Rudimental's drummer on the challenge of electronics
DRUM EXPO 2014: Rudimental arrived with a bang in 2012 when Feel The Love smashed into the UK singles chart. Comprised of four producers and musicians - Amir Amor, Kesi Dryden, Piers Agget and DJ Locksmith (Leon Rolle) - unlike most of their contemporaries Rudimental tour as a live act, playing their music in real time.
The man responsible for providing their rhythmically intense beats live is drummer Beanie, who plays alongside the four group leaders plus a brass section and three vocalists. "It's a party on stage," he says. Here Beanie explains what it takes to play live for Rudimental...
How did you get involved with Rudimental?
"I went to university with Amir from Rudimental, so we did a lot of sessions together. When he first met the guys and wanted to create a live band, he called me up straight away. At first it was quite a lot to take in.
"...bouncing between the acoustic kit and the electronic kit. It was challenging at first but it feels so natural now, and fun"
"Our MD is Andy Gangadeen who is a well known drummer, amazing guy, and a really big influence on me. He taught me that electronics are very unforgiving. You can't cover up a mistake and claim it's a ghost note. Once you hit the thing, you've hit the thing. If I go out slightly, the world's going to know. No room for error, so that was challenging.
"There is a lot of bouncing between the acoustic kit and the electronic kit. It was challenging at first but it feels so natural now, and fun to do. It takes a lot of stamina. Rather than triggering off a whole pattern for a couple of bars, everything is single notes.
"I'm playing everything in real time so there is no point where I can stop to have a breath. There's a lot to do. It's very different to playing pop, or rock or r'n'b but it's very rewarding. I feel like I'm playing the best I ever have at the moment and I'm having the most fun playing."
Had you worked with electronics prior to this?
"With some acts I'd worked with one pad here and there, but I'd never worked with multiple pads playing full beats, it was normally just triggering one thing off and the backing track had most of the electronic drums on. It was the first time I'd worked with multiple pads and had to integrate them within an acoustic kit. It's live dance music and there aren't many bands doing it completely live. That's one thing Andy Gangadeen really wanted to do with this."
We love this footage of Rudimental performing Feel The Love live at Isle Of Wight festival this year:
How did you figure out what you needed?
"Andy is a pioneer in the live electronic dance world. A lot of it is based on what he knew would be good. Initially I was using stuff based on his set-up and then we modified it based on what we could get free from companies. Some of his stuff, they don't make it anymore so we had to find things I was comfortable with. I trust his judgment."
Was it tricky at first switching between acoustic and electronic kick pads with your feet?
"Yes at first, just because of the tension of the trigger and the skin on the acoustic bass drum. I was practising once and it really did my head in because it was literally just a quarter-note thing and I wound myself up so much because I couldn't do it on the electronic one.
"I was like, 'What is wrong with me?' It was just the weird tension, so I had to learn to really relax my muscles and focus when I'm bouncing between the two, because the tension is going to be different, and not to expect the same thing."
"When you get involved in that style of drumming and you enjoy it, you listen out for more stuff that sounds like it"
What is the key to approaching this music as a drummer?
"Hit the pads consistently. I warm up a lot now. I do a good half an hour before a show where before I never used to and I wondered why I used to get an achy arm after an hour. Now I can do rehearsals for 12 hours, go home and want to play again. So, warm-ups and lots of breathing exercises because it takes a lot of stamina."
Have you had to develop some fluency in electronic dance music?
"No, I've always listened to a lot of different music. I play a lot experimental, free jazz stuff. I have a project called Noon and that's with a guitarist called Adam Coney. We take a lot of influence from the New York scene, a lot of the free jazz noise improv stuff. Everyone plays in a different rhythm so it's a bit like a Captain Beefheart/Lounge Lizards vibe.
"I do listen to a lot more dance music. When you get involved in that style of drumming and you enjoy it, you listen out for more stuff that sounds like it, so it's not like I had to learn to like more dance music. I generally like it because I can hear more sounds in there that I'm replicating. There is an appreciation for the jungle beats a lot now as well because they're lovely to play and I'm enjoying playing dance music so much that listening to it is a lot more enjoyable. I never used to be into house music but now I can listen to house and enjoy it, not pretend to like it."
Where are your sampled sounds taken from?
"Most of them are samples directly from the album. We get the sounds off the computer. Amir is good at knowing what he wants. He's been a producer for many years before becoming part of Rudimental and I've worked in sessions with him a lot. He's got a very keen ear for what he wants to hear drum-wise so we could spend three hours on the tone of one of the snares. They know what they want to hear."
Is it tricky to make sure the acoustic parts of the kit fit sonically with the electronics?
"Not if you have the right drum tech. Jim Macaulay is brilliant at tuning the kit, we've got a really good tone there so the gear's all good."
"Small toms really help to cut through because there are a lot of subby sounds and deeper tones with electronic music"
You use fairly small toms...
"Yes, they are slightly smaller and higher pitched than the toms I've used in the past but it really helps to cut through because there are a lot of subby sounds and deeper tones with electronic music and with the samples I'm using, so it adds variety for the listener. I don't want to get lost amongst all the bass sounds of the samples."
What are your favourite tracks to play?
"Home - it's the only song that's just acoustic drums so I get a bit of a break. I really enjoy Not Giving In because I get to use the acoustic kit and electronic kit. Hide and Right There because it's got a really complicated beat that makes me look really good."
Are there any moments where you can improvise or change up fills from show to show?
"Some songs I play as parts that Andy and myself have come up with; some songs are just jam songs for me to improvise a bit and vibe off the trumpet player, Mark Crown, who's fantastic. We'll try to do something crazy complicated just for fun.
"Kezie Dryden [keys] does a lot of the bass lines, so I'll try to do something over the top just to catch his reaction. He cracks me up. There is lots of room to mess around but there are certain songs where I do the same drops. Fills are okay to mess around with but the electronic side of the beats stays the same."
Interview: David West
For more great interviews with the world's best drummers, check out Rhythm magazine.