Known for its blossoming and ardent nightlife Israel has become the starting point for many artists’ careers in the electronic music scene over the past years and that does not seem to recede any time soon. Niv Ast has been living in Tel Aviv all of his life, which makes it 26 years up to now, and surely is one of these artists that you have come across when extensively digging for new music. With releases and remixes on labels such as Relish, Luminiere Noir, Correspondant or Duro the artist has built up quite a reputation over the past months and spread his rough, edgy and, according to Niv himself, probably Punk and Rock influenced music. But Niv Ast has been releasing music for way longer than just these past months, of course, and has even four albums out, among others ‘Defeat’ and ‘Like Sheep (we run from ourselves)’ that deliver some first beginnings of the artist’s music and his sound-evolution. In order to get a clear picture of what shapes the artist musically and personally listen to Niv Ast’s art:cast while reading all about him and his hometown Tel Aviv as you won’t dive deeper into the city’s (night)life unless you visit it.
Torture the Artist: Shalom Niv ! Happy to have you back at Torture the Artist after the premiere of your superb remix of Local Suicide & Nicki Fehr’s ‘Already There’ on Chloe’s Luminiere Noir Records. Seems like you’ve had a busy start to the year, releasing quite a few hits considering it’s only June. Tell us, where are you at the very moment? How did you start off the day and how do you plan to spend the rest of the evening?
Niv Ast: Hey guys! Thanks a lot for having me. It’s been a great start to the year and I can’t wait for all the rest of the stuff to come out. At the moment I’m waking up after the first chillout night I had in a long time. Started the day with an Israeli breakfast. Then I might go to the studio after I finish answering your questions.
Torture the Artist: Tel Aviv is home. Have you always lived in the second most populous Israeli City or did you spend your childhood elsewhere?
Niv Ast: Born and raised in Tel-Aviv.
I chose the guitar.
Torture the Artist: At what age did you realize that music has a special bearing in your life? As a young Niv, did you ever imagine growing up to be an artist?
Niv Ast: Since I was a kid I always had a big attraction to music, though what I was really into was football. Til’ the age of 12-13, I was investing most of my time on football and computer games. At the age of 14 I went to my first guitar lesson and after a while it was either I’m going to play for a football club or buy and work on a guitar… I chose the guitar.
Torture the Artist: How much has growing up in Israel affected your emergence as an artist? Can you let us in on a little bit about the local scene and how you got yourself involved? Which of your tracks best reflects this relationship?
Niv Ast: I was born in Tel-Aviv which makes it about 26 years living here. I’m sure this intense city has a lot of influence on me both in music and in who I am as a person. It has some kind of harsh vibe sometimes, a little bit like Rock and Punk, which you can find in some of my music. I think my track ‘One Hundred Cats’ via Ombra is the one which reflects that connection the most. At least, for now. The local scene is great here and I play here as often as I can since both the parties and the crowd here are really some of the best.
Torture the Artist: Name some of your favorite local spots in Tel Aviv. Apart from DJ gigs, would you say you enjoy the nightlife quite often?
Niv Ast: I love the nightlife here! You can go out everyday from Sunday-Saturday until 6am easy. Nice thing that is quite unique here is the numbers of Dance-Bars, a combination of a bar where you can have a nice drink and eat something tasty and a club where you can dance until very late with a good sound system. Most places in the world, it’s either a great bar or a great club. Here it’s quite common to try and mix both, and it works out.
Torture the Artist: We’ve heard that Tel Aviv culinary scene is quite vibrant. Since we don’t yet have the luxury of an on-site interview, take us on a virtual food tour around your city. Where will we dine and what are we eating?
Niv Ast: I’m part of a restaurant group in Jaffa called ‘Ramesses’ and in my opinion it is the first place to start your tour. <winks> Tel-Aviv and Israel in general is unbelievable when it comes to food. You can have a great sandwich in a kiosk or amazing tartar in a high end restaurant. It’s not cheap here at all, but nothing is cheap here. But at least you get your money’s worth in turn for the cost. Some great places you have to check out: Joz & Loz , Bar51, Sahki Sahki, Dok.
I just found myself producing dance tracks all of a sudden.
Torture the Artist: You had very ‘vocal’ beginnings. In 2014, you made a debut into the electronic music scene with your emotion-heavy, lyrically dense album, Defeats. Five years is quite some time, and the Niv Ast we got to know in 2019 seems rather different from the Niv Ast of Defeats. We’re sure many things have changed, but is there a particular track from your first album to which you always feel the most connected to. Or at least, at your current state.
Niv Ast: So my first album actually came out in 2011, named ‘Like Sheep (we run from ourselves)’ which you can find on my bandcamp. Since then until around 2017 I was working with this kind of weird-psychedelic-indie-pop style and indeed my voice was the main instrument. The move to more electronic-dance music was quite natural for me, as I was already DJing for a few years and was intrigued by the beauty of seeing people dancing. It was an unplanned shift, I just found myself producing dance tracks all of a sudden. I still use my voice from time to time. In my live shows I play the guitar and sing, as well. Basically, it’s still me, just a bit different.
