One of math rock’s subtle complexities and greatest moving forces is the scope of influences that are hammered or eased into every note, palm-mute, punk-yell, or kick. It seems effortless to point to bands that we listened to in our formative years to now, but I am interested in the music that is rooted in musicians that make math rock, the innate breathing particles that sit deeply in the wells of their souls, and how that music continues to influence the music they create today. My intention with this article was to talk to five bands from vastly different pockets of the world, and discuss how they are influenced by what they consider as traditional or ‘native’ to their location and community.


Elephant Gym

Country: Taiwan

Writer: Tell Chang (guitar)

This is an international article and meaning is relative, so how would you define ‘native’?

The answer might be a little strange. We were raised and live in Taiwan (an island below Japan in Asia) but are profoundly influenced by western classical music, especially Baroque music.

Taiwan had been colony for many different countries (Spain, Portugal, China and Japan) since 17th century. Therefore, local ideology in Taiwan is weak. For most Taiwanese, playing western classical instrument is much more elegant than playing Taiwanese traditional instruments. That might be the reason why our parents sent us to learn western woodwind and percussion instruments when we were kids. We learned many techniques in Baroque and use them to harmonize the melodies created by our three-piece today.

I think native in music means listening to the sound, not lyrics, audience can roughly presume where the music come from geographically.

Is there a traditional style of music, specific to your country or community that influences your music?

Besides the classical music we have learned, the music we hear most day-to-day, is not in radio and TV, but temple fair music.

Traditional religion in Taiwan is polytheistic. Every God has different character, stories and history. On their birthdays, they would tour the community to spread blessings and a traditional music band would play with the parade. We never appreciated this kind of music and even regarded it as disturbance until our adolescence. After realizing there is tons of interesting music outside of classical and pop, we started to view music in different ways.

How have you incorporated elements of your native countries’ instrumentation into math/experimental rock?

The music I have posted is called “Pei Guan.” It is one of the famous traditional music genres in Taiwan. In addition, there is a lot of different traditional music in Taiwan due to the diversity of our population.

We can’t accurately describe how Taiwan’s’ traditional music influence us but interestingly, speed change, meter switch and cross rhythm used in math-rock are very common in Taiwan, Indonesian, Japanese, and Indian traditional music. I remember Philip Glass once said in his documentary that western music cares more about melody and harmony; while eastern music cares more about rhyme and melody.

I think the reason why math rock in Asia is usually more fluent and tender is that the key elements of math-rock coincidentally match the original sound concealed in Asian people rather than the attempt to create experimental music.



Country: Japan

Writer: Shin Kokawa (Drums)

How would you define ‘native’?

Our understanding of having “native” in music is having melody that reminds one of Japan. As we are aware that Japanese nationality is often described as “delicate” and “sincere”, and I think those elements are shown in our music.

Was there music in your home or around you?

Kie Katagi (Piano) has been playing the piano and learning classic music since she was little, but other members were raised in “normal” families. When we were students, we listened to Japanese pop music and other popular music from Japan and other countries that were trending in those days.

Is there a traditional style of music, specific to your country or community that influences your music? How have you incorporated elements of your native countries’ instrumentation into math/experimental rock?

We didn’t get any influence from traditional music, but our Japanese flavor comes from musical sound we listen at traditional festivals or other religious events, Noh or Kabuki (Japanese traditional performance) or Enka music (popular music that has traditional music style) from the radio, is present within us without us actually knowing it.


Macho Muchacho

Country: Ecuador

Writer: Aldo (Guitar)

Is there a traditional style of music, specific to your country or community that influences your music?

Macho Muchacho started 3 years ago, and over the course of our time together everyone has put all their influences in the box to make what we make. In this short time I’ve personally struggled a lot to find an identity beyond the “mathy” sound, or “gringo” math as I sometimes call it. There’s definitely a search for a sound that represents where we come from, but I think now more than ever than in past releases. I studied world music in an online course and it opened my eyes to what else can be done with our instruments.

Ecuador is a very diverse place, divided by three (or four if you count the Galapagos islands) regions and it’s strongest identity comes from the Andean indigenous community. We hail from the coast and sadly our musical culture is very generic, or borrowed from other coastal regions like Peru, Venezuela or Colombia, unlike the residents of the Andes mountain range which has a strong personality.

