Minimal Compact brought a dark and exotic tinge to the sound of European New Wave
music, and were Israel's most successful export band. Although they sang in English and were based in Belgium, they continued to perform in Israel
every few years, to the delight of musically malnourished Goths and punks
from Rosh Pina
. The band's career lasted only nine years, but most of its members are still active and respected musicians.
Minimal first formed as a trio in Israel around 1979, and moved to Belgium in 1981. They were one of the first acts signed to Crammed Records. Influenced by New Wave, Middle Eastern music, and progressive rock such as Genesis, their sound is fairly unusual, but the closest comparison is probably Tuxedomoon. Some of their songs sound like Bel Canto or Japan, but overall they have a harder sound, with distorted guitars featuring heavily in the music. I have seen them categorized as post-New Wave, art-pop (whatever that means) or dance rock.
Perhaps their unusual sound can be attributed partly to the fact that the only trained musician in the band was Berry Sakharof. Samy Birnbach, the band's main vocalist and lyricist, had done some DJ work, but his main interest was in writing and performing beat poetry. Fortis had released one punk album - perhaps the definitive Israeli punk record - but was completely self-taught and had never considered actually working as a musician.
Although their reception in the UK was lukewarm at best, with a single appearance on the John Peel show being their most visible success, Minimal were very successful throughout continental Europe and in Israel, and made several appearances on US college and dance charts. Their aspirations of touring the US were shattered in 1987, when several of them were refused visas. A year later the band had broken up to pursue solo careers. Every member of the band has continued to work in music. Sakharof and Fortis returned to Israel, where they began prolific solo careers. Both of them have become major figures in Israeli rock, and they often work together. Malka Spigel moved to London with her husband, producer Colin Newman, and has released several solo albums on the Swim label. Samy Birnbach has experimented with trip-hop sounds and now bills himself as DJ Morpheus. Unlike many other groups that break up for solo careers, the ex-Minimals seem to still like each other. With the exception of Max Frankel, who seems to have disappeared, they all appear regularly on each other's albums and have completed many short projects together.
Easter Egg - sixteen years after seeing Wings of Desire for the first time, I have discovered that Minimal actually have a song in that film! Yea verily, hidden amongst the alternative legends like Nick Cave and Crime and the City Solution, there is a fragment of the Minimal song "When I Go". It plays right after Damiel has become human, in the scene where he discovers coffee. This makes me absurdly proud, as everyone knows that to be featured in a Wim Wenders film is the true mark of superstardom in obscurity.