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“Chutney have brought the sampled songs – born hundreds of years apart – together to make something excitingly modern”Rolling Stone

Britney Spears and Beethoven collide in dark and beautiful whimsy today in the hands of Sydney klezmer punk collective CHUTNEY. Teaming up with The Potbelleez vocalist Ilan Kidron on guest vocals to conjure Toxic Moonlight, the hypnotic melodics of Britney Spears’ 2003 hit Toxic fuse with Beethoven’s melancholic masterpiece Moonlight Sonata alongside CHUTNEY’s trademark Eastern European and Middle Eastern flair. Or, as CHUTNEY themselves put it: “It’s the illicit love child of Britney and Beethoven in a raucous Balkan bar – it’s bonkers”.

The equivalent of The Cat Empire partying in pop and classical territory, with a hora dance in its chorus thrown in for good measure, Toxic Moonlight welds two equally iconic yet exceedingly diverse songs, with over two centuries elapsing between Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Britney SpearsToxic being released into the world. Growing from a seed planted by Kidron, with The Potbelleez front man noting the klezmer-esque qualities of Toxic, as well as CHUTNEY violinist Ben Adler exhuming Moonlight Sonata, the end result for Toxic Moonlight captures the urgency and catharsis of both originals, while also transforming the source material into a modern and daring reimagination. “It was 2021 and we had a gig lined up with Ilan,” shares Adler of the Toxic Moonlight origin story. “We were in a reprieve between COVID lockdowns so we’d developed a certain nihilism that, in retrospect, was highly conducive to unfettered creativity. I was talking with Ilan about songs he’d like to sing with us, and he observed that the string riff in Toxic sounds “really klezmer” – we only discovered years later that it’s actually a Bollywood sample! Anyway, Ilan’s suggestion was all I needed to klezmer-ify Britney’s song. Something about its darkness and (toxic) romance then led me to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, especially after I realised that importing Beethoven’s descending bassline might open up a whole new set of possibilities for the otherwise pretty harmonically static ‘Toxic’ verses. I sketched up a chart and we tweaked it in rehearsal, at a gig and in the studio into its present form”.

Photo credit: Max Goodman

And for Kidron, it was a no-brainer to tackle the global Britney Spears hit into new and uncharted waters with CHUTNEY, as he explains, “I was always really impressed with Mark Ronson’s version, and although Toxic had been covered plenty of times, I knew CHUTNEY would translate it really daringly and originally. They have an unashamed ability to bend the rules; but somehow it works. This version plays between a dark oceanic void and a western bar fight. There is emotional drama and a dance between tension and release that I love here.”

Opening with the moving solitary piano line of Moonlight Sonata before swelling with driving percussion and swooning strings, Toxic Moonlight flits between moody verses and vigorous, upbeat choruses with dark and wholly innovative abandon, with Kidron also placing his own unique spin on Toxic’s original lyrics. Dan Natoli of AKA Music produced, recorded and mixed the track, and is responsible for the epic expansion of CHUTNEY‘s live sound in post. CHUTNEY bassist and second keyboardist Ralph Marshall also worked as a de facto assistant producer on the track, as Adler reveals, “He coaxed an outsize number of ‘electronic haze and mechanical fart’ noises out of his synths and Moog”. “It all felt super easy, it was well rehearsed” says Kidron of recording Toxic Moonlight. “I had fun in the ad libs, though when I’m performing or recording everything kind of dissolves into the performance. If I’m really enjoying it, it becomes kind of amnesiac. Toxic, if you will. It was all set up really live, although it’s a studio album, the method is really genuine, what you hear is what you get. I loved the old school approach.”
Also accompanied today by a brand new music video directed and produced by Adam Dostalek, Toxic Moonlight expands the drama and potency in a visual setting, ultimately following two dancers through a shadowy narrative before ending with a passionate performance from the band themselves. “Our marketing guy Michael Puterflam hooked us up with one of Australia’s top directors, Adam Dostalek, who fell in love with the track,” shares Adler of bringing Toxic Moonlight to visual life. “Our first phone conversation sparked immediate creative chemistry, so we decided to go for it and create a gripping, dramatic narrative to amplify the toxicity of the music. I had Adam and Ilan over for pancakes one morning and we stomped around my kitchen talking over each other for two hours until we had the basic concept storyboarded. In essence, the video tracks our heroine rescuing her love from a toxic environment, and bringing him to a community where he is free to be himself. It’s a metaphoric journey, and we discussed a number of modern-day abstract toxicities, including arrogance, bullying, talking without listening and conformism of thought. As hard as it is to escape toxic environments, it’s often harder to recognise their toxicity – and that applies to relationships too.”

