Beanie and Oli Wiseman discuss hybrid gear, arena gigs and pop grooves
Masters of EDM
With his distinctive dreads, handlebar moustache and colourful dress sense, Beanie is quite literally a riot.
As animated during the interview as he is behind the kit for chart-topping d’n’b dance stars Rudimental, Beanie is effusive in his praise for his mentor Andy Gangadeen, his passion for drums and his love of all kinds of music.
With Rudimental, Beanie has a groove and energy that is backed by precision as he lays down furiously danceable grooves on his hybrid set-up, keeping things locked down while also getting the party moving for the audience, and the band themselves, every gig.
He is matched in groove, power and technicality by Oli Wiseman, whose job it is to take Anne-Marie’s energetic EDM pop out to live audiences around the world. As the pair trade grooves during their photoshoot, it’s clear that their enthusiasm and personalities are as huge as the crowds they are becoming used to. ‘Alarm’ singer Anne-Marie has just finished up a huge support slot on Ed Sheeran’s world tour, with multi-instrumentalist Beanie playing bass alongside Oli on drums. The pair have forged an instinctive rhythmic partnership that’s no doubt helped by their similar attitudes and approach to drumming and their deep understanding of how to fuse acoustic drums with electronics.
Beanie’s distinctive tie-dyed Tama kit is a head-turner for sure, but it’s matched by Oli’s chrome monster - his Tama drums supplemented, as with Beanie’s, by an array of brains and pads but forged together with a Power Tower rack system that makes it look like a giant metal spider. Live pop music and EDM is huge business, and the need for drummers to replicate the largely electronic sounds of the biggest pop hits has resulted in the need for and popularity of hybrid acoustic and electronic set-ups.
It has also given rise to a new breed of drummer able to play with technicality, flair and the precision needed when working with loops and programmed beats. Beanie and Oli are at the forefront of this - closely following their mentor Andy Gangadeen of Chase & Status, who has also been Rudimental’s MD.
When we sit down with them just before the photoshoot, the conversation moves quickly back and forth between the pair as they chat about their hybrid set-ups, the challenges of EDM drumming and playing to tens of thousands of pop fans every night…
So how was the Ed Sheeran tour? That’s a pretty massive gig to be a part of!
Beanie: “I’ve toured with Ed about four times now, that was my fourth time - three tours with Rudimental, he’s been a big part of our journey, he’s been on one of our records and I’ve also known him for a good 10 years or so. It was an amazing experience. Obviously, I wasn’t drumming, I was playing guitars and stuff but playing to that many people in the UK with him was amazing. Three nights at the O2 was incredible, and it’s a very different thing being up front playing guitar than it is being at the back, so it was an interesting, eye-opening experience, but it was very enjoyable and really enriching.”
Oli: “For myself, in addition to doing an arena tour for like two months solid, I had to keep kicking myself to believe it was actually happening! It got to the point where it was 32 shows in total over two months; some of the shows at the England venues were at least two nights.”
Beanie: “Every show sold out, it all sold out in minutes…”
Oli: “The whole thing sold out. I think the last tour we did before with Anne-Marie, we did a headline tour that finished at Koko, which was an amazing gig, we had a great time; then the next thing you know we’re in an arena and the next gig was in Italy to 18,000 people two nights in a row, it was very, very abrupt, like, ‘Wow, we’re here.’”
Beanie: “You know what support slots are like. You run onstage, don’t touch anything, take your shoes off, get the f**k off as soon as it’s done... one of those kinds of situations.”
Oli: “It was shell shock... and pressure.”
Beanie: “It really was. And you can’t go over on your set, it was quite intense. And especially with his bloody drum kit, it’s a beast!”
Is it scary looking out on that many people?
Beanie: “Most musicians will say the same thing, because of the lighting you can only really see the first five rows. You can kind of see silhouettes in the background but you can only really pick out those ones, but also if you let yourself acknowledge what’s going down at that particular moment, it’s not going to happen! Your bum will go! Sometimes I’ll be playing and I’ll look up and go, ‘Woah!’ And then your mind goes blank, and you’re like, ‘No I can’t, I can’t, I’ve just got to look at my boys, I’ve got to look at my girl there.’”
