Israel is a bubbling cauldron of dance music talent and with names like Infected Mushroom, Astrix, Moshic, Maor Levi and the Flash Brothers as role models, its not hard to see why.The newest name in the scene is Lonya Koval, a Tel Aviv based DJ and producer, who has been quietly making a name for himself since he started DJing around ten years ago.
Born and raised in Moscow, he was classically trained in piano and guitar from an early age, which inspired a life long appreciation of all musical forms covering Jazz and Classical through to the more modern sounds of Disco and Hip Hop. He started his career as a guitarist/vocalist in the numerous grunge/punk bands in the 90’s but the synthesised sounds that emerged at that time influenced his musical perception and he shifted to sequencers and later graduated an Israeli Sound College specialising in electronic production and mixing. These days, Lonya divides his time between his resident DJ duties at The Cat & Dog Club with Sahar Z and Guy Mantzur, running three successful record labels – Asymmetric Recordings, Dip and Florentine Records together with AudioJunkies, and continuing to excel in an equally successful recording career of his own with releases on Sudbeat, Parquet, Elevation, Proton, Bpitch, Defected, Sound Avenue and many many others. While Lonya’s productions for Asymmetric Soul are more house rooted and vocal-oriented, his own style ranges from uplifting tech house to deep and minimal melodic techno.
We caught up with Lonya to chat about life in Tel Aviv, the political impact on the dance scene and his hopes for the future of Israeli dance music.
Hi Lonya, Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with us at Decoded Magazine. What have you been doing today? What is a typical day for you like?
Hi, pleasure to be here . Well, like any other day starts for me; with lots of black coffee and quickly going through the important emails, then studio time. Its pretty intense there in the mornings and then lots of work for the club and the labels, I have students almost every day coming to study production and I also have mastering/mixing work for clients. Tuesdays and weekends I’m usually playing in the clubs, mostly in The Cat & Dog.
Tell us about growing up in Russia, what was life like behind the iron curtain?
I was born in Moscow and lived there till the age of 12, then my family moved to Israel. My basic cultural background is still and always will be Russian. But then I started to understand a bit about whats going on while growing up; the country was in turmoil. People changed their views on everything and lost their naivety. In a matter of years life changed completely and it was a big shock for everyone. I think it has a big impact on me and who I am and influenced a lot how I see things in general.
As I mentioned in the introduction, you are classically trained in guitar and piano, but after a career in punk bands your attentions shifted towards electronic music. What were the sounds and artists which influenced that shift?
Late 90’s and early 2000’s marked the end of trance music explosion in Israel. It continued to thrive for many years after, but its domination in Tel Aviv was over, as house and techno became extremely popular in the clubs. I was experimenting with groove boxes back then and slowly got the courage and basic skills to perform live with my first tracks and then DJ mixes and productions by Danny Tenaglia, Sasha, John Digweed and Danny Howells blew me away and I started to take things more seriously.
Israel has a proud tradition of electronic music artists. Who has been most influential to you?
In those early days, it was Guy Gerber with whom I was pretty close. His tracks were already outstanding and he explained a lot of concepts to me and the ways to present my ideas.
So you swapped the guitar for a set of decks and a mixer, how long did it take to learn to DJ and when/where were your first gigs?
I was working in the early 2000s in Tel Aviv’s legendary Fetish Club and my first gigs included guitars and basic computer setups running Logic and later Ableton, then we added synths, percussions and vocals and it evolved into Asymmetric Soul. Sometimes I performed just with the vocalist, or with the percussionist, sometimes I was on guitar then switch to a laptop. It was fun and there were very different and unexpected shows that taught me a lot.
With contemporaries like Guy J and Guy Gerber already fully digital, how have you embraced twenty first century DJing?
I’m all about Ableton. I use it for my DJ sets, live sets and my productions.
The scene in Israel is split between a few scenes. Theres a vibrant psy-trance scene and the darker progressive house crowd. Is there a pressure on new artists to fit into one of these camps, or are you allowed to develop your sound freely?
Well maybe this is how we are portrayed abroad, but this is not the case in my opinion. Trance has its important place here, but underground clubs especially in Tel Aviv, are pretty isolated from it and the variety of genres and styles in them is really big and not limited to a dark prog sound. But yes, the Israeli crowd is very moved by good melodies and evolving tracks with heavy basslines and rich textures.
As a working DJ, how much of the music you play is from promo sites and tracks given to you for free, and how much do you still buy?
I buy around 50 tracks a month and all the rest comes from the promos I receive on a daily basis.
How is the underground dance scene affected by the troubles reported nightly on the news?
I can’t even describe the disaster we are living in for the past two months. I know the images that are seen on tv around the world at the moment and its hard to convince anyone in our side of the story, so I wont even start to. But just imagine how it is to plan and work on a party while rockets are flying above our heads. Yes, we have the Iron Dome interception system which blocks them, so we are not dying like rats, but who will want to go to a party in this situation? I feel guilty sometimes even for doing them. But on the other side, people do have to get away from this madness to clear their heads and maintain some sort of sanity, thats why dancing and relaxing to the sounds of music can be helpful and serve as some sort of a medicine.
How do the crowds differ when you play away from home?
Tel Aviv is like a separate country in this regard, when I play outside of the city its very different. In most of the clubs located outside of Tel Aviv, people are very excited to come to listen to me but they are not used to long sets, they expect to listen to you for an hour and then get something completely different, usually much more commercial.
Do you have any secret weapons in the DJ wallet for when the crowds are hard to read? What are they?
Ha, no secrets here! I think the main secret of every DJ is how they read the crowd on a particular night; how they connect with the audience and control the journey they plan to take them on.
So whats rocking the Tel Aviv floors this month?
