The desert, seemingly endless and sporadically interrupted by solar-powered Bedouin villages, turns into an equally monotonous stretch of agriculture on this gruelling car journey. Tended by Asian workers whose long flatbed trucks are our only companions on the route, the mind-numbing panorama of covered, forced flora finally breaks, signalling that we are once again nearing civilisation. Of a sort. Our destination is the inaugural Grounded festival, held in popular tourist destination Eilat on the shores of the Red Sea in southern Israel. The Friday car journey is necessary as no Israeli airlines fly until 5pm on Saturday (because of the Sabbath), and Red Axes, who headline tonight alongside Ivan Smagghe, need to be back in their home city of Tel Aviv before then to soundcheck for Saturday’s Chemical Brothers support slot.
Having left Tel Aviv at 1.30 in the afternoon it’s dark by the time Eilat draws close. The central reservation’s street lamps suddenly transform into a cute, multi-coloured variety heralding the city’s approach, but even they can only hint at the gaudiness to follow as an oasis of neon appears on the near horizon. “Welcome to our Vegas!” exclaims Niv Arzi, one half of Red Axes, before explaining the superficial nature of the similarity (casinos are actually illegal in Israel).
These two gigs, plus next weekend’s first Garzen Records festival (Red Axes’ year-old label) are rare homeland strikes this year for a duo previously dedicated to their residency at the Bootleg club in central Tel Aviv. But it’s been an extraordinary year for Red Axes. Throughout the half-decade in which they’ve been releasing music they’ve been difficult to define, but the last 12 months have seen them not so much hone their sound as veer off confidently in several wild directions. They mined dark, new wave flavours on Kill The DJ and had two releases on Multi Culti (including remixes of their stadium-shaking ‘Waiting For A Surprise’). They issued three outstanding collaborations with Moscoman: ‘Dikembe Manutu’, the more Middle Eastern-flavoured ‘Subaru Pesha’ and a beguiling remix of ‘Fernandez’ which, in the unexpected tangents it took, best summed up their ability to simultaneously entrance and astonish. There was a trippy EP for Endless Flight, too, but it was ‘Sun My Sweet Sun’ that perhaps drew most attention, its bells, chimes and simple but highly memorable flute melody, like many of their tracks, sounding like nothing else. Red Axes themselves don’t see anything that remarkable about the year’s releases. To Niv and Dori Sadovnik, both 32, it was another steady instalment of their carefully considered career path. But Red Axes’ accelerated rise in popularity is easily discernible in the gigs they’ve undertaken in the last 12 months. In their debut year as invited guests of Panoramabar they played no less than four times. They also debuted at Glastonbury. Then there was their stunning live show at Sónar.