A History of drummer jokes… #iaspm2017

Matt Brennan: University of Edinburgh

Towards a history of drummer jokes and stereotypes

Victor

Victor Joyner’s Imperial Four, 1915

ABSTRACT: This paper investigates the history of drummer jokes and stereotypes. Drummer jokes are abundant in popular music culture, and their punchlines hinge on stereotypes about drummers (I focus on seven in particular – drummers as dumb, noisy, illiterate, uncreative, male, broke, and replaceable.) This is not to say that drummers are universally perceived as low status musicians by any means. Instead, as Stephen Cottrell (2004) has suggested, “stereotypes require a certain suspension of disbelief; we persist in stereotyping even when confronted with evidence which defies or contradicts the stereotypical image created.” But musician jokes of all kinds employ humour which “also has its place in controlling behaviour, that is, it can be used to reinforce behavioural norms and values existing within a society or group; ridiculing socially inappropriate behaviour promotes social control because it emphasizes social conformity” (ibid). This paper sketches the history of drummer jokes and stereotypes and argues that drummer stereotypes are ultimately not just about drummers: we find similar stereotypes routinely attributed in wider narratives of “low culture” of all sorts. Making fun of the drum kit and drummers is therefore a useful lens to consider the historical construction of the divide between high and low culture.

Ref: Cottrell, Stephen. Professional music-making in London: ethnography and experience (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004).

Matt begins, contrarily enough, with his serious research questions – how do drummer jokes define perception of drummers, and are the jokes a cause or effect of their ‘lowly’ status. [Read more…]

Tyranny of the snare: the changing status of the drum kit in record production. Matt Brennan #arp13

It stalks the desolate landscape of pop, stamping its jackboot of conformity upon all those who oppose its rules of metrical oppression. Twice in each bar.

The tyranny of the snare’: the changing status of the drum kit in record production. Matt Brennan

[abstract and commentary available on Matt’s blog]

In explaining his move away from radio-oriented pop music, songwriter Nick Lowe once recalled in interview that he had successfully escaped from ‘the tyranny of the snare drum’, a comment which resonated with some musicians presumably because it expressed an uneasiness regarding the drum kit’s gradual move, over the course of decades, from the margins to the centre of pop record production (quoted in Cantwell 2001).

This paper explores the relationship between drum kits, recording equipment, and the users of those technologies to offer a sociological account of how the drum kit moved from a position of conspicuous absence to a position of ‘tyranny’ over other instruments in contemporary recording and mixing practices. It also considers the changing status of the drummer (and drum engineer) in the compositional process given the increasing prominence of the drum kit in the recording and mixing process, and especially in light of the limited authorial role traditionally accorded to drummers in both the songwriting process and copyright law. [Read more…]

IASPM: Panel: Drumming, Drum Kits and Drummers (Gareth Dylan Smith, Matt Brennan, Bill Bruford)

A Phenomenological Study of Drumming. Gareth Dylan Smith (Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, London)
[abstract]

The presenter – a drummer in punk, blues, and riff-rock bands – explores the real-time, spatial, embodied experience of playing the drums, in an attempt to convey the essence of what it feels like to make music on the instrument, alone and with others, in various musical situations. The presenter draws on audio, video, metaphor, analogy and rich, intimate personal descriptions to convey the intangible – but known and, to many, familiar – sense of what it is to be a drummer in time, body and space. He uses the writing of Merleau-Ponty as a framework to discuss the ‘re-creation and re-constitution of the world [and of music] at every moment’ (Merleau-Ponty, 1945: 240). Also referencing ‘trancing’ (Becker, 2004), ‘groove’ (Feld and Keil, 1994), ‘listening’ (Jean-Luc Nancy, 2002), and the ‘magic ride’ (Hart, 1990), the presenter argues that a phenomenological lens is an essential element in understanding the art of drumming. Evidence from other musical instruments and disciplines is considered to build the case that such a view of how music is realised may be crucial to understanding musical experiences in cultures around the world, including in popular music where the drum kit and its emulation retain central roles [Read more…]