Black Fire Percussion
March 16, 2007 7:52 PM   Subscribe

Brooklyn's Black Fire Percussion: bringing high school marching band drumming to a whole other level of funky expression. [All links YouTube]
posted by flapjax at midnite (40 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and you might wanna see Black Fire go up against the Technical Assassins. The Assassins are none too shabby, but I think Black Fire shows 'em who's boss...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:53 PM on March 16, 2007

Thats some good stuff right there. I love marching bands.
posted by nola at 8:11 PM on March 16, 2007

There's also Kansas City's Marching Cobras.
posted by sleepy pete at 8:13 PM on March 16, 2007

These are nice and all, but I like my marching bands to have a little extra action. I mean, where are the flag girls?
posted by cali at 8:21 PM on March 16, 2007

Oh yeah, those Cobras are working it on out! Thanks, sleepy pete. And their drillmaster Mr. Willie Arthur Smith is positively resplendant in that electric lime-green outfit. Fantastic!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:23 PM on March 16, 2007

Metafilter just got served.
posted by emelenjr at 8:24 PM on March 16, 2007

Those are neat clips. Seems awesome to me, but is that "teh awesome" by marching band standards? No idea, but still cool.
posted by bardic at 8:30 PM on March 16, 2007

Man, I loved that flapjax! Black Fire are superb! It sends life force through my whole body. What a great feeling. Enjoy their crisp, exhilerating precision mixed with finessed playfulness.

More percussion vids. You might enjoy this one flapjax, if you haven't already seen it, (rathr grandiosely titled) "Video explains the world's most important 6-sec drum loop". And an offering of my favorite percussion, this intoxicating tabla vid of Pandit Anindo Chatterjee, brown fire.
posted by nickyskye at 8:39 PM on March 16, 2007

The TA vs. BFP pt. 2 is bananas.
posted by basicchannel at 8:39 PM on March 16, 2007

They're good. They're no Nick Cannon, but they're good.

(Just kidding. Great videos flapjax)
posted by premiumpolar at 8:40 PM on March 16, 2007

Speaking as someone with only slightly more rythm than Fozzie Bar, I'm impressed by the FPPed links.
posted by davy at 8:41 PM on March 16, 2007

Er, Fozzie Bear. One o' them kind Dan'l Boon kilt.
posted by davy at 8:42 PM on March 16, 2007

My roommate in college was in the Michigan Marching Band drumline. The best numbers they did (besides "The Victors" of course) featured the drumline: Temptation and Hawaiian War Chant; because you can't have one without the other. [more MMB drumline videos here]
posted by mach at 8:56 PM on March 16, 2007

Thanks for the links, nickyskye. The 6-sec loop video is great: highly recommended for those who don't really know about the history of drumbreaks/sampling and so forth. Good find!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:57 PM on March 16, 2007

Everyone that was a band geek in high school just had a flashback. I know I did...
posted by Rhomboid at 9:08 PM on March 16, 2007

Amazing! I have to send this to my brother. He's a drummer, and he was a drum major. Thanks, flapjack!
posted by owhydididoit at 9:24 PM on March 16, 2007

top secret drum corps
posted by spish at 9:30 PM on March 16, 2007

I've got a question about that 6-sec drum loop video:
[and note I'm pretty musically dumb]

Yes, the first songs he played were samples, but then the narrator talks about how the underground cut the original sample into individual drum hits. Then he plays samples with those beats arranged various ways.

My question is, why aren't those people just playing drums? Is everyone who uses a drum after 1969 stealing from this original song, according to the narrator?
posted by mrnutty at 9:44 PM on March 16, 2007

And speaking of Brooklyn: Hungry! [mp3] [mp3]
posted by milquetoast at 9:44 PM on March 16, 2007

Personally, I'm more a fan of DCI-style drum corps (similar to the "Top Secret DC" link posted above), as opposed to the style of drumline that's typical of historically black college marching bands, like in the Nick Cannon movie, or the links in the post. I like the precision and stoic snare drummers over theatrics and bumpin' ones, but it's all personal preference.

Good post though. Got my music nerdery for the day. Anyone seen "Blast!" in person?
posted by supercres at 11:08 PM on March 16, 2007

"Seems awesome to me, but is that "teh awesome" by marching band standards?"


"I like the precision and stoic snare drummers over theatrics and bumpin' ones, but it's all personal preference."

There was a lot of the first style in what they did.

Speaking as a former snare drummer in a highly-rated high school marching band (25 years ago), I think these guys are very, very good in the context of being from a single high school. (They are, right?) What's hard is getting enough good percussionists from a single school. My senior year I was as skilled as these guys, but nobody else in our snare drum line was. My best friend, the other highly-skilled drummer that year, played the quints. When he sees these clips, he'll be very annoyed that they're not showing them (but you can hear them quite well).

I don't think they're quite DCI drum corp level, but they're close. So, yeah, they're very good.