Oli: “One time we went into one of the boxes at the O2 on the second night and looked out and at that point it dawned on me how massive these gigs were, it was quite a crazy feeling!”
So, going right back, how did you both first get into music and drumming?
Oli: “It was probably listening to Nirvana’s Nevermind that got me into drums. I started off playing woodwind instruments and piano and then quite quickly discovered the drum kit at school and I just knew this was what I wanted to do. A friend of mine had an electronic kit and I used to go round there all the time and play it. I actually swapped an old bicycle with a friend of mine in the village for an old drum kit, and a big group of us marched it down the street. My mum says she’ll never forget when she looked out the window and said, ‘That drum kit’s coming to my house!’ Fortunately she let me have it!”
Beanie: “I think the first time I got fascinated with drums was a friend of my older brother, Andy Ridley who plays in a band called Transfer over in the States; near where I lived there was this church and he used to play drums in the church band. When I was younger I used to go to church sometimes and check out this drummer and I was fascinated by his energy - it was the first time I’d seen any rock drumming live, it was the first time I’d seen anything so dynamically intense as that. I’ve always been quite musical. When I was about seven I had one of those radios with a little built-in mic, I used to get the speaker and I used to write songs and sing them and record them onto a little tape and put them into an envelope and put them under my bed, thinking one day, I’m going to be famous and someone’s going to find them in this house. [Laughs]
“For some reason I thought that somehow these tapes would still be under the bed! My older brother was into alternative stuff, like the Deftones and Nirvana and Soundgarden, so I got into that. I didn’t own a drum kit until I was about 17, actually. I started playing in school around 13 but didn’t have a drum kit until I was a bit older, because my mum definitely wouldn’t have let me! But I ended up buying the old drum kit off the player that inspired me - I bought his Pearl Export for about £100!”
So you were into punk drumming first?
Beanie: “Initially, yes, I still love rock and punk and experimental stuff that’s a lot more freeform. I actually used to be a proper muso snob, I used to be like, ‘I’m not doing pop, f**k that, I’m not doing any of that s**t!’ But then I thought, ‘You know what? I want to be the best at everything, I want to learn everything, why am I restricting myself?’ So I broadened my horizons a bit.”
Oli: “Very similar to Beanie - rock, punk, that kind of stuff. I got into a few punk bands and then joined a couple of metal bands, I was really into that kind of playing... Deftones’ [Abe Cunningham’s] drum sound is just ridiculous! At the same sort of time I was listening to a lot of stuff like Prodigy. I really love that rock energy, that high-energy stuff, but electronic music as well. So I started drumming, got into bands, self-taught, did a music diploma course at sixth form college. It was all focussed around being in bands, playing with other musicians and from there it sort of took me to ACM in Guildford.
“You’re in this place where you can play drums 24/7 and I’ll never forget one of my teachers, Stu Roberts, said: ‘Immerse yourself in as many projects as you possibly can,’ which is exactly what I did. I got into playing lots and lots of different styles of music and just had the best time there, learning stuff. There was a tutor there called Brian Henry, he put me forward to a management company that were working at the time with a band called Inner City Dwellers. They were a sort of rock/hip-hop crossover band. I did quite a bit with them, a few tours, bits and pieces, and the frontman of that band is now the frontman of Chase & Status.
“He always helped me out massively and he introduced me to Andy Gangadeen, who I was also a massive fan of; being a huge Prodigy fan, watching Chase & Status, live drum’n’bass - that sort of thing was just my bag, it was what I was really into. So Andy was like a dream come true, he’s been so good - good to us both, he’s really helped us out.”
Beanie: “Oh yeah, mega props to him!”
Beanie, your first big pop gig was with Gabriella Cilmi, wasn’t it?
