Pushing The Beat
Once he prayed to the beat behind Re-flex, he's since become versed in high technology and worked with artists as diverse as Kate Bush and Mory Kante. Ollie Crooke talks to a rhythm programmer extraordinaire.
With so much technical innovation centred on drums and rhythms, it's surprising so few drummers are conversant with high technology. Meet one who is: Roland Kerridge.
"People go on about the S1000 but I've always thought that the SDX has more power; it captures that transience, and the hard edge of a drum."
SINCE HIS DAYS WITH RE-FLEX, ROLAND Kerridge has been almost a walking advertisement for electronic drum pioneers, Simmons. While the company explored the possibilities for electronics in the world of the drummer, they called upon a handful of drummers' services as consultants (Dave Simmons is actually a guitarist). Kerridge's involvement culminated in the development of the mighty Simmons SDX, where he was responsible for compiling much of the sound library.
"I've known Dave Simmons for years and years", explains Kerridge. "He's an old friend of Paul Fishman, who was the keyboard player with Re-flex. Dave used to do all these weird and wonderful modifications to Paul's keyboards.
"I started using an SDS3 in the early '80s, and just went through it from there. The setup I used live with Re-flex was an SDS3, SDS5 and an SDS7 - in total 14 pads, a bit of an overkill, but in those days you had one pad per sound. Now you can just switch sounds on pads, it's very simple to do live. I was using the old bulletproof Simmons pads - you know, you hit them and your arm drops off.
"When the SDX was being developed, I was using an S900, and it was the S900 boom time. Dave was developing this 16-bit sampler/sequencer and drumkit, we went in and saw the SDX prototypes, and he invited me to sort out some of the drum library. Then I became a testing ground, I suppose, which I still am. Whenever they get something new they try it out on me.
"The SDX is a wonderful machine. It's the ultimate, at the present moment, in digital drumkits. The sound quality is phenomenal, and people go on about the S1000 but I've always thought that somehow the SDX has more power; it captures that transience, and the hard edge of a drum, and really what you put into it is what you get back. I felt with the S1000, when sampling into it, it tends to be a little bit bass-light in a similar way to the S900. It's such a shame that Simmons went down when they did: having said that, they're up and running again, and they've got some really good things coming out. I've seen these Drum Huggers which they've been working on. They look good. They're strap-on pads about the same size as a woodblock, which bolt onto your kit and you hit them and they produce a MIDI note. So it's an instant pad if you like, without taking up the room. They've also got a triggering device called the ADT, which is hopefully coming out towards the end of the year. It's basically the triggering side of the Trixer, only much improved, and the fire-up time is supposed to be very fast indeed."
Triggering is a subject on which Kerridge has become something of an expert over the years...
"I've tried a number of trigger devices, one of them being this new Aphex Impulse, which claims to be the fastest trigger in existence - it's not.
"We actually measured it against the Trixer, and it's some half a millisecond to a millisecond slower. Having said that, we used it on one of the tracks on the Mory Kante album. Jeff Porcaro had recorded a live drum track, and the sound wasn't particularly inspiring, so we triggered some drums from it. We used the Impulse to do that and it was very good indeed. It was reliable, the triggers were always a reliable distance apart; in other words, the delay between hitting and fire-up never varied, which was the problem with the Akai ME35T. There is some nice stuff on the Impulse; there's a 'roll' facility, where it cycles on four different notes, so each hit you make on a pad will send out a different MIDI note, and it just cycles around the four. You can have great fun with that, having four completely unrelated samples and playing a roll on it."
As mentioned earlier, with the quality of electronic percussion and sequencing technology around at the moment, (most of it seemingly having passed through the hands of one Roland Kerridge) the quality of rhythm and rhythm programming on records these days should be at an all-time high.
"Generally speaking, I'm very disappointed that it seems to have regressed in the past few years", comments the percussionist. "It's gone back to making machines sound like machines, which I think is a bit of a shame. People tend to be very lazy in that they try to find rhythm loops from other people's records, and use that as a basis tor their music rather than creating their own. It's a shame, because with the technology now available, you can make fantastic noises. A lot of the stuff I've done has been done almost by accident, or by messing around, where I might have got a conga part in the sequencer, and then I'll assign a completely unrelated sound to it, and reverse the phrase. A while ago I was asked to do a rhythm track with a similar feel to 'Slave to the Rhythm'. After messing around for hours trying to find a swing quantise that worked, I sampled a four-bar loop from the record, looped it around in the sequencer and jammed along. When I felt I was in the pocket with it, I dropped the C-Lab into record and recorded 20 or 30 bars, from which I found a two-bar part that felt good. I then took the part and generated a User quantise from it, which I then applied to the rest of the track. It was a good way to copy the groove of a track without directly stealing any of the part.
"You can come up with some wonderful things, but people don't seem to be doing that so much any more. They're listening to everybody else's records and saying 'well, that's how it goes, let's do that'. Having said that, there's some good things around at the moment. I like a lot of the house stuff and I especially like swingbeat."
Kerridge confesses to having drum heroes of his own, mainly those from the traditional rock school: Bad Company's Simon Kirke and the Beatles' Ringo Starr, for example. But one of his particular favourites is The Yellow Magic Orchestra's Yukihiro Takahashi - not just for his drumming skills, but for his involvement with technology from very early on in the development of drum machines.
In addition to his general session and consultancy work, Kerridge still finds time to work with Paul Fishman ("He's got another thing going with Dave Harris who used to be in Fashion, and I've worked on various projects with them") and he has recently completed another album project with Mory Kante producer, Nick Patrick.
"It's due out this April some time", he reveals. "The artist is a guy called Roe who's Spanish. He's basically a flamenco rock artist - it's flamenco music meets The Rolling Stones. I think that's going to be quite big, bearing in mind that Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world. I imagine the market's going to be pretty huge, but the Gypsy Kings it is not."
Interview by Ollie Crooke
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