Texture in Music 3: Percussion (Part 2)

Credit: Drew Dale.

Credit: Drew Dale.

Drew Dale

Last column just wasn’t enough drums for me, so I’m back with another look into interesting percussive texture. I’ll still be focused on drums in electronic music; widening my scope would make this a semester long exploration for me. That said, I’ll be going over drums in different settings from two weeks ago to further expand on the magic that makes them so alluring. 


(If you’d like to stay up to date with my explorations of musical texture, be sure to check out the running playlist below).

Breakbeat: Sniffer Dogd – Shitmat and Gone Too Soon – Sully Remix – 2 Bad Mice

I already went over some breakbeat in my exploration of Jungle music last time, but I wanted to bring in some breakbeats from outside the jungle tradition as well. Sniffer Dogd [sic] is a perfect example of Drill n’ Bass, a derivative of Drum n’ Bass that features even more wild, pitch-shifted breaks than its predecessor. Its rolling, constantly changing snares almost constitute a melody in themselves (1:57-2:00 and throughout), with the pitch of the hat changing metallically with the other drums. The bouncy, erratic nature of the breaks feels like pure elation, a dark and warm bubbling that dredges up the mix’s vocal samples from the depths of city life. In Gone Too Soon – Sully Remix, Sully flips what was a mostly funky and joyful song into something resembling an abandoned factory, its rusting machines glittering in the moonlight. The Apache break sounds especially mysterious here (1:52-1:54 and throughout), clattering forward like glass bottles kicked along an empty street. The round synth drums (1:10-1:20 and throughout) bob under the flashy skin of the breaks, pulsating like purple pustules against the pitched-up vocals and the heavily reverbed melodic pads. The allure of the unknown is on full display here, drawing the listener in, showing them something totally alien and unutterable.


Acid Drums: Tracker  – RX-101, Saint Holy – Microlith, Tramma – Original Mix – Instra:mental

These tracks all contain the classic 808-like drum samples from the early days of Acid music (and many other early electronic genres). My favorite sounds of the 808 machine are its crisp snare, its slicing hats, and its pounding, but not abrasive, kick. These tracks put all these elements center stage: Tracker has a nice crackling snare and addicting open/closed hats, Saint Holy brings in great toms and cowbell to add flourishes to the swirling acid synths, and Tramma – Original Mix extends the percussive sounds beyond the classic drum machine feel to eerily-reverbed clicks and pops that give the pulsating melody a sense of depth. These songs are good in themselves but are great for the way they celebrate the unique history of electronic drums, reveling in the unnatural sounds of synthesized percussion.


Percussion, Take It or Leave It: Hatshepsut – Jlin and B 18 – DJ Marfox

Though it may seem like it, I’m no percussion purist: I love any and all sounds as a general rule. Sometimes though, I just want to hear stuff getting smacked, clanged, banged, and crashed. Luckily, Jlin and DJ Marfox have my back: Hatshepsut is a great arrangement of all sorts of MIDI percussion, flitting around between the left and right channels, and B 18 is a euphoric mix of mallet instruments and Afro-Portuguese drums that bound forward, confident in their own timbral qualities. Jlin’s use of space bring the percussion to life in her track: I’m especially fond of the marching snare (2:10-2:20 and throughout) and the various splashy cymbal hits (throughout). B 18’s reversed drums at the center of the mix (2:06-2:10 and throughout) give the track a sense of sucking in and out, and the high-pitched electronic drum hits (2:34-2:40 and throughout) feel as though they’re being launched, bright like flares, by the undercurrent of the other drums. The life in these tracks prove that percussion in itself can make beautiful music without the need for anything else.


Percussive Non-Percussion: Skulka  – Proc Fiskal and The Shape Of Trance To Come – Lorenzo Senni

On the flip side, really anything can be percussion. Take Skulka, where Proc Fiskal brings in sounds like water drips, drill whirs, gunshots, and punching SFX, among others, to serve as the percussive undercurrent of his song (0:00-0:12 and throughout). These sounds, accompanied by buzzy synths, create an air of whimsy around the track; it’s clear Fiskal is very influenced by video game soundtracks (and who wouldn’t be). Taking this spirit a step further, Lorenzo Senni completely eschews percussion in his music, instead making maximalist trance stabs serve as both melodic and rhythmic elements. And, after all, who can argue with the spiky arpeggios of The Shape Of Trance To Come where synthesized sounds propel the track forward in a way most modern EDM songs could only hope to achieve (3:56-4:55 and throughout). Maybe percussion is really just an ethos, something that can be tapped into by anyone who has the fundamental urge to move and be moved.