When drum 'n' bass emerged out of the UK rave scene in the early 90s, the first thing new listeners tended to notice was how alien the breakneck rhythms were. The mangled breakbeats sounded far removed from anything a human might play, despite being based on samples of real drummers. Some drummers, however, saw these new beats as a challenge, and set about developing ways of interpreting them.
"I was about 18 when I heard LTJ Bukem's Logical Progression, and that simple, really fast beat - I couldn't even explain what I heard, but it was amazing," recalls Seattle's Kevin Sawka (aka KJ Sawka). I'd heard DJ Shadow before, but nothing like that."
Before this revelation hit, Sawka had been paying his dues in various rock bands and was already moving toward fast and complicated rhythms, but it renewed his drive and gave him a mission. Combining his acoustic kit with electronic gear, he began to develop an impressive performance system that allowed him to function as a one-man drum 'n' bass band, culminating in his 2005 album, Synchronized Decompression.
"As far as my albums are concerned, the acoustic drums haven't been that prominent, but they definitely are when I play live. The live drums have a huge impact that I just can't seem to get from triggering samples. It's like talking to someone in person rather than over the phone."
Sawka is currently wrapping up post-production on the follow-up to his debut, which once again features a variety of guest vocalists and musicians. While Synchronized Decompression was a moody, mellow album steeped in the earlier, more experimental days of d'n'b, his newer material sees him focusing more on club-ready sounds.
"This one is a lot more dance-floor-friendly, a little more electronic. There's lots of dark drum 'n' bass. It kind of starts off on the lighter, melodic side of breakbeat and moves on to the darker stuff."
In a weird twist of fate, one of his new collaborators, beat-boxer and vocalist Blake Lewis
, has suddenly become a minor celebrity after becoming a finalist on this year's American Idol. The underground dance music scene and televised singing contests may have very little in common, but added visibility can't be a bad thing.