Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What the kids are doing is officially jive

There's a new type of drum groove that has been kicking around hiphop circles for a decade or so, with a strangely precise, often bordering on ricky-ticky, half-swing feel. I've heard it called a “glitch beat.” It's a live-drummer version of digitally messed-with, sampled hiphop of the later 90s. Traditionally, with good music, when there is that type of in-the-cracks thing going on, it's just a slightly legato way of playing duple rhythms; we've seen that in Second Line music, and in Tony Allen's Afrobeat drumming. There it's an organic thing, arrived at through natural body motion. This new groove is an imitation of sampled/programmed drumming digitally manipulated by a recording engineer.

When it's done well (see Questlove, Chris Dave) it's based on a five or seven note subdivision, depending on the tempo— I don't know if the players worked it up that way deliberately, but that's what it is. You can hear that in the hihat rhythm when these guys start playing; tap 5lets with a RllRl sticking, and you'll lock with the hihat pretty exactly:

As played live by average-good players, without the benefit of Pro Tools editing and a carefully produced mix, it doesn't sound so hot— to my ears, usually, that is. Here it just creates the effect of the band not locking:

It doesn't help that the tune they're playing is extremely weak— this is a current band from Brooklyn, NY, the epicenter of hip, so they tell me, but anyone who has played for a couple of decades will recognize, and probably had to play some of this ilk of bad guitarist-written fusion tune. It is a thing, and it's not new.

Another video of the group performing in Austria, where the audience is digging it:

For reference, the following is what groove is supposed to feel like in R&B music. These players all know how to play rhythm; the guitarists are true rhythm section players.

The point is not to just be against new stuff, and not to pick on that band— they're doing all the right things, touring and putting themselves forward, and more power to them. The drummer Daru Jones has a real gig with Jack White, and I'm sure he does a great job with it. He was featured in Esquire Magazine, and his future is assured. But we're talking about this rhythmic thing: it doesn't actually work that well outside of a controlled environment. Players who are not absolute monsters should approach it with extreme caution. I would advise using it only to get over with players who think it's hip.


Anonymous said...

Good post. Done well it can sound really good, as is the case with the work Chris Dave and Questlove have done with D'Angelo and Robert Glasper.
I've noticed it being played a lot more often at jams and although the musicians using the style are generally good it can come off as contrived and predictable.

Anonymous said...

I also like stretched rhythms that are derived more 'organically'...like the new orleans/tony allen examples you gave. I think it's interesting that Questlove was encouraged by D'Angelo to play in a 'drunken' style on Voodoo and that, at least in recent interviews, Questlove sounds like he wasn't too excited to play like that at the time - he thought people would hear it and assume he didn't know how to play the drums.