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Israeli Punk Band Discusses Music, Politics at Naval Academy

Posted on: June 01, 2012 08:00 EDT by Jessica Clark

The Israeli punk rock band Useless ID visited the Naval Academy Oct. 22 to talk to midshipmen, faculty and staff about their music and life in the Middle East.

"They are the preeminent Israeli punk band," said Naval Academy professor Brannon Wheeler, director of the academy's Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies, in his introduction.

Wheeler compared Useless ID's work to American punk bands MXPX and Blink 182 and presented an impressive list of places where the band has toured, including Japan, Australia, China, Belarus, Siberia and throughout Europe and the U.S.

It's hard for Israeli bands to travel so freely - which might explain the band's name, joked Guy Carmel, one of the band's guitarists and the only musician remaining of the original four who formed Useless ID in Haifa in 1996.

But it doesn't seem to stop them. Now based out of Tel Aviv, they're currently touring the U.S. with the American punk band Lagwagon. Their seventh full-length studio album "Symptoms" was recorded in 2011.

While some of their songs have a political bent, singer and bassist Yotam Ben-Horin said he doesn't write directly about politics. The band pulls from real life for their inspiration, but (as it became clear during the discussion) sometimes real life and politics are inseparable.

For example, as the audience entered the lecture room and took their seats, a large screen displayed one of the band's music videos. The video was dedicated to a teenage fan killed in a terrorist bombing on a Haifa bus in 2003, only two days after attending the show where the video was recorded.

The girl can be seen cheering in the front row, said Carmel.

Ironically, it was the same bus that guitarist Ishay Berger used to ride to get to school.

"It kind of gets you thinking," said Berger.

And acting. Carmel said that even though things have gotten quieter in recent years, he won't ride buses, preferring to walk or take a cab.

"Bombs don't just explode" anymore, he said, but all of them can remember when bombings on public transportation occurred daily. It was during this time the band wrote the song "State of Fear," which they performed for the mids.

It's inevitable that the political situation in Israel will occasionally feature in their music, said Ben-Horin.

"If a bit of politics gets into the song, you can't control it - it just happens," he said.

Being in a punk band for nearly 20 years is in itself rebellious, said Berger.

"What we're doing is exactly against the mainstream mentality," he said. "We're not big rock stars, we're not superstars, we're not making a lot of money. We're doing this because we love it. In a way, I think that's very political of us."

They didn't start a band to upset people, but through their music, they stick up for what they believe, Berger said.

"You don't have to be super loud about it," said Carmel. "Sometimes you just write songs, and they're not aggressive."

Carmel said he tries to remain positive about the political situation in Israel.

"But I have to be honest and say that things are so complicated," he said. "People who live in this region have a lot of trauma going many years and generations back, so it's tricky. Big things need to happen for this whole thing to change."

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