Everyone has a musical weakness. For some, it’s a certain song or band. For others, it’s the timbre of a particular instrument, the idiosyncratic tone of an individual singer’s voice, or something as simple as a specific chord structure. My weakness is the sound of drums.
My childhood was as stereotypical as any drummer’s childhood could get. I banged on pots and buckets, tapped on school desks with pencils, played in the school orchestra and finally formed a band. My parents even enrolled me in formal lessons — though I quit after two sessions because I wasn’t fast enough.
Even in college, in moments of academia-induced concentration or stress, I find myself unthinkingly tapping out patterns and cadences with my fingers. The compulsion to punch out rhythms has been a part of me for as long as I can remember, and I can’t see it going anywhere anytime soon.
My music preoccupation stems from this percussive neurosis. I’m ashamed to say that I fell for the booming kick-drums and rattling snares of EDM trap music before the ill-fated “Harlem Shake” movement bit the dust. I went through a “jungle” phase — the genre’s heavy, rapid-fire drum breaks set my sound-system afire on many late nights.
Most recently, I’ve recently been binging on “footwork,” a hyperactive electronic style from Chicago featuring drums somewhat randomly produced by a drum machine. People grill me about these likings, asking incessantly about their appeal, but all too often the rebuttal escapes me. The pleasure this music gives me is incommunicable, and I can say but one thing: “Just listen to those drums, man.” People usually get what I’m trying to say.
Where other instruments come and go in fads, drums remain. Drums were among the first instruments used by humans. People have used drums to signal war, to intimidate, to glorify, to set tempo and to fuel dance. Drums hold a large amount of power over us.To hit a drum and play a rhythm is to dominate — to give structure to an otherwise unstructured environment. It’s a mysterious connection, one that I don’t pretend to understand.
When I listen to a song like M-Beat’s “Incredible,” and compare it to something by the Afro-Cuban All Stars, it’s easy for me to recognize the musical differences between the recordings. But on an affective level, there are striking similarities in the feelings that are brought forth by drum-driven songs like these. I like to think that this isn’t just a psychological oddity specific to me, but rather that it helps me to connect with the roots of humans’ connection with music itself.