Koby Israelite

Matthue Roth

For a drummer, Koby Israelite isn't too preoccupied with beats.

Sure, millions of beats float around his record Dance of the Idiots, released on New York's uberhip Jew-jazz label Tzadik Records. High-hat cymbals float through hard jazz riffs. Bass drums thud and crash in the metal segues of "If That Makes Any Sense."

But there are the quiet places, the introspective places, the-should we say it?-melodic places. How the hell did that drum & bass groove turn into a klezmer accordion solo? And how is it so seamless that we don't even blink? Sure, everybody's mixing Jewish music and secular music these days. But Koby mixes electronic dance music with guitar-driven metal, and he does it with a lot more grace than those boys in Papa Roach.

Zeek: What kind of baggage do people come to your music with? Are most of them jazz people, klezmer people, speed-metal people? Jews?
Koby: I guess, open-minded people. It's very early days the album as you know has just been released and I haven't performed my music yet..I'm curious about this myself. From the response I've been getting on my e-mail it's really varied.

The credits to Dance of the Idiots credit Koby with playing drums, guitar, keyboards, flutes, pocket clarinet, accordion, vocals, and electronic programming. He produced a track on the latest record by klezmer-jazz supergroup Masada. He resides in London, but frequently tours Europe playing live percussion for a hip-hop band.

My favorite factoid about Koby is that he played drums in the first-ever Israeli speed metal band. He studied drumming professionally, and he'd always played jazz. But he'd never written or played Jewish music until after he got a record deal.

"I always loved and respected [Tzadik owner and producer] John Zorn, so I sent him some demos of mine and one of the tracks had kind of a Jewish motive to it," he said. "He replied that if I wanted to release an album under the Jewish series, I should give him a ring. I was really happy but I freaked out because I never associated that strongly with Jewish music. I took the challenge with reassurance from Zorn that I can do whatever the fuck I want. I can go as crazy as I like, as long as there's a Jewish motive in the music."

Some of the tracks sound dangerously similar to that band that you begged your parents not to play at your Bar Mitzvah. The first song, "Saints and Dates," is a straightforward klezmer groove. But, by the third song, when a straight-out-of-Detroit fuzz-guitar starts riffing over Marcel Mamaliga's violin and Koby singing the wordless melodies of Hasidic nigguns, we realize that we're in the midst of something completely new.

Koby: Yes. I hope your president and our prime minister won't come after us. By the way do you think he bought my album?
Zeek: You mean you didn't send the president a free promo?
Koby: I did but he mispronounced all the track names. He thought that Tamuz was some kind of biological warfare, and actually this track is banned in Texas, I heard.
Considering Koby's relative immaturity in a genre where most professionals are seventy years old and speaking dead languages, he has acquired a remarkable fluency. "Toledo Five Four" is a cover of a Ladino melody, and "Diego," which most white people would assume is about some dude from East Harlem, is a Romanian traditional wedding song. It's the kind of schooling that makes being a hipster worthwhile.

1       [2]       [next->]
Image: Koby Israelite

November 2003

Niles Goldstein

France and Antisemitism
Michael Shurkin

Jay Michaelson

No Pulp
Dan Friedman

Raphael Cohen

Koby Israelite
Matthue Roth

Josh's Jewish Reminders
Josh Ring

Our 390 Back Pages

David Stromberg

Zeek in Print
Fall issue now on sale

About Zeek


Contact Us