iDRUM FourTH Anniversary at Revival (783 College), Friday (April 30). $10. www.idrum.info Rating: NNNNN
Dance music is all about the drum. For much of the past 15 years, that meant electronic percussion, but acoustic sounds have recently been integrated to enthusiastic reactions. At first, the name iDRUM on a flyer didn't mean much more than a few percussionists playing along with whichever DJ was playing. After a while, though, you started seeing situations where vocals, sax and multiple percussionists were all part of the mix, and something closer to the traditional definition of a band began to emerge.
"The basis came out of my love for electronic music - going to warehouse parties and feeling that there was a connection with something else," explains iDRUM president Davidson Elie.
"At that time I didn't play an instrument, but I felt I had to do something musically."
About four years ago, Elie realized he'd had enough of being a spectator. Being a partier, a dancer and a lover of music didn't express his appreciation for the underground dance culture he was immersed in.
He knew he wasn't meant to be a DJ, and he wasn't going to be a singer or producer. His studies in African and Caribbean percussion made him think there was something more primal and human in the mechanical rhythms of the after-hours, something that might reveal itself once reconnected to the energy of hands-on skins.
Drawing on his ongoing lessons in Afro-Caribbean percussion, he started accumulating a roster of like-minded musicians, producers, DJs, dancers and poets. A somewhat free-form organization, iDRUM can adapt itself to serve many purposes, from accompaniment to being featured performers. Despite the focus on contemporary directions in dance music, Elie's teachers approved of this update.
"We're still keeping the actual traditional rhythms in there. We're not trying to take away from their energy."
There's an intensity and earnestness to iDrum that almost makes you feel embarrassed for them, but, paradoxically, their passion is also their saving grace. They believe the magic of the warehouse party resonates for anyone who's ever lost their shit on the dance floor.
Let's face it, though - you can't just invent your own mythology without entering into problem territory. Juxtaposing ideas of modern and aboriginal reinforces a dichotomy that may no longer be useful for anyone.
Spoken-word ruminations on spirituality and rhythm have a huge potential for cheese. They succeed when they find common ground between the ghosts of the past and the traces of the future. On the other hand, explaining your mission statement repeatedly throughout an album doesn't make for a particularly listenable experience.
Having said that, Afree: Way Of Being, iDRUM's debut CD, contains many gems. The best moments recall the epic and emotional acoustic folk-house vibes that labels like Spiritual Life and Ibadan have helped spread, but with a vision particular to iDRUM. This isn't your parents' drum circle.