Tuesday, July 18, 2023

JD Beck

Someone shared the following video, and was commenting on the technique of JD Beck, a hot new drumming sensation who I kind of like. How can you not? He's cute and charismatic, and has an actual music project that is a band with an image that tours and plays music and shows like real musicians. His duo act, DOMi and JD Beck, has put together a lot of complicated music that they know really well, and he's really good at playing densely. It's cool. 

I like that they're not a pure YouTube product— though they have a big social media presence, and the YouTube grift community has latched onto them with a lot of “REACTS” videos, and assorted other bullcrap content.   

This is a video put together by Zildjian to feature Beck— pretty sure it's a regular item from their set, that someone else arranged for a larger group. 

Wow, a lot of activity there. Let's analyze it a little bit, put the framework in real world terms. If you subscribe to YouTube music you might want to clip the sections involved to have a shot at relating them to what's below. The music starts at 1:47. 

1:47-2:01 - Intro vamp based on a quarter note pulse @ ~176 bpm, 18 beats long. Without seeing their chart it's easiest to count as three measures of 6/4. The vamp is played two times. Beck floats some stuff over it. 


2:01-3:03 - Band comes in, vamp continues behind melody. Here's where he's putting the backbeats on the snare drum, suggesting that the barlines are placed differently than I've written them. 

The bass drum rhythm is busy, seemingly with a consistent pattern that I haven't listened closely enough to discern. 

The melody is an R&B thing played over two times through the vamp— it seems unconnected to the vamp until the last couple of accents on the & of 6 / & of 2. Here's the rhythm of it in 6/4: 

3:03-3:35 - John Scofield like vamp in 4/4, 8 bars long. 

Beck plays half time, getting very busy. Possibly he's triggering with the snare drum, and the sensitivity is set to only catch the biggest hits— you can hear that electronic sound on the backbeats, and the very dry sound on the filler.  

Again, the horns float over that, closer to the rhythm of the vamp this time.

3:35-3:42 - Arranged four measure rhythm break— Beck plays it conventionally. 

- Original vamp, with some different horn activity, ending with a figure that's easy to hear. Clearly the bass drum rhythm is a repeating worked out thing. 

4:20-5:39 -  Guitar starts a new section in 3/4, same tempo as before, then ensemble blowing by keyboards, bass and drums, very open, nobody's particularly enforcing the 3/4... if that's even the meter they're thinking. Maybe 6/4— 2+2+2. Weather Report-like vibe to me.      

5:39-OUT - Vamp for drum solo: 

Has the same four beat ending as the section starting at 3:42— I think it happens on the last bar of the vamp written in 4/4. And that ends arrangement. 

Density of the drumming aside, I find it to be hard music because it doesn't sit real well in my ear. I need some repetition to make sense of it. I assume the band has a click (at least) going in their headphones— nobody seems to be helping anybody along nailing their parts. Like, if it was just some guys in a room setting up and playing, I would expect a little bit of fluff from the horns on the drum solo, with all of the broken up stuff he's doing.  

The drumming: Very broadly, if we're counting the tempo as 176, he's playing a highly embellished half time feel. He plays running 8ths with his right hand for a lot of it, and has a lot of 16th note texture activity happening off of that with the left hand. See Johnny Rabb's book for examples of the sort of thing. Otherwise there are a lot of paradiddle inversions/variations. It doesn't require exceptional technique— statistically it's well within the range of speed many drummers can do.

In fact Beck's technique is interesting, for how normal it is. I'm used to everyone in drumming videos having fascinating technique. His back fingers are very controlled, and he's looser up front. Similar to my grip, actually, but he allows less finger than I do. Partly due to what he's playing— I imagine if he were playing Satin Doll he would open up his grip some. He uses a lot of arm. But you can play stuff like this with a regular controlled grip, without any special Jojo Mayer type techniques.

Can you play 8th notes with one hand @ 176 bpm, and hang a half time funk beat off of that? Can you play some paradiddle variations, or Chaffee-style sticking patterns at that 16th note speed at that tempo? You've got a foot in the door, at least. Learn some of my velocity patterns and prepare your drums with some towels and splash cymbals on the heads, and set them up really close together. 

His set up basically has just extremely dry sounds. Various timbres of woodblocks, essentially. The only way to get any breadth is to play very fast. A big part of this genre of playing is the textures created by playing fast on different combinations of dry timbres. A lot of people are doing that now. 

This kind of drumming is like drum corps— people from that world hear a lot of dense percussion, all the time. So if a corps is playing Finlandia or something, there's still high speed drumming happening all the way through. That's music to you, and you start to hear that way naturally. Beck is well positioned for that— he's in a situation where he's featured all the time, and will likely be mainly appearing in situations like that for some time.

For everyone else, that's a little dangerous, because most of the music you will play in life will not be centered around featuring dense percussion all the time. Most of the time there's a balance, and people like it when you're really good at creating that. I've played with people on other instruments who had no concept of anything else happening in music but them playing a lot of stuff. It sucked.      

I don't know how much scope he has with his playing, because I've only heard him with his one act. Ultimately he may be pretty narrow, but so what? A lot of good people are pretty narrow. I'd be surprised if he wasn't; he's 20 now, and has been mainly doing this project for awhile. He's kind of spewing, and it's fine— though I'm more interested in what he'll do when he's done with that. 


Pablo said...

Great piece Todd. I wish this lad well, but his drumming gives me anxiety!

James said...

I first became aware of JD 5 years ago after seeing this video. Which is still my favorite performance of his that I’ve seen. He must’ve been about 15 in this, already showing a personal style. He’s playing with different subdivisions in a very ‘free’ way and I still can’t figure out what’s going on there lol

In the Zildjian video and a lot of other videos I’ve seen, JD seems to be playing in that dense, chattery style, operating more within a regular subdivision. I like it as well, but it sounds less personal to me.

I think Deantoni Parks have heavily influenced drummers who emulate electronic/programmed drum styles. I loved his drumming on the band Kudu’s self-titled album (2001) and his work on the bizarre/experimental album Astroid Power-Up! (2005). He plays similar drumming language as what’s in Jonny Rabb’s book (published in 2001 I think), but he moves between ideas seamlessly and has cool sense of phrasing. From the Kudu album, this is the only instrumental track https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MyT67Kym4Io&list=PLEDE50110EE4CD520&index=6&pp=iAQB8AUB
The rest of the album features a good vocalist, a fellow Berklee alum.

Most recent videos of Deantoni on YouTube are of his ‘techno self’ solo project — pretty esoteric, minimalist and abrasive stuff.

Todd Bishop said...

Pablo-- It is rather hyper-- I wouldn't really listen to it for pleasure. I need something different. Looking forward to the act evolving beyond the duo / pure wailing format.

James-- Thanks for the background, that's very helpful-- I'll check that stuff out. I know very little about this area of drumming. Just a passing familiarity with a few of the obvious people.