Catch the wave
Reporter: Nick Gormack
Date: March 2001
Put surf music and traditional Jewish klezmer music
together and what do you get? Christchurch band
Surfing USSR that's what. NICK GORMACK reports.
Christchurch musician Greg Malcolm sees his unusual
Surfing USSR project as definitely his most
accessible band to date - although even then it
certainly couldn't be described as commercial.
Surfing USSR play instrumental surf tunes based on
melodies from traditional Jewish klezmer music and
eastern European folk tunes.
The band - Greg Malcolm (guitar), Marc Howe (bass),
and Matt Gibb (drums) - formed two years ago in
Christchurch and are about to release their first
Both Howe and Gibb are recent graduates from the
Christchurch Jazz School, while Malcolm has been
involved with music for a long time.
Malcolm - who says none of the band have any Jewish
connections, although one of them does surf - admits
it's an unusual musical mix, although he says
klezmer music "lends itself remarkably well to the
He says the new CD, of which they have initially
produced 500 copies, features 14 tracks - ranging
stylistically "from disco to psychedelic
Malcolm says he "fell in love with traditional
klezmer melodies" while living in Berlin for two
years, where he says a lot of people are doing
different things with the music - "covering
everything from punk bands to string quartets".
He says klezmer music uses different scales and
intervals from other music, which give it a
distinctive structure and sound.
"I usually just pick out a line from a clarinet or
something and base the song on that - there are
thousands of possibilities as to what you can do
with it. Once we've worked on a piece it's not
always that obvious where it came from, although the
structure is still basically there."
Malcolm has been involved in the fringe music scene
for over 15 years.
He has released two solo albums, Trust Only This
Face (1996) and last year's What is it Keith? which
was recorded in Berlin with some of the leading
proponents of the improvised/new music scene, and
was well received.
Other projects which Malcolm has been involved with
include the children's duo Such'n'Such, which toured
schools throughout New Zealand, the improvisational
group Don't Make a Noise, experimental jazz outfit
One Leg Too Short, and he was also the guitarist in
Jay Clarkson's band Breathing Cage.
With the possible exception of Breathing Cage, who
released two successful albums and were certainly in
the alternative mainstream at one point, most of
Malcolm's efforts have been more on the fringe - a
place which he says he is more happy to inhabit.
"Surfing USSR is probably my attempt to be more
popular and even then it's not what everyone's into,
although plenty of people seem to enjoy it. We enjoy