Doing It Live

Drum'n'Bass—With Drums and Basses

Thrashing and paradiddling along at breakneck speed, Mayer him self provided the voice. It was a long, protean discourse, essentially one hyperextended drum solo—somewhere between Elvin Jones's polyrhythmic time keeping and a pissed-off windup monkey. (No wonder the sets are only half an hour long!) Mayer wasn't un dynamic—he rose, fell, changed-up, spaced out—but he somehow sustained the intensity with an airier take on jungle drumming, more gestural on the cymbals and hotter on the snares. It had both the needed violence of soundsystem drums and an impressionistic fluidity.

Plus, he was listening. And his sidemen were listening to him. In one thrilling passage, keyboardist Karsh Kale used snare and tom patches on his Korg workstation to double bass lines and complicate Mayer's playing, adding complexity and intrigue to the patterns, morphing and augmenting the timbres like a sampler untethered to a click track. This was the closest thing to true live jungle I've ever seen: crazy sounds modulating measure to measure, separate voices developing synchronously and independently, themes and rhythms spiraling and intertwining like individual thought pat terns meeting. That's something only humans can perform.

Don't misunderstand: an excellent DJ is certainly a live musician, acting and reacting in time. Some might even call him a late-century echo to this year's centennialist and "jungle music" progenitor, Duke Ellington, who used flesh and brass in stead of vinyl and silicon. But how many surprises does that one wahwah track really have in it? How much after-the-fact shading can you really do with phase-shifters and pitch controls? It's no accident that mixmasters like Ellington, Mingus, Sun Ra, and George Clinton all happened upon some form of the construct "organized chaos," which is another term for society.

Which, of course, speaks to the most fundamental charm of these musical John Henrys. In the end, all the reverse engineering and click-track mimesis is simply a form of gestalt therapy. Mayer and company are not trying to reinvent the breakbeat, just fire up their own musical world. They're looking for another language to play. Drunk on cyber-rhetoric, many rave messiahs seem to think their scene is actually doing things like "rewiring the cerebral cortex" or "multitasking the ear into subharmonic frequencies." Let's not forget that, in music at least, these terms are metaphors. Computers do amazing things, but they can't erase thousands of years of musical ritual. As the tech nopopsters put it so eloquently, people are people. They still like to play.

Nerve, Boomish, and the Prohibited Beatz posse play Tuesdays at Shine.

« Previous Page