BLOG: Drummers, what are they for?

Arctic Money: Matt Helders
Arctic Money: Matt Helders

After watching Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out on DVD the other night, it became clear to me why Stewart Copeland became my hero. It wasn't his overwhelming power, his inverted playing style, or even his hate for Sting, but his inability to play a song at the same speed from one night to the next - or in fact, his inability to play a song at the same speed from start to finish.

This disregard for old father time is what gives his drumming such a fantastically edgy feel.

This got me thinking: What does a band need from a drummer? What's their purpose? A metronome-like reluctance to waver from the start, or a more organic approach where emotion might rush in and take over?

If a drummer starts galloping off into the sunset with guitar leads caught in his stirrups, the song will be in bits in seconds - if no-one else follows, that is. No audience will pay good money to watch and hear their favourite songs split and crack before them.

However, watching a band charge through their set where the songs are on the very edge of splintering can be very exciting. And they'll pay again and again for that excitement. Arctic Monkeys, Glastonbury 2007 is a fine example of drum machine-eating Rock n' Roll.

I agree not all genres of music can cope with - or would benefit from - such wavering time signatures. It's horses for courses. But whether you want a solid four-on-the-floor groove from your drummer, or the type of excitement you can only get from uncertainty, every drummer must be allowed to contribute to his band's sound. Block it at your peril.

So, what's your view on bands like The View? Should drummers strive to keep impeccable time, or is it all about feel? What examples of tempos changing - for better or worse - do you know of?

By Robin Abbott
Creative Director, Rhythm

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