A good example is EHVA from the Sierra region of Ecuador. They fuse electronic sounds with Andean rhythmic patterns in a beautiful way, lots of identity there.

How have you incorporated elements of your native countries’ instrumentation into math/experimental rock?

I turned my head towards finding something different that could be used as our voice and found some interesting sounds, the first one was the ritual chants of the Amazon habitants, very distinct from their sierra partners. And the marimba music brought centuries ago by the afro-Ecuadorian community. Melody and rhythm. They haven’t been explored so far in a modern context, so I’ve been trying to incorporate them into our music for future releases.

I’d say there is a desire to include sounds that represent our home, but there is still a lot to explore until we can achieve that, we’ll try though. You touched upon a subject that I’ve been kinda obsessed with: “What is life without obsession?”.



Country: Brazil

Writer(s): All

How would you define ‘native’?

I think we can define native music as music that survives through time, from generation to generation, as the identity of somewhere – It grows roots on it’s people naturally. Here, in Brazil, it’s pretty common to walk by a rock fan who’s whistling to some samba chorus.

Was there music in your home or around you?

The three of us had contact with the most diverse music styles as kids, though some completely different, as we were listening to the music our parents were listening. Theses styles go from Bossa Nova and Jazz to 60’s and 80’s rock – going through some regional music, more traditional, as Baião, Afoxé and Maracatu… Even most mainstream 90’s samba and rap.

How have you incorporated elements of your native countries’ instrumentation into math/experimental rock?

We can surely affirm that the polyrhythm and groove present in Brazilian music are incorporated in SLVDR’s groove itself. I’m not saying we play classic Brazilian music grooves, but you notice some influence of it in the way we approach some parts of our music – if you want to hear traditional Brazilian beats, don’t expect it from SLVDR. We mix those beats chaotically in SLVDR’s music, they’re ruled by the energy of the moment – it’s something that comes out naturally, quite jazzy, actually!



Country: New Zealand

Writer(s): All

How would you define native? By your ethnicity, culture, nationality, local traditions, the land you were raised on, or simply the home you were raised in?

The first music I remember vividly was the opening guitar lick to Dire Straits ‘Money For Nothing’. It’s the riff that goes on for 30 seconds with an synth-esque sounding guitar tone. It used to play at the same time on a radio station when I caught the bus from school when I was five years old. I grew up surrounded by cattle and fields, so it was the first thing I heard that had an extensive instrumental part of a song and ensured I never missed the bus, as it was difficult to pick up radio where I lived.

As I got older, I fell upon most ‘alternative’ music which people during the 90’s listened to and it’s New Zealand equivalent albums such as Head Like A HoleFlik Yourself off Yourself‘ and Shihad‘s ‘Churn‘. As I got older I began to listen to more experimental stuff that didn’t fall into the guitar 4/4 time back beat signature such as John Coltrane, Aphex Twin and Coil. I would say our biggest influence today is discovery and trying to hear what we haven’t heard before. We’ve never really worked in a retroactive way by trying to make a track sound like something sourced from the past, but actively attempting to push it into the future.

Is there a traditional style of music, specific to your country or community that influences your music?

New Zealand is relatively isolated geographically, so in the past that has meant only certain things filtered here, as it’s an island. Being so isolated and dominated by large landscapes I think does play an influence. You can travel from snow covered mountains to the sea on either the west or east coast of the country within a few hours over hills and plains so music that has a “landscape” element feels natural to us at least. Landscape isn’t regular and so as a result, the uniformity that’s in cities feels sometimes counter-intuitive for us when making music. We like to let parts evolve organically.

In New Zealand traditional Maori waiata (‘song’) doesn’t use the western musical scale and the singing ranges no more than 4-5 notes away from the root note. Often the music travels between notes very slowly, so it has some microtonal elements to it. By the nature it is performed, I guess you could call it very ‘math-esque’ as well. We have a track on our new album Pirohia that’s in Te Reo Maori (the indigenous language of New Zealand) and a lot of the ‘drone’ sonic that’s apparent in the style, we enjoyed working with even though we use a drums/bass/guitar combination to make the majority of our music.

The spectrum of math rock across the globe is vast and, quite frankly, overwhelming. Take the time to use our World Of Math map to explore and find new and tasty math sounds.

Image source – lifacolor (Flickr)