Beanie: “Yeah, Gabriella Cilmi, which I got through my brother being in one of her music videos and he put me forward, which was amazing. I spent a good five or six years touring internationally, a lot of time in Australia, a lot of big festivals, I did Main Stage Glastonbury, Jools Holland, all that kind of stuff. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot about the industry and how to maintain gigs and get new gigs, which is about being approachable and being accessible, being someone who networks, etc. So I was constantly being offered more gigs and more opportunities. And from there I formed friendships with different record labels and different artists and I worked with a lot of people as it went along.”
What did playing with Gabriella teach you about your drumming?
Beanie: “It taught me discipline and it taught me control and how to be a tasteful player. I played V Festival Main Stage with a Gretsch Catalina kit with a Zildjian Z Custom Mega Bell, bruv [laughs]! And, like, these massive UFIP hats! And I was playing like I was playing a bloody grindcore gig! Then I saw a friend of mine, Sweetstix [Anthony ‘Sweetstix’ Lewis, now with Jess Glynne]. He was playing with Taio Cruz, and I think he was only 16 or 17 then. I saw videos of him and he was like, badabadabdada all over the shop. Then I saw him play this gig and I saw him like [mimics tasteful playing] and I was like, ‘Oh s**t! You don’t have to go in all the time, daddadadada [mimics playing hard].
“I learned that over time just watching different drummers. I learned it’s better to really listen and to apply what’s really necessary for the sound. I was kind of doing that at the time but I wasn’t really doing it as tastefully, and I learned a lot from the pop stuff: that it’s harder to play tastefully, and I wanted to be able to hone that and learn about control.
“I didn’t study anyone specifically I just watched my peers from the side of the stage at festivals and I learned a lot from Andy Gangadeen. Very much that ethos: the less is more thing. Something I hold really dear now, the idea that if a drummer says, ‘Right, what’s this song?’ [bangs out ‘Give It Away’ intro on table], you know it’s the Chilis, someone goes [bangs out ‘Teen Spirit’ flam intro] you know it’s Nirvana - so it’s just little features like that that become kind of like the guitar solo, a little feature thing, that’s way more impressive than chopsing the f**k out of it, excuse my language! It’s really important to just basically respect your craft, respect what you’re delivering.”
Meeting a mentor
When did you first meet Andy Gangadeen?
Beanie: “That was when he started MD’ing Rudimental, that’s where our relationship formed and we’ve been very close since and he’s been involved in pretty much every project I’ve done since, and inspired me a lot. When I first started doing the Rudimental stuff it was the first time I’d experienced using electronics in that particular way, so the whole thing of using pads individually and doing everything in real time and there’s no room for error.
“So if you have a sample that’s like a beat and a quarter long where if you hit it slightly out of time it’s going to clip or it can cancel out – there’s no room for error. Things like that I got from Andy, and it was one of those things that it took me a little while to get my feet wet with it. But I’m in the water - it’s all good.”
So did you take from him the idea of keeping separate pads rather than using triggers on an acoustic kit?
Beanie: “Not necessarily, it was just a way of starting. It was similar to Andy’s set-up - it was what he used pad-wise - but also I like the acoustic kit to be an acoustic kit and I like the electronics to be electronics, I like the feel of both different skins, it changes how you play each one and, dynamically, it’s important to have that realisation when I’m playing that I know that I’m hitting different things.”
Oli: “I think what’s really nice is that with modern pop stuff now - and dance music - it’s great to be in a position where you’re playing the sounds from the record. You’re fitting into that, because a lot of that has been so rigidly put together, some of the production is amazing. So if you’re trying to push too much over the top of that it loses its impact completely and you get to a scenario where it just sounds like there’s a big mash of things going on.
“With the acoustic kit, it allows you to give that extra expression at different points of the song, where there’s a breakdown and stuff, in terms of getting it all to blend together really nicely. Triggers are good for certain things, but I do really like the hybrid set-up between electronics and an acoustic drum kit together.”
Oli, it must be quite daunting playing some tracks that Beanie has done, like Rudimental and Anne-Marie’s Rumour Mill?