I like the theatrics. It's showmanship. Most audiences don't have the musical experience to appreciate the musicianship on display in a good drum line. And that's mostly all there is with the high-precision, high-synchronization of a "stoic", robotic drum line. But an audience can really get into the kind of stuff these guys are doing.

The sexism, though, is annoying. All the drummers are male except the cymbals. Which was mostly the way it was back in my day. That's a shame.

I have the urge to get out my drumsticks.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:28 AM on March 17, 2007

Ah, I see that they show a bit of the quints in the second and third linked videos. My best friend, Marvin, who I mentioned in the previous comment, was the first person in our state to play them way back in 81-82.

"I mean, where are the flag girls?"

Ah, flag girls. Marvin and I came up with a great idea. We convinced a number of the flag girls—about half of them which would have been six or seven—to put a bunch of lipstick on and then kiss our cheeks, leaving the marks, for "good luck" before every performance.

Yeah, I was a band nerd. But I never thought that applied to drummers.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:02 AM on March 17, 2007

related (kinda): step clubs
posted by moonbird at 6:18 AM on March 17, 2007

Ooooooooh, so much fun stuff here.

Thanks to a particularly fortuitous collision of Youtube links I am now desperately yearning to see a collaboration of some kickass drumlines with a pipe band. A thunderous cavalcade of funky percussion and massed skirling bagpipes, I think I would just DIE OF SHEER AWESOME if such a thing exists...
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 6:31 AM on March 17, 2007

Thanks for these great links! Both of my kids are in marching band (piccolo, trumpet), and were really wowed.

I don't think that most people realize the time, talent, and sheer hard work that goes into being in a marching band (or the drum line). It's a huge commitment! But MB kids are the best - talented, down-to-earth, friendly.
posted by Flakypastry at 7:37 AM on March 17, 2007

A strong rimshot still to this day makes the back of my neck tingle.

EB is right that finding this many good percussionists at a single school is really amazing.

A well-regimented drum line truly is special to see in person. The videos don't do it justice, as there are so many hands moving with such speed and dexterity, coupled with the sheer visceral experience of the sound waves passing by you.

The simulated sword fight of the Top Secret clip above is simply brilliant.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:58 AM on March 17, 2007

Teh Awsome.
posted by jaronson at 10:09 AM on March 17, 2007

"A strong rimshot still to this day makes the back of my neck tingle."

Hmm. Rimshots are elementary but, if I think about it, they are still a nice example of the very fine motor control involved in the technical skill of percussion. A rimshot is a strike of the length of the stick against the drum rim exactly simultaneous with a strike on the drumhead with the stick's tip. That's a substantial change in how the stick is manipulated in terms of balance. Actually, in a sense it's a controlled regression to how an unskilled person tends to strike a surface with a drumstick—bringing the stick down in a "chopping" fashion.

What most people don't realize is that a drummer lightly grips the sticks between fingers at their balance points, using with extreme finesse the natural recoil around the pivot point allowing extremely quick action. But a rimshot becomes at its conclusion a slamming of the stick against the drumhead and rim in a downward motion nearly perpendicular to the stick and as such is a very distinct change in motion accomplished very quickly.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:30 AM on March 17, 2007

spish, I sent that link to my 70-something friend from Basel. About an hour after that phone call he called me up and he said "That link you sent me... it made me so homesick!" :) He talked at length about Carnival in Basel after that, and walking through the narrow streets of Basel with those drum corps and pipers playing and it reverberating so loud that it makes your chest hurt. :) So, by proxy, you totally made his day.
posted by smallerdemon at 11:56 AM on March 17, 2007

The sexism, though, is annoying.

Hell, not just the sexism, but the MACHISMO! in the drum lines was annoying even back in the 70s and early 80s when I was a teenager in high school band.

I too am more a fan of the synchronized style going on in the Top Secret video.

I was reminded of all the fun days of traipsing around to DCI show after show watching all the great drum corps of the early 80s. OTOH, I was also reminded of being a teenager, for which I have no nostalgia.
posted by smallerdemon at 12:01 PM on March 17, 2007

Re: the sexism Ethereal Bligh speaks of: as a female percussionist, I can assure you that it is a depressing thing. At my high school, which had one of the better marching bands in the area and one of the best drumlines (if I can say so myself) we had something resembling gender equality. I was on the tenor line (quints for most schools but sexes at ours), and a good third of the snare line was female. The bassline captain was female, too, as was our drumline captain my sophomore year. This was a 50 person drumline, mind you.

(Our cymbal line was mostly girls, though. To be fair, most of them were double-reed players transplanted into percussion for the marching season, and the reed section still largely attracts females, for some reason.)

However, after the fourth or fifth drumline camp you go to where you find yourself the only female quint player out of 30 plus percussionists, it gets real depressing. And a lot of guys are prone to snippy comments: "Aren't those drums a little heavy for you?" and "Aren't you afraid of breaking a nail?"

