Posts Tagged ‘Drums’

27th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Who would have thought in the middle of March 2020, we would be living in such different – and fucked-up – times a full sixteen months later? Many of us who work in offices left thinking we’d be back in a few weeks, and surely no-one predicted the decimation of so much retail and hospitality. While the most unprecedented thing about the pandemic in the UK was the overuse of the word unprecedented, it is true that this is the first time in history that the healthy have been quarantined en masse alongside the sick and the vulnerable.

In many respects, the vulnerable have been the hidden sufferers and forgotten people during this time. As the band write, ‘People with learning disabilities in England are eight times more likely to die from Covid than the general population, according to research that highlights a “hidden calamity” of the coronavirus crisis. At a time where arts centres are critically underfunded, and the disabled community will be the last to come out of lockdown, we want to offer solidarity and support to our artists and friends.’

The communal and collaborative element of Sly’s work is integral to their ethos: anyone who’s seen them live is as likely to have been implicated in the set as simply spectated, with the band among the audience, the audience becoming part of the band and banging drums… and this is no corny, manufactured communal clap, a contrivance to mask government bullshit, this is a real in-the-moment collectivism that’s life-affirming and enriches the soul. Their music may be murky and weird, but Sly and the Family Drone very much do use music for the power of good. And so of all the bands who would perform at the ICA with Jamaica!!, they were always the most likely candidates. Jamaica!! is less a band than a group musical session operating out of The Gate, an arts centre for adults with learning disabilities located in Shepherds Bush, London. The Gate write, ‘out of efforts to make the music sessions we facilitate there as inclusive as possible which we found by necessity entailed abandoning notions of what makes sense musically; an extension of the central ethos at the gate of reshaping the round hole to allow the square peg to fit rather than the unfair expectations of the inverse’. Their sessions are entirely improvised, and the band is whoever turns up on the night.

Jamaica!! Meets Sly and the Family Drone is a document of this particular night, and it’s being released as a special art edition with the aim of raising money for The Gate. It’s clear from the two expended workouts that occupy a side each of this c46 cassette that the two units readily come together as one in their improvisational stylings

Side one of Celebrating The End Together In The Good Time Swamp is an immense exploratory piece: twenty-one minutes of wild, percussion-heavy, industrial jazz noise. What, that’s not a thing? Yes, yes it is: it’s precisely Sly & The Family Drone’s thing, and the joy of their live work is that the only thing you can predict is that will be percussion-heavy industrial jazz noise.

It begins quiet and atmospheric, picked notes ringing out over a misty murk, drones and croaks of horns groan and yawn like a slumbering beast in dream, perhaps on the brink of awakening… You feel you should tread carefully. But clattering percussion swells unevenly, and there’s a building tension as well as a building volume. It sounds ominous.

And then, off-key notes ring from every whichway. Is it free jazz or is it simply chaos? Perhaps it’s both. Rising up momentarily, a big-band swinging beat that dives some kind of shape and spine to the seemingly formless sonic mass that’s swirling all around.

Ten minutes in, there are some indecipherable vocals shouting, while whizzes and whooshes enter the mix and it’s like a space rock rendition of a Throbbing Gristle performance. And then it gets really fucking drummy. It’s a full-on barrage, a solid wall of percussion. The final few minutes are truly cathartic, as the pace picks up and we hear the sound of ALL THE DRUMS. EVER. ALL AT ONCE. It’s beyond thunderous – it’s positively volcanic.

Side two is, in many respects, more of the same, only it’s slower, denser, more undulating, dronier. It’s a swirling, seething mass of sound, a glorious twenty-three minutes of mayhem, a surging hammering on of drums and drums and drums and drums, battering out a loping march while horns, kitchen sink and cement mixer churn out a heavy grind of weighty discord. There’s a lull around the mid-point, where it delves into an almost shuffling beat, and there’s even a brief paise while there’s some kind of bass break. Then the rhythm shifts again, and things are almost funky for a while – but mostly, it’s noisy and drummy. I mean, this lot are drummier than Boredoms, and they actually lock into a mean groove near the end. As the track powers onwards to its climax, the energy radiates from the speakers and it makes you feel good – because music really is always the best therapy.

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Love Love Records – 26th April 2019 – LOVLP03

Christopher Nsnibor

However you remember Sly and the Family Drone, whatever your past experience, and whatever you may expect, the reality of each new entry in their catalogue brings something slightly different.

My first encounter with them was in a live setting, and I was left reeling with images of a bloke in boxer shorts pummelling drums and getting half the audience to join in. I remember noise, rhythms and chaos. Various YouTube footage confirms this is pretty much representative.

All of those elements are present on their studio recordings, but in different measures. It works: it’s a different medium. And moreover, each release reflects an evolution, usually a subtle but nevertheless key shift. And so it is on Gentle Persuaders, the collective who describe themselves as a ‘neo-noise-jazz outfit’ (one suspects that as apt as the description is, there’s an element of tongue-in-cheek here, just as their absurdist track titles aren’t entirely straight-faced) ‘vomit forth a smooth serving of curious and clattering noise not devoid of fun’.

Smooth is perhaps one thing it isn’t, and for that we should all try and be grateful. Challenging, angular, tonally and structurally abrasive, Gentle Persuaders finds Matt Cargill and co. playing to their ever-growing strengths.

