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Hard drum

An introduction to ‘hard drum’, the sound shaking up London’s club scene

Get hooked on the syncopated rhythms of a burgeoning micro-scene that’s pricked the ears of Skream, Objekt, and Laurel Halo

Techno is boring, house is samey, drum & bass is lame. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically what Brian Eno said about club music way back in 1995. Nearly 25 years later, the scene is pretty much the same: four-to-the-floor beats still dominate, clubs still struggle to attract diverse crowds, and much of the dance music discourse is focused around technology rather than ideas. Still, emerging artists – musicians like Deena Abdelwahed, collectives like KOKOKO!, labels like Príncipe and Hakuna Kulala, and events like Nyege Nyege and Boko Boko – are bringing newer, stranger rhythms to the underground and challenging clubland’s gridlike autocracy.

In London, one such new sound has been stirring since 2015, when a tight group of producers and DJs like Lemonick, Superfície, Sudanim, Lobby, and Neana – mostly connected through SoundCloud – started describing their music as “hard drum”. While the name was never totally serious, the music definitely is, respectfully drawing on reference points like Latin America rhythms, the African diaspora, and 00s club style UK funky. While most house and techno records lay down kick drums in multiples of four, hard drum tracks often fit five snares in a bar, placing emphasis on beats one and four. It’s all about rhythm, with tracks made for hips wiggle, using drums and little else. They’re killer DJ tools, popular with spinners from a broad range of genres, like SkreamTeki LatexEhua and VAJ.POWER.

Jake Colvin, aka NKC, a twentysomething originally from rural Herefordshire who has become something of a lynchpin for the scene, was one of the first to popularise the ‘hard drum’ name. Choosing eight essential tracks, here Colvin explores hard drum’s origin story, tackling questions of appropriation, dancefloor diversity, and what makes it one the freshest London club sounds in a long time.


“For anyone less familiar – this EP laid the foundations for hard drum,” Colvin wrote in a tweet back in January. The riotous “9th Ritual” was produced by South London producer MM and originally released in 2015, where it was a staple of the Even The Strong (ETS) warehouse raves that Colvin used to throw in North London’s Manor House area in 2015 and 16. With Colvin working on the door and MM and fellow Her Records artist Suda selling cans of beer at the bar, the first ETS parties were attended by a mix of friends and randoms wandering around the area, initially getting in for free.


“Hague Basement” was released through Her Records, the label founded by producers MM and Suda around 2012. “I didn’t wanna start a label before I’d started a party,” he explains. The track was made with an audience of ETS ravers in mind; the ‘Hague’ in its title refers to the Dutch style of ‘bubbling’ house, exemplified by tracks like DJ Master-D’s defining “Mad Drumz”, from which Colvin and MM sampled their own drums (legend has it that DJ Master-D originally sampled his drums from the 2002 marching band flick Drumline).


Mexican label and collective NAAFI started tagging their music ‘hard drum’ around 2017, and this raucous cut from OMAAR was one of the tracks that fell under that umbrella. “It’s got cheesier elements in it that are not used in a cheesy way,” Colvin says of the track. “If you used that big synth sound and did some mad progression with it, you’d basically be at EDM.” So is hard drum a deconstruction of electronic club music? “No, I hate that word!” Colvin says. “Deconstructed hot dogs or something – it’s a word for a gentrified version of whatever the original thing was.”


Thanks to both Mina’s popping beat and Nané’s slick Spanish raps, “Boing” recalls some of UK funky’s sauciest moments. “For a bit I said, ‘Oh, I make funky’,” Colvin recalls, “but genres are associated with identities. It’s almost a bit offensive to say ‘I'm bringing back UK funky’ if you were never involved in the first place.” UK funky was considered by many a short-lived extension of UK bass, a tag that Colvin felt never fit the music. “I used to send tracks to music publications and they’d be like, ‘Ah, we don't have any space for bass music premieres’,” Colvin says. “It’s like: ‘Have you listened to it? ‘Cos I haven't put a bassline on a track since I started, pretty much.’”


After several parties, ETS released its first record in 2017, the free compilation ETS000, soon followed by DJ JM’s unerring Cosa Nostra. Its title, meaning ‘our thing’, made hard drum an official sound in in itself. “To start with, we were saying ‘heavy percs’ or ‘big drums’,” Colvin says of the sound’s early name. “I wanted to keep the event descriptions for ETS minimal, and one of them was just ‘hard drum’. It was a joke, but it stuck.”


With its dubwise space and rastclart ad-libs, “Rage Riddim” nods to the sound system culture of Bristol, where producer Noire lived until recently. He’s not the only outside influence on hard drum: Brazilian, Swiss, Irish, and Lithuanian artists are all producing the sound. “I don't want it to be as shallow as a selling point,” Colvin says. “But it’s always been at the back of my mind: I'm never gonna have an all-white lineup, or an all-male lineup.”


Colvin grew tired of clubbers complaining that other electronic music scenes didn’t have enough women at their events. “They were like, ‘It’s because we’re really nerdy, we wanna hear polished tunes or aggressive tunes.’ That’s not the fucking reason that the girls don’t like the music – it’s because you don’t know any girls. It’s nothing to do with the sonics.” ETS nights have attracted ravers from all over, including Syn & Doubt, who flew over from Cork in 2015 and felt inspired to make the punishing “Hollow” soon after.


Another brutal track is “Drum Cardio”, which features guest vocals from Chicago legend DJ Deeon, one of many artists across a range of genres who have taken a liking to hard drum (others include Laurel Halo, Martyn, Objekt, and Peder Mannerfelt). It could freshen up a club scene that’s grown bored with four-to-the-floor styles: “It’s like an institution now, house and techno,” Colvin says. “So in a way that’s something to kick back at, init?”