At some point in your life, you most likely noticed that even classically trained musicians rarely play the “air cello,” or whatever their respective instrument may be. This realization on its surface is, of course, pointless. People do all kinds of things in the air the gods never intended.
But you’ve also no doubt noticed something everyone has in common, classically trained or not. Just about everybody plays the air drums. And perhaps never so passionately as when miming the math rock.
Okay, metal probably takes the cake, but today we’re going to leave that to the other blogs.
Anyway, math rock is inherently rhythm based, so you’d think it was an easy task. It was actually somewhat difficult. Not because the genre was lacking in great moments though, in fact quite the opposite. While scouring the archives, we were happily reacquainted with a myriad of math-tastic drum takes. In no particular order, the following is just a small sample of drum excellence to be found throughout the world of math rock. And don’t say we didn’t warn you about those air drums.
1. Town Portal – “Vanitas”
There’s no overstating the style and power of Town Portal’s Malik Breuer Bistrup, and this performance of “Vanitas” perfectly captures that. The piece also does a great job of demonstrating the balance of said sense of style and power; every stroke is intentional, and feels integral to the surrounding instrumentation. Come for the progressive grooves, but stay for the scenic locales – whether that means the band’s lush surroundings or the guitar half of the mix, it’s really up to you.
2. Giraffes? Giraffes! – “Scorpion Bowls at the Hong Kong”
Ken Topham has been absolutely slaying the kit since the beginning of his career – there’s certainly no shortage of drum moments to choose from throughout his discography. But this performance of Pink Magick‘s classic “Scorpion Bowls at the Hong Kong” perfectly captures his brilliant ability to alternate between expertly crafted long-form parts and all-out surf/jazz improv.
3. Genghis Tron – “Dream Weapon”
Honestly, we had no idea what to expect from the reunion of the beloved Genghis Tron – it had been over a decade since we’d last heard from them. But thanks to Nick Yacyshyn (SUMAC,, Baptists, The Armed, etc.) the band got a high-powered injection of drum wizard energy. Nick’s relentless rolls and phenomenal sense of groove helped elevate Dream Weapon and it’s title track to damn near iconic status. With such rewarding results, we sincerely hope the two continue to work together in the future.
4. Save Us From The Archon – “Days Lengthen Without Sunlight… If Only In My Mind”
Devin Grieg’s impossibly fast parts seem to fill up to dozens of hits in a single second, with razor sharp precision. This laser-grid efficiency, demonstrated effortlessly in this clip, helped take SUFTA to elite levels of shred. Fun Fact: I caught him filling in with Angel Vivaldi in Portland, and you’d never have known he wasn’t a long-time member of the band. If that’s not pro as hell, I don’t know what is – especially following SUFTA set.
5. Battles – “Atlas”
John Stanier’s no-nonsense approach to repetition is a huge part of Battles’ sound. Alongside his unusual (if not straight up precarious) cymbal placement, Stanier’s stone cold sense of pocket cemented Battles as far more than than a side project. For thousands, it all started with the spread of this legendary 2007 performance.
6. Hella – “Biblical Violence”
Zack Hill may have found himself on a number of best-of drum lists over the past few years, but this performance of “Biblical Violence” is a one way trip to octopus legend land. Just look at ’em go. From Hella to Team Sleep to Death Grips or Undo K from Hot, Hill’s madman mindset is a force of nature, no matter the context.
7. Lightning Bolt – “13 Monsters”
Lightning Bolt’s charge is that of an all out assault of drum work and heavy bass attack, and that’s never really changed. This clip, allegedly curated by Mogwai in 2004, shows off drummer Brian Chippendale’s trademark brand of antics, both vocally and behind the kit.
8. Toe – “Tremolo + Delay”
Toe’s seminal 2012 album the book about my idle plot on a vague anxiety had a distinctly dark streak, but Kashikura Takashi’s impressive grip on snare tone and jazz technique kept every moment interesting. But as you can see from this live clip, and many more like it, his energy is at an even higher level playing live.
9. Covet – “Odessa”
Covet’s 2020 performance was an immaculate one, and served as a huge release for both the band and legions of cooped up fans – ourselves included. Forrest Rice, who readers might also know from his work with standards throws down some of his best pop-fusion beats yet as the song builds towards the booming climax, perfectly preserving the Technicolor favorite’s wavering post-rock dynamic. The cinematography and fantastic set pieces are just a bonus – overall, this was a really special set.
10. TTNG – “Baboon”
TTNG’s classic math rock jam shows off many of their greatest strengths all at once. Fantastic melody, two capos on a single guitar, and absolutely killer drum sounds. The interplay between drummer Chris and brother Tim Collis is the stuff of legends by now, weaving some of the most dexterous right hand / left hand compositions in the genre. This Small Pond performance from 2018 is an intimate, but effective reminder.
11. Three Trapped Tigers – “5”
In this classic Beatcast live episode from 2010, Three Trapped Tigers absolutely decimate one of their best songs, and we mean that in the best way possible. Adam Betts, perhaps one of the most well known drummers in math rock (although mostly because he has for the most part, transcended it) is no small part of this. In that fiery blaze of a drum solo, it’s safe to say he takes it to an even crazier place than on the record – no easy task. Definitely check out his work as/with Colossal Squid if you haven’t already.
12. Tera Melos – “40 Rods to the Hog’s Head”
There’s a lot about Tera Melos that could be summarized as punk rock meets jazz in a psychedelic settings. John Clardy’s rapid-fire alternations between delicate post-punk and furious hardcore is a thing to behold, no matter the ratio, and it all comes together here in this classic El Cheapo clip. Clardy fearlessly faces Nick Reinhart’s wall of effected noise in kind, but with the mystic mind of a scholar.
13. Don Caballero – “Palm Trees in the Fecking Bahamas”
The illustrious drum master Damon Che made a surprise appearance this year, and it’s reignited interest in our patron saints Don Caballero, both in our hearts and the world at large. Che has actually spent a fair amount of time chatting it up with the Official Don Caballero Fan Page, which you can check out on Instagram here. Fun Fact: the drummer’s legendary status is only enhanced by his favored snare position – it’s extremely low. Apparently, it’s gotten even lower – either way, we’re stoked.
Brian Chippendale and Greg Saunier
Two of the most cacophonous drummers in the industry, hashing it out for forty minutes straight. Nothing more, nothing less. Although probably a one time thing, Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale and Deer Hoof‘s Greg Saunier should put their heads together more often.