Tel Aviv's Fearless Noga Erez and Her New Song "Off the Radar"
With her uncompromising weird-pop, this 26-year-old singer holds a mirror to a generation's foibles, the Israeli government, and human accountability.
"It's frightening how easy it is to separate yourself from the world around you," says singer/producer Noga Erez. Escape is something Erez sought while growing up in Tel Aviv and it's a thread she weaves through her music. "In many ways, I think growing up in Israel was just normal—I don't really have anything else to compare it to because I've never experienced anything else," she continues. "As I grew up, I started realizing that in many ways I didn't live in a normal place."
Erez was born the year before the Gulf War began, so she has no real memories of that time, although she does have photos of her and her family sitting in a bomb shelter. "Almost every home in Israel has a room that is protected from different kinds of attacks," explains the 27-year-old. "It's pretty crazy seeing these photos, realizing the bizarre situation I was born into. I got that what was happening around me was not what every child in the world experiences, but you could also say some experiences are far worse, and others have a much more sheltered, peaceful life. To be honest, I had a very healthy childhood."
Irrespective of Erez's levelheaded perspective, growing up in this environment will leave an imprint. "The thought that there's someone out there who wishes to harm you and others you love, regardless of the reason, is a terrifying one," she says. "It makes everything random. Everything becomes important and meaningless at the same time. [But] I don't live in a state of war—I don't fear for my life, health, and financial future on a daily basis. I am deeply aware of the fact that I was lucky enough to be born on the 'right' side of the conflict. I am not the victim."
Over the years Erez developed her own coping mechanisms—getting rid of her TV for one, and, at times, avoiding newspapers altogether. "Keeping a distance from media or news is a good way of escaping reality," she notes. "[But] where I live, reality just comes knocking at your door from time to time, and when that happens, even if you're determined not to be a part of it, you don't really have a choice."
While the singer's personal history informs her music, Erez is also inspired by Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples, and Beyoncé, not to mention Björk and FKA Twigs—which you can hear in the manipulated vocals and broken beats that characterize her experi-weird-pop. Additionally, Israel's rich diversity plays a critical role in her art. "You can drive for 30 minutes in each direction and experience a whole different societal and cultural vibe. I've recently discovered a cool musician who was based in Haifa, a city in the north of Israel—she calls herself Miss Red," says Erez. "Her music and persona are so fresh. I also really like a musician called J.lamotta—she reminds me a lot of Erykah Badu, but in a different, twisted way."
When it comes to making her beats, Erez works with partner Ori Rousso, and together the pair sometimes venture beyond the studio walls to create. "We've recorded many weird sounds on the album, but there's one that stands out for me," recalls Erez. "We took all the glass bottles from the studio to a recycling place, and we threw the bottles in the bin, making a great glass-breaking noise together with the echo of the bin." Those sounds in particular became a part of the striking R&B-fueled "Toy," which is delivered from the lyrical perspective of someone who has ascended to power, regardless of their talent or experience. (Sound familiar?) In short: it's a song about corruption. Initially it's Erez's dark synths and vocals—which flit between haunting lilt and an alien sing-speak—that draw listeners, but it's her sense of empathy and awareness that give her music impact. Many of her songs are socially and politically conscious with the view to igniting change. Case in point, earlier this year, Erez released the bold, electro-pop single "Pity" with lyrics that zero in on a troubling sexual assault that took place in Israel several years ago when a woman was raped while multiple onlookers documented the crime for sport. The violation of the victim's rights and respect struck a chord with Erez, who was appalled by the bystander response. "People stood by and willingly chose to film on their smartphones and then upload the videos and share them online," says Erez.
Elsewhere, on "Dance While You Shoot" she digs still deeper, her lyrics a conversation between Erez and Israel as she unloads all her frustrations, voicing both her disdain of violence and her displeasure with the government. Erez's music is an attempt to close the gap between the awful things that happen in the world, and the people who hear about them from outside. One song at a time, she's trying to make a difference. "No matter how much we try to empathize with the ones who are less fortunate, there's always room for more empathy."
After a string of arresting tracks, Erez will release her debut album, Off the Radar, via City Slang, this June. Below is the premiere of the record's title track—an ominous piece replete with erratic melodies and muscular synths (think Sylvan Esso), the song addresses the fear of being anonymous or forgotten; it speaks to how our generation of dual identities. "One is who we are in real life and the other is our social media self," she explains. "We are being fueled by people/corporations who understand this very basic and primal need that we have for recognition and acceptance, and use it to control our lives."
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