Adler continues, “We chose to make a video for Toxic Moonlight for a few reasons. In my head, this track has always been cinematic – post apocalyptic stadium symphonic rock vibes. Ilan sings out of his skin, and we think our arrangement is outrageously unique and deserving of attention. We also thought Toxic, as one of the most popular songs ever, might be the gateway drug we need to infect the broader Australian music scene with a love for klezmer fusion.”
While balancing two exceedingly well-known songs, Toxic Moonlight is an entirely new beast; one of contrast, cohesion and just the right amount of madcap brilliance. “Toxic is such brilliant writing,” says Kidron of the Britney Spears 2003 smash single. “It’s rarely a good idea to take on recording and releasing a cover unless you’re going to spin it really differently. We did Toxic Moonlight live a few times and it was just heroic fun. And when the climax goes bananas, it still feels like people are going to start throwing chairs around the venue. The arrangement should sound disjunct, what with the sections contrasting so much, but it rides like a velvet clad rodeo bull, smooth and bucking in chaos.”

Hailing from Sydney, singer-songwriter Ilan Kidron commands over one billion combined streams and is globally beloved as the lead singer for the multi-platinum selling group The Potbelleez. With several ARIA Award nominations in his wake, Kidron’s work with The Potbelleez has spanned two full length albums, multiple EPs and ongoing chart successes, while his solo work has led to the formation of The SchoolKids, an acclaimed songwriting and production team, as well as work alongside the likes of Ricky Martin, Tina Arena and Ricki Lee. And as well as the release of Toxic Moonlight, 2024 is shaping up to be another bumper year for Kidron, as he concludes, “I’m currently finishing my own album and touring back with The Potbelleez. I’m also singing and performing a symphonic electronic dance event called Synthony for Vivid Festival.”

Renowned for transforming klezmer music, an instrumental genre drawn from the Jewish villages of nineteenth century Eastern Europe, with their own unique twist, CHUTNEY wields a vibrant brew of jazz, funk, rock, folk, Latin, classical and everything in between. With both original tunes and modern takes on traditional bangers in their ever-growing catalogue, CHUTNEY is also set to release their debut album Ajar on August 6. A spicy collection of instrumental and vocal, Ajar ultimately represents a coming of age for CHUTNEY; it’s the band’s bar mitzvah, and everyone is invited to the party. “Totalling over an hour of music, it feels like we’ve made one of the biggest independent albums produced in Sydney in recent times,” Adler says of their upcoming new album. “We’ve selected our favourite 13 songs from four years of gigging. The songs feature two other wonderful guest singers – soul songstress Sarit Michael and musical theatre star Doron Chester. From samba to Dixieland, power ballad to Bulgar, we’ve left the door ajar for everyone’s tastes.”

“CHUTNEY is a cherished project for all of us,” Adler concludes. “Most of us are Jewish, so it’s deeply meaningful to be able to reimagine our cultural heritage as something fresh, relevant, and indelibly Australian in its musical larrikinism. We like to say that we are CHUTNEY because we are a mixture of disparate ingredients bound by the warm sugary embrace of klezmer. In truth, though, my housemate had fortuitously left a jar of chutney in the fridge when I hosted our last rehearsal before our first public gig, and as we gathered around the piano munching on apple slices dipped in chutney, the name materialised and just stuck – like its namesake stuck to our fingers.”

CHUTNEY comprises: Ilan Kidron (guest vocals), Ben Adler (violin), Paul Khodor (keys), Ben Samuels (clarinet), Ralph Marshall (bass, Moog), Yiss Mill (percussion) and Cameron Reid (drums).

Toxic Moonlight is out today.
Ajar is set for release August 6.


CHUTNEY – TOXIC MOONLIGHT (official single artwork)

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