“We’re an electronic band,” affirms Amit “Duvdev” Duvedevani, singer and co-founder of the Israel-bred, Los Angeles-based psy-trance duo Infected Mushroom, “but when we became a full live band onstage, the reaction was so powerful that we knew we were inventing something new.”
The dynamic, shaven-headed Duvdev and his flowing-haired partner, Erez Eisen, have been playing to increasingly massive, frenzied crowds all over the globe, thanks to an explosive live show that is a far cry from the staid stereotype of dance acts hunched over their computers.
With Duvdev bouncing all over the stage and exhorting the crowd to belt out the lyrics, Erez virtually dancing with his keyboards, tour guitarist Tommy Cunningham (or, on selected dates, Israeli axemaster Erez Netz) firing off metallic riffs and Brazilian drummer Rogerio Jardim boosting the Mushroom’s programmed beats with propulsive polyrhythms, the band has whipped audiences worldwide to a fine froth.
Of course, Infected Mushroom weren’t always playing to gigantic, writhing throngs. Indeed, it took the two classically trained natives of Haifa a while to become, in the words of DJ magazine, “The psy-trance scene’s only true megastars.”
“We met in 1996 through a DJ friend,” recalls Erez. “Duvdev was in Goa at the time, and I was working on another project with a German guy. We met and figured we’d try to do one track together; we’ve been collaborating ever since.”
Erez was just 16 when they began making music together; Duvdev had completed the military service that is an Israeli obligation and was working in his family’s steel factory. The restless pair began mixing tracks in a tiny bedroom studio; though they won some accolades from fans almost immediately, they were unsatisfied with their first recordings and vowed to change direction.
They took the name Infected Mushroom (which they lifted from a defunct local punk band), purchased new gear and embarked on their musical odyssey. Finding little to excite them in Israel’s music scene, they instead drew inspiration from artists like Metallica and The Prodigy. Their early productions led to club dates and gigs at local parties; before long, the twosome developed a loyal following. While local headlines were filled with violence and bloodshed, Infected Mushroom’s fans found a musical respite from the tumultuous political climate.
Erez and Duvdev were turned down by nearly every record label in Israel when they sought a deal. “We went to the biggest and smallest labels in Israel, and nobody was interested,” recalls Erez. “But we never stopped believing in our music.” Their patience paid off, as BNE label owner Avi Brand and A&R executive Avi Youssef inked the project.
In 1998, BNE released Infected Mushroom’s debut album, The Gathering. Inspired by the surreal ambient styles of Simon Posford, X-Dream and Transwave, the album helped them develop an immediate buzz on the global psy-trance scene.
Their sophomore disc, Classical Mushroom, was released in 2000, expanding their popularity in Europe and Japan, and B.P. Empire appeared the following year. The combination of duo’s live show and their diverse electronic palette won over critics and a new legion of hardcore fans in North and South America. In 2003, Infected Mushroom issued the sprawling double-disc Converting Vegetarians. This ambitious recording was a marked departure from the stylistic confines of the genre, mixing trance, freestyle and ambient sounds. But after this experimental phase, the pair returned with 2004’s I’m the Supervisor, a highly danceable set tailored to trance fans.
Infect Mushroom developed a particularly rabid following in Latin America, where fans who’d discovered their MP3s sparked a viral phenomenon. “Around 2000 we were invited to play in Mexico, and we’d sold about 15 CDs there,” Duvdev recalls. “But this promoter invites us to play a party for 4,000 people. We thought he was crazy, that nobody there had heard of us – but they’d all found our music on Napster.”
“Illegal downloading has been very good to us,” Erez says with a glimmer of mischief. “That’s how a lot of people first heard our music, and later on they came to shows and bought our CDs.” Indeed, the band has sold in excess of 150,000 copies over the course of six acclaimed independent releases.
Vowing once again to get out of their comfort zone, the members of Infected Mushroom relocated to Los Angeles in 2005. “The weather is a lot like Israel’s,” says Erez. “Even though we still don’t know the city very well, we’re excited to be here – and we’re ready to push ourselves in entirely new directions.”
One new direction in particular – the addition of guitar to their live set – raised eyebrows among the trance-loving elite. But the band refused to sit still. “The most hardcore fans are often resistant to change at first,” Erez informs, “but they always come around.”
“When we added live guitar the response from the crowd was really different,” elaborates Duvdev. “We really liked the direction and decided to go to a full band performing on stage.” The pair’s roots in metal and punk began to re-emerge, and Infected Mushroom’s live sets quickly demolished any genre pigeonholes. “We added Middle Eastern, Celtic and even Flamenco elements to the music,” declares Erez. “There’s something for every kind of audience.” These influences were more evident than ever on the pair’s 2007 disc, Vicious Delicious.
“We used to perform for a few hundred people, and a lot of them didn’t really understand trance and weren’t dancing,” Duvdev adds. “Now, no matter what kind of event we play, we know we can rock the stage and everyone really gets it.”
The band has, in fact, rocked more than a million people around the globe, headlining such festivals as OMIX in Mexico, Miami’s Ultra Festival, California’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, San Diego Street Scene, L.A.’s Monster Massive, The Virgin Festivals in Toronto and Baltimore, and Sao Paulo’s Tribe – as well as packing venues from Haifa to Los Angeles.
In Brazil, the global capital of psy-trance, Infected Mushroom joined Black Eyed Peas in performing for a crowd of more than 200,000 revelers at Ipanema Beach. “You couldn’t see the end of the crowd,” Duvdev marvels of the 2006 show. “And when that many people are dancing and you get that power returned to you, it’s an amazing feeling.” Indeed, the group’s 2007 concert schedule included 15 Brazilian dates.
As DJ noted of another gig, “the pair had a 12,000 San Francisco crowd gripped in their warp-speed Mushroom cloud. Live metal guitars … acidic tapestries and mind-possessing beats all colliding as Duvdev’s vocals rode the pulsing waves.”
Similar madness marked their 2007 Virgin Festival performance in Baltimore, during which rock-rap phenom Matisyahu jumped onstage and unleashed a freestyle vocal over a gale-force Mushroom groove. “The crowd was already mental when we hit the stage,” Duvdev recalls. “Matisyahu came out of nowhere and said, ‘Let’s jam.’ Then the vibe went really crazy. People were throwing themselves around. It surprised us as much as anyone else.” Clips of this ecstatic moment of international Jewish rock synergy soon popped up on YouTube, joining a growing library of video chronicling the band’s ultra-intense live sets.
For those unsatisfied with the scattershot array of clips now online, Infected Mushroom is at work on a live DVD that will more authoritatively chronicle the mayhem of their world tours. “Nothing says everything like a video,” Duvdev asserts with a laugh.
Their raucous, revelatory experiences on the road have also sparked a desire for further experimentation in the studio. “A lot of people say to us, ‘I get this feeling at your shows that I can’t always get from the CDs,’” Duvdev reveals. “So the next record is going to be all about capturing the energy of the full band. It’s going to blow people away.”