If you can’t beat em, join em.
How drummers became drum machines
Resident blog artist and ragga jungle aficionado Isaac Sparks hipped me to this mindblowing Instagram Drumfluencer. When @Starpowerdrummer (aka Russell Holzman) isn’t touring with Caroline Polachek, he’s recording drum and bass covers for the gram. They are all ridiculous. Here’s one of my favorites, conveniently posted to youtube:
A+ for perfectly capturing the snare drum pitch shifting using two snares.
I also love that most of the songs he covers are less than 5 years old. They all sound like 1996 to me. Electronic music frequently finds itself in Groundhog Day. But in 1996, few things blew my teenage mind like drum and bass. Precisely manipulated with digital samplers, drum and bass carved up four funk samples into endless permutations of aggressive rhythms designed to be out of the reach of any percussionist. The sound was subversive raucous noise. This was a naive take, as it would only be a few years before drum and bass backed Gap ads.
But there’s still something about those impossible break beats that resonates with me, and I love that 25 years later, drumming itself has been revolutionized by the drum sampler. The drum machine revealed new ways to think about arranging and articulating rhythmic patterns, and modern virtuosos pull drum and bass influences into their analog styles.
Probably one of the earliest to master drum-and-bass on the kit was Jojo Mayer.
In this Hudson Music instructional video, he explains his mindset around 3 minutes in
“You can integrate all the techniques in sampling and editing and you can apply it to drum beats, which is like deconstructing a sentence into different words… You have all those little phrases that you can rearrange in any sequence possible. If you play with a sampler, and you know that you can trigger the sample from the beginning by hitting the start button… you can do that same thing like a drum beat. You get little displacements within the beat, but you can also now use all those different elements and create completely new beats.”
The most used “sentence” in jungle and drum&bass was the Amen Break, four bars of open drums in the middle of this jam by The Winstons:
There are millions of songs based around those four measures. Part of what makes the amen break so distinctive is the sound of that beat itself itself. It’s not enough to just play the notes. There’s necessary aggressiveness to the ride and snare. A big boominess to the kick drum. The pitch of each hit matters.
Drummers started inventing ways of making their acoustic drums sound like trashy processed drum machines. They incorporated broken cymbals. They put objects on their drum heads like splash cymbals to accentuate the hits. And they’d add multiple snare drums and cymbals to capture the pitch-shifting effects so common in drum and bass.
Louis Cole is one of the masters of making analog drums sound like machines. The first video he ever posted to his youtube from 2010 features a clever setup with cymbals on toms and two hi-hats:
And probably the most impressive young drummer in the world, JD Beck, puts drum and bass influences front and center in his playing. With DOMi, he even had the guts to cover Aphex Twin live in this amazing performance:
That cover is freakishly spot on. The original is here for those curious to compare:
Always good to see new technology pushing people to places they wouldn’t expect they could go. Anyway, enjoy some drum and bass with your Sunday.