The Shtetlblasters

by Mike Huberty
July 2010

The Shtetlblasters

The Shtetlblasters

A shtetl is defined as a small town with a large Jewish population, “You know, like Fiddler on the Roof”, Sam Harmet laughs, while describing the name of his band, THE SHTETLBLASTERS. A play on the term, “ghettoblasters” because of their introduction of funk into Klezmer, the traditional European Jewish dance songs (like the kind you’d hear in the aforementioned Fiddler musical.) So, West Coast meets Eastern Europe in THE SHTETLBLASTERS.

Mandolinist and synth player, Harmet describes how the band got started, “We have a long history together as a group of musicians. Going all the way back to high school, we all went to Middleton”, the local boy said. “After going separate ways for college, we all ended up in Madison. We had done some klezmer stuff back in the day along with other projects relating to funk. But when we got back together the idea came around to fuse together the different strands of what we were doing. So the idea was doing all the old traditional klezmer songs but with a funky interpretation of the rhythm. We slowly added more and more synthesizers until we became a klezmer-electro-funk band.”

For people who want to get an idea for what the group is all about, Harmet recommends the first track playable on their Myspace ( “Tantz Tantz Allemin”. “It’s a good starting point.” he says. “It’s an original tune of ours. We’re treating it as the single of the album. We made a video where we cut up footage from 80’s Jazzercise videos. So, if people want a little visual with their audio they can make it happen with that one.”

Their songs are mostly instrumental (keeping with the Klezmer tradition) but they do slip some human voices into the mix. Harmet explains, “We do some vocals, but usually if vocals are getting into the mix it’s through a talk box or a vocoder. We’re really into the 80’s funk band, Zapp (a Midwestern funk band whose known as a rhythmic progenitor of West Coast hip-hop and (apologies to Warren to the G) G-Funk)) and they’ve definitely influenced in the way we approach vocals, so when we do, they’re all robotic in some way.”

Harmet says that just because they’re a little outside the mainstream, it doesn’t mean they have any trouble finding shows. “Locally, pretty much if you have the initiative and you wanna do a show, you can make it happen. There are enough people that know what we’re doing. As far as the angle, it’s dance music ultimately, you’re dealing with dance music from Eastern Europe in klezmer and dance music from America in funk and electro. Even though it seems like it might be coming from the fringes with the influences, it’s pretty accessible. And we just approach it as having a silly dance party in the basement of your venue. If anything, it’s helped to grab attention.”

Their first album, Tantz Mit The Shtetlblasters, is now available on iTunes and CDBaby and they’ll be appearing at Atwood Summerfest July, 31st in Madison. “If nothing else, it’ll definitely be something that you haven’t heard before.” Harmet says. “Our goal is for people who hear our music, we want to simultaneously raise your eyebrow but also tap your foot and nod your head. We’re trying to do something a little more challenging and different, but at the same time something that is really fun and immediate and is going to make you want to dance.”

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