Oli: “Yeah [laughs]. One mistake and the guy’s there: ‘You’re playing the wrong thing!’”
How well rehearsed do you have to be before the tour starts?
Oli: “We spend a lot of time; it’s not just rehearsing, it’s making the production work live, so rehearsals the first two or three days can be quite tedious, in terms of you’re not sitting there playing the tunes, you’re sitting there programming, making sure everything’s level with regards to things like the drums and the keyboard sounds. And the more time you spend at the beginning on the finer details, the end impact of those changes is massive.
“With the electronic stuff and the hybrid stuff I can’t stress it enough that you’ve got to make sure things fit in the right place. That stuff we spend a lot of time getting right. It’s constantly changing. Throughout the Ed Sheeran tour we were still doing tweaks. Obviously, whatever room you’re playing in you’ve got to take that into account as well; being an arena tour, sounds that work really well in a 500-capacity venue, put it in a 20,000 capacity venue and then you start to hear something else, like: ‘Oh actually that could be a bit bigger on this occasion.’”
How much does the MD rule the roost on a gig like this?
Oli: “For both of us working with Andy, it’s encouraged us to develop our own style of hybrid playing. Both of us have got our own take on that. So Andy’s always really keen to hear your ideas and your expression in order to get the most out of the gig from the musicians that are actually working on it.
“So for that, it’s been a real dream. It’s like, ‘Let’s see, what would your go-to thing be?’ So for that reason both of us have been able to develop our hybrid set-ups in the way that we like them to sound and play. Although they are similar approaches, they’re both different sounds.”
Obviously, pop audiences are expecting tracks to be what they’ve heard on the record so how much can you add your own personality to the live experience?
Beanie: “You have your individual flair, obviously, that you add in in places and also down to the equipment as well. Working with Tama the past couple of years has been amazing, the equipment is incredible. Both myself and Oli are both Tama and Zildjian also, but we play with different wood on the kits and along with our playing styles I think it’s really important to have the equipment that allows you to kind of breathe a bit more.
“So you have the programmed sounds that you need and - something that Andy has also taught us as well - if it’s on the record then it’s meant to be on the record, so play it like the record, but then there’s also room to express yourself as an individual and add your sprinkles on top of the sound - but all without overdoing it obviously.”
Oli: “It’s a tough one that… one thing I’m working on at the moment is, with a lot of modern music you hear programmed hi-hats. Nine times out of 10 live, those parts on track, you’re not going to hear them. So building the rig, we’re just constantly developing it to make these programmed hi-hats a visual thing, to have a visual look as well.”
Beanie: “The first year or two of doing Rudimental no-one believed I was playing the parts, everyone used to say, ‘Oh he must be on a track.’ No! There’s no drums on the track! But generally my style of playing, I think it must have come from the punk rock element, but I’m animated in real life - I mean look at me. Look at my arms now! But my playing is quite animated and it’s quite flamboyant in that sense, I was always really fascinated by drummers like Zach Hill or Travis Barker, I just really love looking at a drummer go nuts.”
Oli: “I think it goes with finding equipment that expresses your personality. Like Beanie, watching Rudimental live, watching Beanie play, one minute he’s playing this electronic thing and the next minute he’s got this big punk rock energy and the kit sounds really, really big and heavy and I think that works really nicely. It’s just finding different set-ups for different personalities and hopefully that makes that more of a visual thing, because people can see, ‘Oh, he’s chosen that because of this.’”
Beanie: “The same as what Oli’s playing on the Anne-Marie gig, because there are lot of syncopated hi-hat sounds and he’s so good at playing it, so when he has all these bits going on it’s incredible for people to see that he’s doing it; like, that’s mental! With his spider kit thing! Really cool.”
How do you make sure your acoustic bass drum works with those low-end sounds in a lot of dance music and electronic styles?
Beanie: “Because myself and Oli both have electronic bass drums as well as the acoustic bass drum we’re using, I want it to be a bit mid-rangier, I want it to sound like an acoustic bass drum, the same with the toms as well, my toms when I do the Rudimental stuff, they’re tuned I think slightly lower than yours [Oli], I know you like yours slightly higher.”