Torture the Artist: Would you say that your relationship to your physical location has greater influence on your musical style then or now? Who were among your greatest inspirations and how did they push you towards discovering your own style as an artist?
Niv Ast: I don’t think my physical location had so much impact on my style. I was born in 1992 and by the time I turned 12-13 years old, the internet was already all over. So I practically got most of my ‘musical education’ through youtube and other places online, where I discovered much of what I like and learned about stuff that happen outside of Israel. I guess this answers the last two parts of the question: the internet!
Torture the Artist: Your remix on ‘Already There’ is spot on. Does this mean you are quite familiar with the feeling of getting to or being ‘Already There’ – whatever ‘there’ actually means?
Niv Ast: <laughs> You should check out this one video from Sesame Street about wanting to ‘be there’ which really puts this question into perspective, perfectly.
While we are here we want to be there, but when we are ‘there’ we understand we are here. So I think being ‘there’ is really more about appreciating the moment and where we are.
You can work with it and turn a blue piece of paper into a sea or to a tear.
Torture the Artist: Before ‘Already There’, you rendered a remix of Fort Romeau’s ‘Dada’ for Jennifer Cardini’s label, ‘Correspondant’, and it was nowhere near forgettable. Seems like you have a knack for remixing. Do you enjoy it as much as making your own music? If given a chance, which track would you remix with no hesitation?
Niv Ast: I love remixing. It’s like a challenge where someone gives you this amount of tools, you can work with it and turn a blue piece of paper into a sea or to a tear. It was such a great pleasure being able to remix Fort Romeau’s track for Cardini’s label. I try to give my own touch to every remix. I give a little bit more to this remix, as you can hear my voice singing. <smiles> A track I would remix with no hesitation will definitely be Rebolledo ‘Windsurf, Sunburn and Dollar’.
Torture the Artist: You make music, DJ, curate sets. What dictates the amount of time and energy you allot to each aspect of your musical career? Do you plan to change the ratio or are you happy with the current balance?
Niv Ast: Every month has its own balance. Some months like June for instance, I am away on tour most of the time. In July, however, I actually have time to be in the studio, record sets… even answer some questions for a magazine. <winks> The balance is never preset, and it’s always interesting to see what each coming month will bring.
Torture the Artist: As a DJ, what is your favorite venue? Which cities are among the top of your bucket lists to visit and play in? Which of your own productions would you include in the set?
Niv Ast: Paris is my favorite city after Tel-Aviv. There used to be a place called ‘Garage’, it was and still is my favorite venue. I can’t wait to visit Vilnius and Opium Club, I would love to play there! In my own sets I try to include as much originals as I can. It depends on how long is the set, but usually I play around 40% my own tracks.
I always end up playing video games for the whole day.
Torture the Artist: Besides music, do you have any other skills or hobbies? Is there a side of Niv Ast most people don’t know about?
Niv Ast: I can cook pretty good! Hobbies? Whenever I wake up with a hangover, I always end up playing video games for the whole day.
Torture the Artist: Which aspects of your life have you sent to the backseat in order to take your career to where it is now? Do you sometimes regret some of the things you gave up for music?
Niv Ast: I sometimes dream about myself playing in a football club, but it’s always only with half of a smile. When I made my choice, and every day, I choose to do music. I’m not bound to do it for life so if I didn’t really want to, I don’t have to do it anymore. <smiles>
The chicken is coming out to the world through an act of breaking. It’s always hurt.
Torture the Artist: As we previously mentioned, your musical approach and style have evolved quite a bit through the years. Was there a particular event or instance that triggered this change? From which track to which track did you make the most drastic and notable change? Was it difficult for you to break through from a style to another?
Niv Ast: As I said before, it was kind of a natural shift and I just found myself making electronic dance music, perhaps from my experience in dance floors. In the beginning I was terrified to change so much, afraid that I will neglect my previous style altogether, but in real life, this made no sense because I was evolving. It’s like breaking an egg – the chicken is coming out to the world through an act of breaking. It’s always hurt.
Torture the Artist: Did you at any point think of changing your artist name? What are some monikers you considered taking?
Niv Ast: Not really. It feels weird to hide under a name especially since it’s only me alone. And anyway, I love my name.
Torture the Artist: We do too! Before we let you go back to the studio, name the last five tracks in your Soundcloud history queue.
Niv Ast: Ahh let me check.
- Simple Symmetry & Inigo Vontier – Gilgamesh
- Amarcord – Trees
- Eliezer feat. Curses – Bauhaus
- Local Suicide feat. Nicki Fehr – Leopard Gum EP
- Leonor – Zor (Kuunde Remix)
Interview by Marie J Floro