Punk Pioneers in the Middle East

Yotam Ben Horin is feeling pretty pensive these days. He’s back in the U.S. to record an intimate solo record, and in a couple of weeks, his band Useless ID is releasing Most Useless Songs, a milestone best-of album on Fat Wreck Chords that spans the Israeli band’s 27-years in music. These 16 songs (including two new tracks) are important blocks for the foundation of a groundbreaking career that has convincingly established Useless ID as Israel’s most successful punk band and arguably the Middle Eastern country’s most internationally successful act ever.

“I can’t believe we’ve come this far,” the vocalist and bassist tells SPIN, shaking his head via Zoom. “For a punk band in Israel, it was pretty challenging at times…saving up money to travel to tour and play shows.” He takes a moment to think. “I’m not saying it isn’t hard for bands in the US, but it is easier over here to play,” he continues. “In the beginning, it was also harder for us to get our music out there, for people to take us seriously. But more than two decades later, here we are – I’m really proud of how far we’ve come.”

Since forming in 1994, the band has broken relatively untouched ground for a punk and hardcore scene in Israel, paving the way for bands like Kill the Drive and Not On Tour, helping build a community where these voices can now be loudly expressed and clearly heard.
“There weren’t many people doing punk rock and hardcore DIY tours back in the mid-‘90s,” Ben Horin reflects, looking back at the early days when the band came together in the north-western port city of Haifa. “We played a lot of basements, some shows were empty and some were full. I’m glad we did that and it helped build character and appreciation. I’m so glad we went through all of that. This type of lifestyle – just being involved in punk rock – can be hard, but it keeps your mind young.”

For the most part, Useless ID has managed to keep politics out of their music and Ben-Horin is adamant that their nationality, and the politics that come with it, don’t represent the four band members. Instead, first and foremost, they’re a punk rock band attempting to paint the bigger picture of what’s taking place in their country, a country where they’ve sadly lost friends and fans from political violence and bombings.

“We had one fan pass away,” he says a bit quietly. “She came to a Useless ID show and later she was on the wrong bus. It shakes your whole reality. There’s no sense to that. There’s no sense to Israel bombing other places, either.”

“Back in the day, we had people come to our shows and yell, ‘fuck Israel’ but politics have mostly stayed away from us and it’s been all about the music,” he adds. “We have a lot to write about, the whole story, coming from that country…it’s not easy living there. But our nationality doesn’t define us. I think that’s why we bring in a lot of personal stuff and social issues…that’s important, too.”

Ben Horin opens up, talking about how important it is for his emotional health to keep the creative fire burning. On top of the upcoming “best-of”, he recently finished a yet-to-be-titled solo record, he has a hardcore side project with his brother called Spit, and is looking forward to completing a new Useless ID record which is halfway done.

“I was quite depressed when I was stuck in Israel [during the pandemic lockdown],” he admits. “I didn’t have much hope but then I got engaged and decided that I needed to move forward, write some new songs, start working with the guys again – that really helped me. I hope we have the new record recorded by the end of this year.”

He shrugs, shaking his head. “But who knows what’s going to happen.”

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