As far as these videos go, the drumline is impressive. I too find the lack of girls on the line annoying, as well as the focus on the snare line (tenors, on which you play the same stuff as on the snare, but on five or six different drums, are a thousand times harder to play and in my admittedly biased opinion, more deserving of the glory). This style of playing isn't the kind I prefer, though, so perhaps I'm not as impressed as I could be. For instance, in the third link, it's largely repetitive snare work which doesn't really showcase a lot of real technique as opposed to showy snare playing. And some of the guys in the back have atrocious stick control.

And also, those are Kevlar heads. Playing on kevlar heads is kind of like cheating--you can tune them real tight to where they make rebounding require almost no energy, which makes it a lot easier to do harder work without the "chops" really required. However, they come at a cost--Kevlar heads sound like crap. Color me unimpressed in that regard.
posted by internet!Hannah at 12:28 PM on March 17, 2007

oops, flapjax, didn't include this link in my comment. Sorry, here's the tabla offering.
posted by nickyskye at 12:55 PM on March 17, 2007

"...tenors, on which you play the same stuff as on the snare, but on five or six different drums, are a thousand times harder to play and in my admittedly biased opinion, more deserving of the glory"

Hmm. In my day the music written for multiple tuned drums like tri-toms or quints was distinctly rhythmically less complex than the snare part. Specifically, there wasn't much rudiment stuff. And I'm not hearing a lot of that in these videos, either. And if mallets are used, there's not a lot of point because you couldn't hear a lot of the faster stuff. But, yeah, if the part is very similar to the snare part but on multiple drums, it would necessarily be more difficult.

I should say that our junior year my best friend and I were the tri-tom section (no other multiples). We were a small high-school (600 students) with a large-ish band (120 students) and only a single band director who neglected the drum sections. Consequently, on a year-to-year basis, we were only as good as we naturally were and as self-motivated as we were. So, prior to that year, for a number of years the tri-toms hadn't been any good and had not, in fact, even played the written music. They made it up. Marvin and I learned the music, tightened up our playing, and then invented a lot of showmanship moves. Our director told us he thought we were the best tri-toms in the state that year. Anyway, you can see I don't mean to disrespect "tenors" in my previous paragraph. And Marvin on the quints our senior year was a wonder to behold. I have a lot of love for those drums. But I do think snare parts are more difficult, as a rule. This was also the case the one year I played snare in a university marching band as a music major.

In my four years of high school, we had only two female drummers that were good enough to play snare. Our rival high school's first-chair drummer was female, however, and she was also first-chair at all-district (I was second). But the cymbal players were always female. I suppose that this may be a function, as you mention, of the gender inequality in a few other sections that are overloaded with females and are shunted off to play cymbals. I don't know. But it's dismaying that a few instruments are so gendered.

I'm not sure that in my drum section we had the machismo! thing going on that smallerdemon mentions. We did have a gonzo! and "the rules don't apply to us" ethos thing going on. My friends and I reveled in it. Hell, we went to many a band practice so drunk we couldn't walk (or march) straight. Is that machismo? If not, it still might be something that appeals much more to boys than girls. Although I don't know how much this attitude is found in other drum sections.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:36 PM on March 17, 2007

"...tenors, on which you play the same stuff as on the snare, but on five or six different drums, are a thousand times harder to play and in my admittedly biased opinion, more deserving of the glory"

Yep. I'd agree with that (although the bass drum split in the 3rd link had more notes than my high school's entire tenor book).

Besides, who'd want to march a trashcan? :-)
posted by Bluecoat93 at 2:13 PM on March 17, 2007

For an antidote the machismo and sexism mentioned here -- see if you can catch the short film Girl Beat: The Power of the Drum about the Dida music school and performance troupe in Brazil.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 6:52 PM on March 17, 2007

And more gals with that'll bring you that beat? Though they're frustratingly short, here, here, and here are clips of some smokin' drumming from some ladies in Cuba. Bata and conga. (First time I've ever seen conga players crossing their legs while playing!)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:43 PM on March 17, 2007

Don't know where that "with" in the first sentence of that last comment came from. (Maybe I can get a job doing copy-writing for Japanese advertising?)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:45 PM on March 17, 2007

Cool...though, of course, it suffers from the mysterious "no sound in embedded youtube clips" that I suffer from. Me, and many others. There apparently is no ointment for it and so my fellow sufferers and I must fidget uncontrollably in our seats.

On the positive side, there is no sound in embedded youtube clips.
posted by maxwelton at 12:45 AM on March 18, 2007

The St. Augustine Marching 100, the first black marching band to play in Mardi Gras, is still going strong.
Poignantly, Many of the members of this high school band have commuted in from Baton Rouge or returned to live in FEMA trailers by themselves in order to continue to be a part of the band.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:33 AM on March 18, 2007

For a comparison to DCI caliber lines, see the madison scouts or the blue devils
posted by craven_morhead at 3:03 PM on March 18, 2007

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