpool on Saturday 17th March, Marko Kutlesa sat down with him to discuss his love of Israeli and Japanese music, his cultural heritage, his relationship with Red Axis and his appreciation of world cuisine.
Hi Chen! How are you? I was listening to your new single 'I Ran', and the Simple Symmetry remix of it, just yesterday. It's great! I like it a lot.
Hi! I'm good. Thank you, I really like it also. They took it in a really different direction.
How do you think that direction is specifically different?
It's more their style. Downtempo. More guitars, not that guitars are not my style.
This is your first original release on your own Disco Halal label. Originally Disco Halal was a label on which you intended to release the music of other people.
Yeah, so far I've only done reworks on the label. Disco Halal still is that. I don't have any current plans to release any more of my own music on it. It's also a matter of timing. There's so much music, you don't really have time to put out everything in a year. So, I always try to put out stuff other than mine. I've been playing 'I Ran' all last year, it's only a single and it fits the label really well. I couldn't see any other place where it should come out.
The other label, Treisar, which you've been using to release your own material, I believe you've finished that now.
It was more like an imprint, it wasn't really a label. It was pretty much just a project.
So where will Moscoman music be coming out in the future?
Ooh. A lot of places. Ha! No. I don't know. I should have a release with Life and Death a little later this year and that's pretty much it for now. I didn't plan anything else yet. We're just playing it as it comes. I'm working on a lot of new music, there's a lot of interest from a lot of labels, it's just a case of picking and planning it at the right time.
I don't want to do it like last year where every month there was a release, because that was a project. This year I'd like to do two or three EPs and that's it. I'm working on my next album and that should be the highlight of the near future.
You've lived in both Tel Aviv and Berlin. Apart from obvious differences like the weather and the food, what differences have you noticed between the general mindset of people in these cities?
I think both of them are pretty openminded in our scene, to be honest. It's hard to compare between cities when you're not part of the whole city. In Tel Aviv there are a few waves, there's different stuff. I would say that when I moved to Berlin it wasn't really in my sound character and I'm happy that maybe I helped a little bit design a new sound that is also in Berlin. It's now more open, more disco, more Oriental.
It's a very Berlin based label Discco Halal. It's way more based in Berlin than it is in Tel Aviv. Most of the fans are from Berlin and Germany, Paris, London. That's where the roots of the label are.
In comparison, I think both places are very open, they have very good night life. There are usually five or six huge parties every week in Tel Aviv. Maybe Berlin traditionally is more restricted in its mind set? Tel Aviv is still growing, it's a new city in a new country so it's still exploring the limits all the time.
You like cooking. You've obviously brought some of the recipes of Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine to Berlin with you and no doubt you've cooked that for friends. But if your friends from Tel Aviv asked you to cook and impress them with some food from Germany, what would you cook for them?
It's a good question because maybe there's nothing really impressive about German food, let's be honest. At home we're vegan, so we mostly cook in the Mediterranean style. It's very easy to be vegan with that. It's about the product, it's about the vegetables. German food is mainly based on meat and cheese, it's very much inland European. You can say potatoes but that's an international thing.
The only thing I've cooked that's German, in a vegan way, was currywurst, where I made my own sauce and made some vegan sausages. I don't really know how it is German, with the curry in it. It's pretty much a Berlin thing to eat, sausage with sauce. I just tried to elevate it with a real tomato sauce.
You mentioned in the question before that Israel is a new country and still exploring and one way it's doing that is with it's constantly evolving cuisine. But there were traditionally two original schools of cooking there, so I wanted to ask which was the one that members of your family used when you were growing up, Ashkenazi or Sephardi?
I grew up in an Ashkenazi house. A Romanian house, which is not so much like a usual Ashkenazi house. It's way more bolder than the traditional Ashkenazi food, which is more Germany, Poland, central Europe. That's still pretty much about curing stuff, meats, fish and vegetables. But the Romanian is infused with a lot of garlic and can be very spicy.
We always joked that it's more like the Morocco of Europe. I think Balkan food in general collides well with Mediterranean food. It could be from the same family, only distant relatives, with the paste they make from white beans, aubergines, it's all about the product. In the part of Europe where real Ashkenazi food comes from it's all about potatoes, parsley, dill, things like that, which isn't bad. Our favourite food at home is potato with dill, black pepper and onion. It's basic food.
In another interview you said “I think I judge places by their food”. Is there anywhere you can't wait to go back to because of the food and is there anywhere you've visited you'd be hesitant about revisiting because of the food?
Ha! Maybe only in my mind. I go to visit to DJ, but to visit places that don't have good food, I'm not sure I could do it. A lot of places that I've been, it's been very special. They have their own languages of food.
There are a ton of places that were amazing. Tokyo, for example, which is a dream for any foodie. And it's not even about the Japanese cuisine. They do everything better. Every cuisine. I really enjoyed the food in Italy, whose cuisine would have been my first choice in the past. Spanish food, Greek food, all Mediterranean food plays well for me. Places where I'm not running to go back for the local food would be more northern countries. Even though they have amazing restaurants, I wouldn't go for the local cuisine.
Do you mean like Scandinavian countries?
Yes, places like that, which do have great food, but it just doesn't fit my no meat, no cheese kind of life.
