Spot On Metal Drummers (Set No 2): Marginal

Although Metal is our life, our inspiration and our channel to cope even with extreme emotions it is mostly considered only subculture. No doubt, drums do play a crucial role in metal and yet, drummers are seen only on the gloomy edge. In set No 1, we cast a view on the year of 1994, let’s now approach the flavours of being …

 

Marginal

The word marginal describes being or originating from the edge of something, or being of minor importance. In metal, marginal and central have often changed their roles. What is in mainstream considered marginal plays a major role to us while we take only marginal interest in mainstream. The term marginal shifts everything into a spatial dimension while it expresses degrees of interest, distance or importance mostly in an immaterial/virtual way.

Shades Of Marginality

Marginal is synonym to remote or rare but also describes underground or minority. Remi Kofoed Johannesen (Hamferð) lived many years on a remote, rocky, rainy island somewhere out in the Northern Atlantic, the Faroe Islands and thus on the very margins of Europe. Coming from Finland – where Metal is considered to be mainstream – can still mean being marginal, even or maybe especially for a Melo Death band. Jarkko Hyvönen (Bloodred Hourglass [BRHG]) comes from Mikkeli which is too far from everything to be helpful and still too normal to grant the exotic bonus. Luana Dametto (Crypta, exNervosa) is one of the rare Latin Metal drummer queens, which makes her ‘super-submarginal’. Metal is still mostly male, female drummers are even fewer and female metal drummers from Brazil are hard to find at all. The machismo socially ruling Brazil adds to another shade of marginality. Rainer Tuomikanto (Ajattara, Causemos, Grave Pleasures) used to be a very shy child often even afraid of others for no specific reason. So he lingered on the margins until he began drumming which helped him to self-esteem!

Finally, drummers sit in the back of the stage, rehearse in lonely cellars and don’t even use the ‘common language of musicians’ such as notes. So our four Metal drummers here are more or less exotic background musicians communicating in foreign ‘tongues’, playing in rather unknown bands even for standards of the underground genre called Metal, aren’t they? But then, you cannot ignore your heartbeat. If it’s not there, you are dead, just as music is without good drummers!

Remote vs Central

In these geographical terms Mikkeli is approximately 250 km northeast of Helsinki, which is the beating heart of Finland’s vast Metal scene. But those rather few kilometres make all the difference. Too far away to make yourself known by frequent club gigs in the Metal capital and yet not far enough to be exotic, as we can learn from Jarkko.  

The Faroe Islands, Remi’s home – as remote as can be in Europe, are inhabited by roughly 50,000 people which is more or less as much as live in Mikkeli! But you need to fly to the capital, Copenhagen or take days-long ferry trips to remote corners of Scotland or Iceland.

Background vs Heartbeat

Drummers – as central as the instrument is – find themselves usually on the rear margins of the stage and even their role within the band dynamics is often underestimated. Often enough drums are not even considered a full instrument. For example in Denmark drummers are the only instrumentalists expected to be nearly proficient in a second instrument when applying for a musical conservatory. Drummers don’t work with notes but have their own language so to speak.

We’re like outsiders (Remi Kofoed Johannesen)

Main songwriters of a band are rarely the drummers, and drums on demos are often programmed instead of played. Both underlines the marginality of drums and drummers who are then, more often than other instrumentalists, reduced to playing what others created.

Later in production, a drummer’s performance is often even compared with the computer-generated drumming. But to make those sound ‘more natural’ programmers (and even professional software will) add mistakes! Then again good drummers are relatively fewer than good vocalists or good guitarists. Due to the size of the instrument, drummers often need to have an extra rehearsal space and play loaners on gigs. Warming up usually works with a drum pad while all others use simply their actual instruments.

Intensities Of Marginality

Metal is subculture and as such marginal by default. The ‘only the drummer’ attitude and or situation add to the degree of marginality. So playing in a popular genre (like Melo Death) and/or band that originates from a central spot (like Rainer) does not make a drummer less marginal.

Faroese Doom Metal   i s   the marginal segment! (Remi Kofoed Johannesen)

Particular subgenres are more underground than others i.e. as attitude or the spirit exceed the role of (economic) success like in Black Metal. Other subgenres are simply rare all the more if the place of origin is taken into account. Then, hidden behind the fellow band members, drummers become sort of invisible even on stage. All this makes even extremely well educated drummers with a very wide spectrum like Rainer and Remi supersubmarginal.

Brazilian Metal is underground, or else you would know more Brazilian Metal bands than Sepultura and Nervosa. If Luana were born in Finland being a female drummer would not make her stand out at all. She was a drummer. Done with it! Originating from Spain for example, being a female metal drummer would change that a bit. But being Brazilian + female + metal drummer = far beyond exotic = super-submarginal. It also means a never ending war against prejudice towards any of these points and she has faced those a lot, not only in her machismo-dominated home country.   

 

Approaching Attitude and Advancement

The Habit and The Nerd

While in the previous set “1994” all drummers’ attitude was very much focused on drumming and their individual evolution, in this set we encounter another one. Jarkko’s and Remi’s passion for and evolution in drumming is way closer interwoven with their main bands than Luana’s, Rainer’s or any of our “1994” drummers. Although Remi has had numerous band affiliations, and studied drumming before the band was founded, Hamferð plays a crucial role. Obviously the chemistry in the ‘band of nerds’ matters. Jarkko even had only a few other affiliations apart from BRHG and what their band means to them is written in capital letters in their skin. They began at school together aged 13, and never quit, never stopped.