The album opens in suitably uncompromising style, with the longest of the four compositions, the fourteen-minute ‘Heaven’s Gate Dog Agility’. It takes its time to get going, and with minimal instrumentation save for elongated sax drones, it has something of a sparse, free jazz feel. The percussion is restrained, distant, muted, and the emphasis seems to be on atmosphere, and – so it would seem at this stage – musicianship. But by the mid-point the drums are full-blooded, and the sax is battling amidst a barrelling wall of extraneous noise. The closing minutes find the rare emergence of an overt structure, a form, with repetition and a coalescence of sound that could almost be mistaken for a tune.

Crashing, head-blasting industrial beats worthy of Test Dept or perhaps reminiscent of Revolting Cocks’ ‘Beers, Steers & Queers’ shatter the air on ‘New Free Spirits Falconry & Horsemanship’. And they continue to pound away for the duration, while the sax screeching becomes ever more strangled and frenzied.

‘Votive Offerings’ ventures into murky, dark ambient territory, and reveals glimmering flickers of light shifting amidst the shadows of sombre drones and unsettling incidentals. It’s a mosaic of fragments: forms start to emerge, solid rhythms kick in, only to halt after a few bars, and if it’s jazz with noise, it’s jazz with noise penned as a soundtrack to the fragmented hallucinatory anti-narrative of Naked Lunch.

It’s this change of mood that renders the finale all the more impactful: beginning stark, sparse, eerie, with single notes ringing out into a sea of black echo and swampy low undercurrents, the spectacularly punny (and so very typical) ‘Jehovah’s Wetness’, a low-end bass grind begins to build the foundations of a swirling sludge-trudge climax. It’s not gentle, but it’s extremely persuasive.

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Gentle Persuaders

Aagoo Records / REV. Lab Records

21 September 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

French experimental drum outfit PILES are pitched as being for fans of Neu!, Can, Trans Am, Hanged Up, Beak>, Captain Beefheart, Edgar Varese, This Heat. Yes, a drum trio. Which means dominant percussion, and then some. But hen, anyone who’s heard Japanese drum combo Voordoms will appreciate the power of percussion as a dominant aspect.

And so we have eight tracks, all as drummy as it gets. Often, drums with little more than drones and hums or hovering feedback or sustain. But all the rhythmic complexity under the sun, with two or even three kits battering away.

‘Decay’ comes in hard and heavy, the opening bars reminiscent of The Fall’s ‘Muzoweri’s Daughter’ before dispersing in myriad directions as it spills directly into ‘Ulrick’. And just as things threaten to get tedious, ‘Mort aux cons’ brings new dimensions of noise, with sludgy bass and cacophonous guitar accentuating a different range of racket. And yes, it is a racket, albeit a good one.

‘Kraut and Piles’, the first of three nine-minuters eschews accessibility in favour of relentless pudding beats and extraneous noise. In venturing into industrial territory amidst shards of feedback, PILES reach a point at which the overall weight of the album tips into that of the heavy: there’s not much let-up here as the beats pound away at the cranium and the raring noise buidls to the sound of a jet engine preparing for take-off. The sonic barrage of ‘Kraut and ‘Piles’ is immediately followed by nine minutes of cut-up sound arrangements and drone with ‘Material in US’, which creates a very different atmosphere and casts the band in a very different light, even when things burst into an explosion of drums neat the end – because this about so much more than drumming. Then again, ‘Chambre d’echo;’ suddenly erupts from brooding atmospherics into a barrage of beats before shifting into a tinkling lullaby, which is pleasant if incongruous.

The final composition, ‘Marie’ is another nine-minute-plus beast that begins with ominous drones and conjures an unsettling darkness for its duration and culminates in a weird sort of semi-climax on a cymbal that rings out to eternity.

Una Volta confounds expectations and forges a strange mix of percussive assault and ambience, and does so through unexpected forms. It makes for an album that isn’t remotely what you might expect, but is all the better for it.

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PILES – Una Volta

Christopher Nosnibor

The missive which contains a link to the album lays out the facts. ‘August 2015: On a sweltering summer evening, Sly & the Family Drone brought their sweat-soaked carnival of chaos to east London. This is a recording of that night.’

Café Oto seems to be the venue of choice for weirdy, avant-garde experimental acts to capture their live sound – or perhaps it’s one of the few venues that truly embraces all that it weirdy, avant-garde and experimental in the first place. This, of course, is one of the benefits of operating on a not-for-profit basis. Art takes precedence over capital. It’s also an intimate space, where even a small crowd will make the place feel like it’s heaving, and it’s possible to really feel that connection between performer and audience in an up-close setting. Truly, here’s no substitute for being able to smell the sweat and see the whites of a perfomer’s eyes

Sly and the Family Drone have been pushing the parameters of messy noise for about eight years now, and while their recoded output explores all areas of murkiness and abrasion, their live shows are something else. Chaotic and cathartic, the only predictable part is percussion – that is to say, a lot of percussion.

This particular outing is heavy, and percussion-heavy from the outset. Thick, low-end blasts thunder through pounding drums. The percussion intensifies in both power and pace, while the droning bass frequencies bottom out to a place below the pelvic region while explosions of top-end squeal painfully. Less than ten minutes in, and they’ve hit total overload. Over the course of the album’s hour-long duration, they maintain it, and if anything, continue to push further, harder, louder, harsher. Crescendo hits after crescendo, and cumulatively, it’s punishing – in the best possible way.

It’s not just a hell of a noise: it’s all the noise. Even when the noise abates and the relentless battery of snare halts temporarily, eardrum-perforating feedback and whirring, hissing shards of treble fill the space. Through speakers, it hurts. Once can only imagine the impact and potential damage inflicted on those actually present. This is less a case of ‘you probably had to be there’ and more about ‘damn, I wish I’d been there’.

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