Amen, Brother: Reverse Engineering Breakbeat Culture.

The ‘Amen Break‘ from 60’s funk band The Winstons ‘Amen, Brother’ is certainly one of the most famous drumbeats of all time- sampled by artists as far flung as Aphex Twin to NWA. True, there are other perhaps equally popular drumbeats (James Brown’s ‘Funky Drummer’ springs to mind), but  I cant think of any other six seconds of music that has spawned entire genres – namely Jungle/Drum & Bass and their various subgenres.

Using this breakbeat in a sampler allowed producers to do things rhythmically that weren’t thought possible for a human drummer. However, this has now come full circle with humans attempting to imitate the machines that some (foolishly) feared would make them obsolete. Jojo Mayer describes this process as ‘reverse engineering breakbeat culture’, and requires not only overcoming the physical obstacle of the speed and intensity of drum and bass but also a rethinking of technique in order to achieve the intricate rhythms originally impossible without the use of samplers.

Unfortunately, despite the undeniable technical skill of drummers able to emulate such styles, many simply aren’t all that musical.  For example Johnny Rabb, a phenomenal drummer capable of feats most could only dream of, sounds here more like a Casio keyboard demo-song-pastiche of drum and bass.  This is possibly a result of the novelty involved in a musician being able to perform ‘task X‘ that others cannot, rather than having a passion for the music itself. Thankfully it is evident that Jojo Mayer has a real interest in drum and bass, both in the way he speaks about it and through the music which he performs with his band Nerve (made up of Jojo on drums, John Davis on bass and Takuya Nakamura on live electronics)

What really separates Nerve from the rest of the pack is that their music is truly enjoyable in its own right and can be appreciated for more than a novelty act.  For example, although it is clear that technique is hugely important to Jojo (check out his essential drumming DVD ‘Secret Weapons For The Modern Drummer’) it never feels fetishised and always serves the music rather than superseding it; tracks like ‘Jabon’ (see above) could easily sit comfortably alongside anything off Roni Size‘s seminal album ‘New Forms’

Interestingly, Jojo insists, somewhat enigmatically, what he and Nerve attempt to do is not to merely imitate electronic music but to use “the distance between zero and one” (which of course digital technology cannot); as mentioned in a previous post, electronic music is sometimes lacking a human element and can leave me a little cold. Nerve it seems, are attempting to redress the balance.

Get Nerve’s latest album ‘The Distance Between Zero and One’ here. You can also preview the tracks over at their bandcamp.

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