However, one thing is beyond the slightest doubt: They all are playing drums because it is their instrument! “Then I watched Derek Roddy blast beating on internet and since them I destroyed my life”, Luana explains laughing at her ‘habit’. Of course it is a way of self-expression or even critical on the road to self-perception, as it is for Rainer. His progress on the drums granted credibility and thus helped with achieving more personal goals. 

The Spirit of Underground

Remi is essentially fuelled by the experience of collaborative creation. If a band focuses on getting big to him is “like a very empty motivation.”

This might sound a little weird, but there’s no reason to expect you’ll be successful (Remi Kofoed Johannesen)

Getting big is independent of the quality of a band to Remi and Jarkko. In the end, there is no difference to Jarkko if one is playing in a band of whatever genre as long as it comes “from your heart” and, cliché or not “when you’re doing it the music basically for yourself.” There it is! Can you smell it? The spirit of underground, or synonymously of being marginal. Or as Rainer puts it: “And I don’t care if the band is fucking huge or playing in fucking patatoe cellars in Lithunia, you know. I don’t give a fuck!”

Triggers: Needles and Pins

I started ‘cause I wanted to play Metal, no other reasons” says Luana who found her first inspiration in Joey Jordison. Remi began learning guitars until “I heard Pantera’s “Becoming”, and Deftones “Needles And Pins” and I changed instrument like really shortly afterwards. And that was awesome”, he remembers laughing. Rainer got inspired by a class mate finger drumming the opening of Guns ‘n’ Roses “You Could Be Mine”. Maybe he had begun anyway, he adds, perhaps his father played drums.

Spoiler
Rainer’s First Drum Teacher

It was a class-mate named Jarkko Niemi. “Maybe I could have started drumming nevertheless, for like finding the inspiration from elsewhere. Yeah man, Jarkko. This is for you. …

“I owe you my whole life!” (Rainer Tuomikanto)

As hardly any drummer I have spoken with can so precisely tell the moment he caught the fire to begin drumming, let’s take a moment to listen to his story. “Jarkko Niemi. This Finnish guy. He was my class mate and he started like playing [Rainer finger drums on his legs] which is the opening of Guns ‘n’ Roses “You Could Be Mine”. This took place actually before the song was released. Jarkko knew the beat from a promo video. “And there was this video with Arnold Schwarzenegger. And when I heard the song and saw and heard Jarkko playing that drum beat to the school desk, I was like ‘WOW! That is super cool.” He caught fire for the song although he wonders why. But it triggered something: “I wanna learn that. Like immediately. And I asked “Can you, please, show me that?’ I was like really bad at first and Jarkko was dragging me behind the drums like he was teaching me you know the basic beats.”  Drumming and music became everything to Rainer. “Great part of my identity comes from finding myself in music. Of course drumming is part of my identity”, which explains the weight of this moment and this class mate in Rainer’s life.

Luana began at 12 and learned drumming classically from mostly private teachers and courses. By then Rainer was already playing in his first band which he joined at the age of 9 or 10! And as marginal as can be: his first teacher was a class mate. Remi was already 15 when he began and is mostly a self-taught drummer as is Jarkko who began aged 13/14. He got his first kit a couple of years later and had his only lessons in a band class at his school.

While the three guys took benefit from the public education system in their home countries, Luana advanced with private teachers: “I had many private teachers during my journey to learn how to play, and I still have teachers, I think it’s much faster to learn from someone close to you than alone, the teacher can always point your mistakes and make your life much easier.” Apart from his band class, Jarkko taught himself as Remi did for approximately seven years. Rainer studied drumming at two conservatories and  Remi attended a three-year preparation school for the conservatory providing a profound and wide basis beyond drumming (choir, music theory, piano, Blues, Jazz, etc.) which he understands retrospectively as the most important period of his musical development.

So it’s always good to speak the common language (Remi Kofoed Johannesen)

Remi’s benefit of playing several instruments besides drums was learning this common language so he could join the conversations on scales or song structures with other instrumentalists. “They share a language about you know minor, major, sevenths and fifths or whatever. None of that applies to drums.” He adds: “We have other concepts.”

At some point an instrumentalist of any kind will only advance slowly and in small details. Remi is very self-critical and perhaps a bit of a stubborn person. He allowed himself to progress only when his performance was satisfying.

Spoiler
Remi’s Self-critical Mindset


He attended a six months class on music and drumming in continental Denmark some years prior to his classical drumming education began. ”I remember we had drumming education at the drumming class. I can’t remember what part it was, but the part I was working on: I was playing a song and that was correctly when this one part came that kept fucking me. And we were doing this in front of the class, you know. And I stopped and tried to do this again and again and again, that one part.  And I remember the teacher just stopped me like saying: ‘Wait. Notice. What is he doing ‘cause this is really, really good. He knows what he is doing wrong and he is continuingly doing it. He is not like skipping it …’ –
So I think I was lucky to have the correct mindset of trying to be ‘no, no’ this is wrong, you have to do this correctly and then just we can go on further. I think that helped me a lot and still does, you know.”  

But how do you identify those details – all the more if you do it all by yourself? Rainer says: “It’s just when I hear something, I get the idea really fast and I have like a vision of how I can pull it up. What do I need to change?” He also has the gift to visualize what he hears. Slowing this down helps him to learn what exactly needs to be modified. Remi confirms learning and improving his technique in the same manner.