You're quite friendly with Tel Aviv duo Red Axes and you've both remixed each other. What's your favourite track of theirs and which is your favourite Garzen Jukebox mix?
Good question. I think still my favourite is 'Spicy Stick'. I think it's a moment I had with Dori which stayed with me the first time I heard it. It's been six years or so and still it's a track I will always play.
And Garzen Jukebox? That's a good question, they have some really cool stuff. Manfredas was very good, I always love his selections, Avigad, who is a huge selector in Tel Aviv and Santos, of course, who is one of my best friends. He also has a great taste and selection in Israeli music which I really like.
Do you consider that you share a similar starting point and sound with Red Axes members Dori and Niv?
I would imagine, yeah. We were all in the same place in the beginning. We had the same kind of aspirations. I think we still do. I don't think we've changed that much. We don't make the same music, but I think we feed off each other. We try to inspire each other as much as possible. In the later times maybe a bit less because we're all really busy. But they're still my go-to people when I finish a track, I send it to them. And the same thing is the opposite, every time they finish a tune they send it to me.
You've now played on the line ups of many festivals. Which are the best live performers you've ever seen?
I have to say LCD Soundsystem. They're the best of recent years. They sound amazing. It's super authentic and it's really live, there's no sequencers. Everyone is playing their part, Tyler is playing the same bassline for seven minutes. I had the chance to see them for two shows straight and they played different music at each show but still sounded amazing. They're super professional and that's really inspiring.
Now is probably the best time ever to collect music from around the world, specifically in regards to access. There has been so much from east and west Africa issued and reissued in the last two decades and also a lot of Brazilian music that now also justly gets worldwide attention. You're known to play music from many places. Are there regions other than these that have produced music and scenes that you are extremely excited by?
Hmm. Of course our own regional music, which is also fun to collect, but maybe that's not news. I think, in general, it's all been covered, the whole world. Now I'm super into Japanese music, like a lot of people. The thrill of buying Japanese music is something that I can't really express in words. Japanese music and Israeli music of the same time sounds pretty much the same. It's how American music sounds in their minds. You can hear the inspirations, especially in yacht rock or jazz fusion, stuff like this. You can hear players in Israel playing on Rhodes trying to sound like Bob James.
So, I'm really into Israeli music, that's most of the records I buy. It's crazy because I'm from there but still there are so many things I don't know about. And Japanese music, of course, which is a whole different thing. The amount of records you can find there... and the sound they have. One problem with some Israeli music in the 70s and 80s is that the pressings weren't so good. But the pressings in Japan are amazing.
Have you ever been booked to DJ in Moscow and did anyone there think that you were named after the city?
Ha! Yes, all the time. I've been there a lot of times and it's always a joke. I like it also when people misspell it with a “w”.
I visited Israel maybe a year ago. I was really surprised that a lot of it looks like a desert. And that desert is not like I imagined it. They used to read the Bible to us in school. When they would talk about Jesus spending 40 days and nights in the desert, I imagined him walking up and down sand dunes, basically like he was on a beach, but without the sea to swim in.
But a lot of the desert in Israel is not like that. It's quite rocky. What do you think would be the biggest surprises people would experience from visiting Israel for the first time?
Yeah, that's not the same desert. That desert he went to is outside of Israel. It's in Egypt. And, yes, a lot of the desert in Egypt is rocky.
The biggest surprise I would imagine would be that they don't know how nice Israeli people are, how open and willing to help, especially to tourists. Outside people are really important to Israeli people. The food is probably incomprehensible too. You can't really imagine how good the food is.
If you spend a week there you're pretty much ruined for any other place, especially if this is the kind of food you like. To be honest, Israel has everything. You can see snowy mountains, the desert, you have the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee. People from literally everywhere, all ethnicities, live in Israel. There are Jews from each and every corner of the world. In better days it could be a perfect country.
In 2000 there was controversy in Israel when Holocaust survivor Mendi Rodan conducted the 'Siegfried Idyll' by known anti-semite Richard Wagner in Rishon LeZion. I vividly remember the old Polish Jewish guy, whose family had been murdered by the nazis, protesting at the performance with a loud rattle. Can the artist be separated from his art?
I would love to believe that is possible. You can examine this in light of the recent sexual harassment allegations. A lot of artists, their life's work has been ruined by their alleged personal conduct. I don't condone such conduct, I couldn't. It makes you think, right, I can't any more listen to this music, I can't see any more these movies. It makes you think.
I think specifically about the Wagner case, this was the music that was sometimes used in the camps, as people were walking to their death. I have to say, I listen to Wagner. My personal controversy with him is how someone who held such evil views, who had this mindset, can create such amazing music.
It's always going to be controversial. You need to understand that Israel is based on these principles, surviving the holocaust. It's still not allowed. I'm sure people do play it, but it's still not acceptable to play Wagner's music in Israel. But maybe there will be progress? In the 70s or 80s nobody there would have bought Volkswagen or Audi. Nobody would have bought German things. Yet here I am now, living in Germany.
As a resident of Berlin, which is your favourite Berlin club to party in?
I would imagine Renate. It's always low key, easy vibes, good friends, there's not too much hassle to go there. For me at least, it's really easy.