Realising that Drums Of Death is not really under a voodoo curse, but actually a good-humoured chap from Scotland, is the grownup equivalent of acknowledging that Father Christmas doesn't exist. While we may not have actually believed the hoo-ha surrounding that bloke dressed like a voodoo priest back in 2008, we certainly enjoyed playing along with it.
That modern fable about an ordinary man, his heart ripped out and replaced with a broken drum machine for fraternising with a Haitian warlord's daughter (so the story went), wasn't conjured just to scare children, however. Rather than a Faustian vision in a pungent haze of face paint (as we'd prefer to believe), it was a way for Colin Bailey to set himself apart from his peers, he tells DJ Mag.
“It's certainly more exciting than saying 'Hi, I'm from Glasgow and I make bass music',” a bushy-browed Colin Bailey explains cheerfully, the pronounced syllables of his West Scottish accent just about prevailing over the Thursday night hubbub of an Islington bar. His brick-house demeanour is considerably less menacing — gentle even — without the all-black outfit and macabre mask. “It was the same year Rustie released 'Tempered/Play Doe' and Hudson (Mohawke) had just signed to Warp, so I was just another guy with a laptop,” he recalls.
SCHOOL OF ROCK
Since, a great deal of water has passed under the bridge. Drums Of Death has gone full circle; evolving from solitary oddball wearing self-applied face paint, positioned pretty much on the dancefloor — armed only with a MacBook, a Kaoss Pad, MIDI and a microphone — into a three-piece live band with keys and a live drummer, and then back again. To borrow the words of Will Smith in Bad Boys 2, as he left the fairytale backstory behind, his ‘shit got real’. Colin's blistering rise into the ranks of underground recognition has been nothing short of episodic; a saga that's seen him go from edgy East London shoe-in circa 2008, to a less bookable — in a hipster sense anyway — electro-hardcore outfit towards the tail end of 2009. During the months in which they sought to reconcile the raw energy of a rock concert with the elation of a rave, Drums Of Death's visibility naturally increased. With gigs for the Red Bull Music Academy, including an appearance at Bestival and dates abroad, he crossed into new territory and reached a much wider audience as a result. But did it do him any favours?
“I wouldn't call it a mistake, I would call it an experiment,” he points out after a second's pause. “When we got going it became like this rock opera [he chuckles]. It was fun, we did 10 really fun shows, five were awesome and five were OK.”
In September 2010, a year after the unveiling of Drums Of Death the band, Colin landed his debut LP 'Generation Hexed' on GrecoRoman — on which he focused “too much on the songs and less on the music,” he admits — and shortly after found himself taking time out to reassess his direction. After encountering a new level of perfectionism, which led him to “produce the fun out it,” he realised that a raw, original idea is often better left undercooked.
“I found that when I work on something for a long period of time, I eventually rub out the minimal ideas and I am left with something laboured and much less fun,” he says.
The result is an album that feels slightly too polished, rife with over egged crooning and slightly devoid of the feral, untamed creativity of an early tune like ‘Breathe’; the very essence that turned admirers like Drop The Lime, GrecoRoman’s Alex Waldron and hip London bass nights like Chew The Fat! onto his sound in the first place. “It all became slightly too aggressive,” he adds.
The arrival at such a creative crossroads Colin sees as vital to his development. His cavaliering approach — something he, with a tongue in his cheek, compares to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and their “radical partying all the time” — was all part and parcel of the “crash course” he was undertaking. “It all came out of nowhere,” he explains. “I was making it up as I was going along. I was new to making this music, so I guess I was just getting it out of my system and trying to work out what I was doing.”
Thus, it was natural for this guy from a fishing town on the coast of Scotland, who grew up listening to hardcore punk and later house and techno at Sub Club in Glasgow, to transform his DIY show — prone to Dalston basements — into something that satisfied his natural urge to form a band and rock out. “It all happened very quickly,” he holds forth. “I’ve grown a lot as an artist. Before I was 100% on it as an artist.”
Today, however, with that behind him, the future is looking as positive, with three ‘Waves' EPs under his belt for Civil Music, the first of which, ‘Black Waves’, arrived 12 months ago. The last year saw Colin returning to the drawing board to tame the raucous rave sensibility that made his name back in 2008; this time in a climate more than ever receptive to well-crafted — and musical — house and techno. Name-dropping labels like Martyn's 3024 and producers such as Mala, Floating Points and Jacques Greene as modern inspirations, coupled with his hardened love of Chicago, Detroit and all things house, Colin is clearly discovering his true musical identity. Something that culminated in July with the third instalment of the 'Waves' series, ‘Blue Waves’.
The selection is four finely-tuned tracks primed for the dancefloor, each different in their own right, including the nostalgic rave-breaks cut ‘Let No Shadow Fall Upon You’ and the melodic Underground Resistance-inspired jazz-techno of ‘Waves City’. It was an EP that saw Colin reach the zenith of his production capacity so far. Could it be he has finally come of age?
“This is Drums Of Death’s sweet 16,” he jokes. “It’s more that I now feel more confident to make a statement with the music alone. I am carving out my own space, I think. On my terms: my house, my techno, my rules.”
It’s a space which has not only caught the attention of 21-year-old rap princess Azealia Banks, for whom he laid down the production on rabid ghetto-tech track ‘Nathan feat. Styles P’ featured on her free ‘Fantasea’ mixtape last month, but also granted him the gusto for a new A/V show which will find Colin trying to “own black and white”.
“I’ve finally found a way I want to be live,” he explains with the earnest enthusiasm that has become a frequent feature of this conversation. “I’m no longer this guy in the crowd and it’s not about the punk-rock element — I’ve thrown that away somewhat. What matters most is that I can bring synths now, more of my gear, and when you come to the venue you’ll hear the music. You’ll see these visuals, which will all feed into each other and serve as the visual representation of the music.”
With a colour scheme inspired by the optical art of Bridget Riley, visuals put together with the help of visual artists Jude and Joe Greenaway and another album due next year, Colin is ready for the next episode in the ongoing Drums Of Death saga. By channelling the visceral electricity at the core of this anomalously talented human being, he is now truly ready to take to the world's biggest stages. This time, though, it’ll be more like the Chemical Brothers than My Chemical Romance.
Words: Adam Saville