Oli: “Yeah, I think for the moment that works due to the sort of music I’m playing, but with the drum’n’bass stuff, for example, on the Wilkinson gig, predominantly the acoustic drum wouldn’t be played alongside when a bass drop is in there because you want that punchy sound. That’s where triggers come into play because on a big system, a big sample is going to sound bigger than an acoustic kick drum. It sounds really nice when you come out of a section, you’re playing an acoustic groove and then you fill into it and bang! You hit the electronic sound as well.”
With so much going on, there’s more to go wrong… has your electronic gear ever let you down live?
Oli: “Speaking for myself I’m a massive gear fan, anything that’s the latest thing to come out I want to give it ago. People say I change my drum set-up more than I change my socks [laughs], but the advice I’d give to anyone is that it’s really important if it’s just yourself or you’ve got a tech, it’s really important that all parties really know your set-up before you put it in a situation because, yes, things go wrong and you’ve got a split second to decide, what do I do next? Or diagnose the problem.
“I know one gig with Anne-Marie, it was quite a minor problem, but all of a sudden one of the snare drum triggers started going ‘brrrrrrrrrr’ all on its own. Turns out it was just two cables in the back of the module, so very quickly, I’ve got spare cables on my loom - bosh, bosh, bosh, bosh, within 10 seconds it was all back up and running and people barely noticed. So without the knowledge of the equipment you’re using, you’re going to really struggle.”
Beanie: “I’ve had things… headlining the Other Stage at Glastonbury, the first thing I do is hit the pad and the whole thing falls down and then it unplugs, or I’ve had it when it’s completely short-circuited… But the good thing is you have to think on your feet and then you have to adapt parts that you’ve practised in one way on the acoustic kit, but when you’re in the spotlight it sparks something in your head and I like that feeling. I’ve had it where it’s shut down completely.”
Oli: “You have two brains don’t you?”
Beanie: “Yeah, as with anything when you’re relying on a box that has all the sounds in it, if the power just wants to go off, it goes off. We’ve both had things, like the double-trigger sound thing.”
Oli: “Talking of learning your rig, on this [Ed Sheeran] tour, I didn’t have a tech so I had to drum tech myself throughout the whole tour. At that point it’s even more important to know everything you can about your set-up and to work out what’s gone wrong with it if something does. There were a couple of times where, literally, the sound engineer would say to me, ‘Oli there’s a few notes here…’
“We’re changing sounds on the fly, but we literally had five minutes to soundcheck. One of the songs, we worked out a new song in the set and we didn’t have enough time and I needed to program it in the line-check to the gig – I was still making tweaks to the sound! It’s a song we were going to play two songs later! That’s probably one of the most pressured situations I’ve been in as a musician, but it was a really great experience and I’m happy. I’d do it again tomorrow.”
Finally, what advice do you have for readers looking to start putting together a hybrid set-up?
Beanie: “I think just in regards to incorporating electronic sounds, don’t be lazy with it. Don’t compromise your sound and just hit an SPD-SX and play a whole loop. It’s honestly really great to try and find a way to recreate that sound but with you playing it yourself. Explore the individual sounds and explore playing them in real time. Oh, and also watch Andy Gangadeen play! And me and Oli too [laughs].”
Oli: “With a lot of these rigs you’re talking six-grand to build, and I understand that it’s pretty hard to just come up with six-grand, that’s more than a car. So learn the equipment that you have to its best potential - experiment with things, move things around until you find something that suits your personality.
“Once you’ve got the most out of that and you feel like you want to take it a step further, it’s at that point you now need to invest in something else, but you can start off with a hybrid set-up on a budget and it can still get you going really, really well and you’ll be able to do a lot more things than you think you can, with just playing around with it yourself.
“For instance I’m constantly changing my set-up on the road, I’m always moving pads around, fiddling with bits here and there because you always find something different that works for you, don’t you? And it’s a really good way to keep up with it all.”