Martial Lawless


After I finish interviewing Aa in what could reasonably be called a front yard in Fort Greene, band ringleader Aron sheepishly says, “Well, if you feel like staying and playing drums with us in the show this weekend”—at Brooklyn promoter Todd P’s annual Roosevelt Island barbecue—”you really should.” So we rehearsed. I went into the basement and banged on a bass drum and bells like a juiced-up five-year-old for about an hour and a half. There’s that. Fourth wall broken, code of journalistic ethic destroyed. But with Aa it made sense—Hank, a drummer in that weekend’s show and coincidentally a music writer, sympathized: “Normally, I’d get hung up about it too, but at their first shows, they just used to hand drums out to random people in the audience and, y’know, tell them to hit them.”

“Big a little a”—the proper pronunciation, derived from a song by ’70s anarcho-punks Crass—are currently four guys, three of whom play drums and yell, and one who triggers samples, plays keyboards, and, well, yells. And while chummy anarchy often yields the musical equivalent of diarrhea, Aa is ostensibly a band about discipline. Yes, they’re a punk drum circle making an awesome racket. Yes. But while trance backbeats within bands like the Boredoms or (sometimes) Animal Collective twist into aspiring African, reggae, and calypso syncopations, Aa sound martial—a high-school drum corps finding meditative value in trampling their conductor. John Atkinson’s high-pitched keyboard squeals writhe above the din like a lost flautist; other times, the samples and drones lay a bed for more rattling, light-footed percussion. I suggest that they get some timbales, to let a little slightly funky Tito Puente in. “Congas!” chirps John. “We will never have a drum you have to play with your hands,” Aron adds, frowning. Their debut, gAame, is a hair over 30 minutes and still sounds too long. They’re a band with an internal logic. We rehearsed songs multiple times, with direction; when the weekend barbecue came, I’d come to find the way things fit, rise, and fall, rather than just, you know, seeing how hard I could hit a drum over and over again. But the effect is still sometimes like a bolt of lightning that strikes and hangs in the air for half an hour. And though it’s hard to figure out what they could possibly do next, the trick is—I learned this the hard way, hands covered in blisters—trying to appreciate the glow, not just the flash.

Aa play Glasslands July 13,