Holger Brauns & Dr Berger – Nemesis (Carsten Rausch Remix) – Flug von Welt
Solee – Slowly (Original Mix) – Sudbeat
Scotty A – The Way She Smiles (Lonya Remix) – Proton
Steve Bug – Pelican Glide (Original Mix) – Poker Flat Recordings
ME – Locust (Original Mix) – Keinemusik
Namatjira, Mz Sunday Luv – Painters Dream Time (qoob Remix) – Asymmetric Rec
Andre Sobota – Crossroads (Original Mix) – Mesmeric
Quivver – Here ‘s This (Guy Mantzur Remix) – microcastle
Rodriguez Jr – Persistence of Vision (Original Mix) – Mobilee
D-Sens – Over Your Shoulder (Peppelino_Remix) – Flow Records
Residencies are a coveted DJ role across the world. How did you get your residency at The Cat & Dog?
I started playing in The Cat & Dog around 5 years ago, then 3 years ago they offered to me to become a resident of the Tuesday night which has become the flagship night in the club and from there the path to full time residency was not long.
Can you tell us a little more about the club – The Cat & Dog? What have been some of the best nights?
The Tuesday night which is called Shlishi Sofash is the one I manage and put lots of focus on has had numerous unforgettable parties . Our 2 year anniversary with Chaim was unbelievable, a recent party with Guy Gerber as well. The Florentine label party with Supernova and Audio Junkies was spectacular, just to name the few.
How about Tel Aviv itself. Where would you suggest to a tourist who wanted a unique and typically Israeli experience to visit?
Most of the time we are a very peaceful city with lots of historical sites, amazing food and vibrant night life. You should definitely explore Jaffa, with its beautiful port, ancient ruins and great food. Tel Aviv is famous for its hummus restaurants both jewish and arabic, so don’t miss them!
You and Guy Mantzur recently released a remix together on Sudbeat. How long have you known each other and how did you meet?
We have been good friends for many many years and actually he has a big part in me being in The Cat & Dog in the beginning. We like to exchange ideas and bring them to the studio; it has been a very productive relationship. Few years ago, Guy made several remixes and put a compilation on Asymmetric, then we did couple remixes together. The remix for Hernan Cattaneo & Soundexile was released this year on Sudbeat and was a big success. We have also remixed a new Dave Seaman track will see the light soon too. As well as that, wee also have original stuff in the making.
With a qualification in Mixing and Electronic Music production, I imagine getting the ideas down isn’t a problem for you. How do you split the workflow up when your are collaborating?
With collaborations its always different and depends on the artist I work with. I work a lot with people over the internet, people I never met in person even. We send files back and forth to each other over or send lists of suggestions and remarks, sometimes with examples of what we mean. But nothing is better than laying ideas together in the studio, just writing parts, recording them and being creative.
We hear time and again how producers are streamlining their studios to work ‘in the box’. With DAWs becoming ever more powerful and soft synths emulating or replacing hardware instruments, how have you adapted your studio?
I have everything I need in the box and I’ve bought lots of plugins and synths over the years, but I also use lots of analog synths. I have few, but when I look for a particular colour I might go to a friends studio to record or rent a certain synth for few days. I just love the analog warmth and sound!
When you approach a remix, does your work flow change compared to making an original track?
People say that remixes are easier than original stuff, and for me its true. I don’t know if maybe it’s more like a game or that less feelings are attached to it, but there is less stress in general when making a remix. If I like the track and the parts I’ve got I very quickly choose the one idea and build it in a quick arrangement. Whereas with originals I can spend days on just one part and still not to be happy with it!
Lets talk about the labels. Can you tell us about the day to day running of a label; your vision?
Its an everyday task and every day headache!! So many little things to take care of, so many people to reply to, so many demos to listen to.
Musically I have a very clear picture of the sound and direction, of what will work and what should come next. Im not always happy with the results, but I think creativity is what matters and we should not be afraid of the unexpected. I try to put as much effort and attention as possible in every release, even if it means to release less on the labels and take things slower.
When receiving new demos, what process do you go through when deciding on which label should release it?
I think what would be best for the artist, for the release and for each label in particular before deciding where the track I like should go to.
With the new changes to Soundcloud, are you looking for alternative sites to host your music?
I’ve been using Mixcloud for few years now, and yes we should consider alternatives always and look for new or better networks to communicate and share the music.
Having been in the scene for over ten years now, what advice would you give to the next generation of DJs and producers eager to make their mark?
I think patience is the key . If you are good and you’ve got the experience you will be noticed and also will have fun doing it.
Thanks for taking the time out to chat with us Lonya. We wish you every success in the future on all your projects. Whats the rest of the year and into 2015 got in store for you?
Thank You! I pray for peace, without it nothing good will come!
I’m working on my first album and hope to finish it in 2015 . Got couple new releases coming soon and few very exciting remixes that will see the light before the end of this year .
01// Robert Babicz – Shifting Reality [Bedrock]
02// Lana Del Rey – West Coast (Solomun Remix) [Polydor]
03// Oliver Schories & Joris Delacroix – Dont Move (Dan Caster Remix)
04// Emanuel – Satie Gold (Original Mix) [Get Physical]
05// Maverickz & Clawz SG – Obvious (Original Mix) [Parquet]
06// Chicola – Maganda (Dark Soul Project In the Schualle Room) [Proton Music]
07// Roy RosenfelD – Momentum (Original Mix) [Big & Dirty]
08// Okain Cuartero – Cameleon (Hot Since 82 Remix) [Soundteller Records]
09// Andre Sobota – Crossroads (Original Mix) [Mesmeric]
10// Namatjira & MZ Sunday Luv – Painters Dream Time (Qoob Remix) [Asymmetric]