THEY have played before thousands at Tomorrowland, Ultra Music festivals in Miami and Europe and Electric Daisy Carnival. They have collaborated with massive names of the electronic dance music (EDM) scene; DJs Armin van Buuren, Steve Aoki and Timmy Trumpet. But when Aviram Saharai of the Israeli psytrance duo Vini Vici chats with The AJN while on tour in Brazil, he is just a familiar and friendly voice on the other end of the phone line.
“I’m so happy to do an interview for a Jewish newspaper!” he exclaims at the outset.
“We are Jewish. We are all a big happy family, right?”.
Despite the mega-success of Vini Vici, Aviram remains true to his humble beginnings in Afula, Israel. While he and his Vini Vici counterpart, Matan Kadosh, play an average of 200 shows around the world each year, Aviram dreams of his mother’s food back at home – “and a fresh plate of hummus when it is hot, which is just, heavenly”.
With a colourful East Persian, Iraqi and Russian background, Aviram speaks fondly of his upbringing with the sounds of keyboard resonating through his family’s home. His older brother played, and was good, even travelling around Europe with an orchestra. Aviram played a little too, but his musical journey really began at the age of 14 when he received a computer program for producing music.
“I said, ‘Oh wow! That is so cool’ and started to play with it a little bit. I did all sorts of silly things. Kind of quirky dance music,” Aviram tells.
It wasn’t long after that he discovered psytrance – “because in Israel, it’s literally everywhere”.
A subgenre of trance music, psytrance can be described as eclectic arrangements of layered melodies, high tempo riffs and heavy bass tribal drumbeats. It may have originated from Goa, India in the early 1990s, but it is now synonymous with Israel and is hugely popular in the Holy Land.
In fact, one of the most celebrated psytrance outfits internationally and best-selling groups in Israeli music history is Infected Mushroom – and they played a pivotal role in influencing a young Aviram.
“I was like, ‘Wow! What is this sound? I want to do this. They mixed classical music with dance beats and freaky sounds, and I loved it. This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,’” Aviram recalls his reaction on first listening to Infected Mushroom.
Labelling them “idols and pioneers of psytrance”, he tells how they inspired him by example.
“If two kids from the Krayot – half-an-hour from my home town – succeeded, why not me, I thought. Why can I not do the same? They gave me hope and belief that this could actually happen.
“And then I really understood that that’s what I wanted to do. Nobody can change me and that was at a very young age.
“Then, I started to produce music.”
DURING high school, Aviram and classmate Itai Spector began producing “trancey music” under the name, Sesto Sento. But they soon learned of another kid who was older, and known to be “the DJ” of the school.
“He was this cool guy who played music in the woods and at some parties at that time,” explains Aviram.
“I knew I need to somehow hook up with him to work together. But I was 15, he was 17. At that age, it is a huge difference. A kid in the 12th grade, and a kid in the 10th grade is a big thing.”
Still, Aviram didn’t let the age gap and cool factor deter him.
“I can’t remember if he was dating the girlfriend of my girlfriend, or if he wanted to date her – but I was smart enough to understand that girls have a lot of power and a lot of influence on men!” jokes Aviram.
And he asked her to tell Matan that he wanted to meet him to talk about music.
“I knew that he won’t tell her ‘no’, and that’s what happened.”
Within a week, the trio produced their first song together as Sesto
Sento, and in 2001 it was released on CD.
But eventually they became a duo after Itai began to live a more Orthodox Jewish life.
“It wasn’t a fast transition. It took him around two years, but in the start he just stopped making shows, and he just created with us music in the studio,” tells Aviram, adding, “but we already knew that it was going to finish because you cannot be strict Jewish Orthodox and play. It doesn’t really work.”
Aviram shares that they are still good friends today.
While he and Matan continued with Sesto Sento, in 2013 they gave birth to a new project together – Vini Vici.
“It took us a few tracks to understand it, but actually the biggest essence of Vini Vici started with a track called The Tribe.”
And as anyone knows who has ever been to a party where The Tribe has played, its distinctive sound and big beat makes the dance floor heave.
“I remember we had the name. And then we started to dig and understand the sound that we need for this track. We love to create a track that has a very big concept behind it.
“Theoretically, we had 80 per cent of the track done before even going near the computer.”
The Tribe put Vini Vici on the map. It started as a psytrance underground track, but it also did well commercially when EDM DJs started to play it.
“We understood we want to have world music, with psytrance. We wanted to mix these two worlds.”
Later, came the success of the Free Tibet Remix – which has had over 94 million plays on YouTube – and Great Spirit, a collaboration with the Grammy-award winning Dutch DJ and producer Armin van Buuren, also erupted.
Van Buuren, who will also be playing at Festival X, commented that “few acts have such a well-defined signature sound” as Vini Vici.
But it was the taking of the main stage at Tomorrowland last year that Aviram notes as their biggest achievement – “because we are representing a small country, we are representing a small genre, and it was something that if you look six years back, you would never think that it is possible”.
THE wheel came full circle for Vini Vici when they played back to back with idols Infected Mushroom at Ultra Miami earlier this year.
And the potential for a future collaboration?
“We love each other and are very good friends today. We always talked about it and are really into the idea, and hopefully we will find time in 2020 to create a song together,” he teases.
Despite the international success, Aviram remains anchored by his Jewishness.
“I’m just a traditional Jewish guy. I am a believer. I also say, Baruch Hashem, when I need,” Aviram shares, explaining that he keeps kosher, fasts on Yom Kippur and observes the chagim.
“On the road, it’s not that easy. It’s harder to maintain a perfect Jewish life. But I’m very focused on eating kind of kosher. That keeps me very connected to Judaism.”
“It’s complicated in a lot of dishes, and in a lot of moments. I needed to let go of dishes that I really liked when I discover it’s not kosher!”
Irrespectively, Aviram is not deterred by his extensive itinerary – and is particularly looking forward to Festival X in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland in November and December.
“I love Australia. If it wasn’t that far, it is the best country in the world,” he enthuses.
“But I’m always so happy when I land there because Australian people are so friendly, and the crowd is one of the best crowds in the world.
“So, I’m definitely expecting big roars when the drop comes, a lot of good times, and a good vibe.”
Vini Vici will play at Festival X in Auckland on November 28, Sydney on November 30, and Melbourne on December 1. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.festivalx.com.au.