Street Drum Corps

Street Drum Corps are Bobby Alt, Adam Alt, and Frank Zummo, and they look as though they’re dressed and ready for a post-apocalyptic moment when music is made with instruments that you grab right off the street. Indeed, that’s part of the ethic of Street Drum Corp: it’s inherent in their name. They pass off the image of guerilla spontaneity, as if to say at any given moment they will cease their pre-existing pattern of movement and grab whatever item is close at hand and turn it into some kind of drum. In this gesture, they espouse a theory of art and music: making the objects come alive in a rhythmic chorus. We’ve all grown accustomed to seeing a dazzling urbanite construct an ad-hoc drumkit out of cans, discarded oil drums, buckets and what not, and we’ve seen him strategically place himself in the center of urban commotion. Street Drum Corps reproduce the feeling such spontaneous perfomance can induce in passers-by.

There is so much energy in watching what these street performers do, however, that a mere audio reproduction of it denies the visual stimulation such a scene engenders. We may hear the driving rhythms these ad-hoc musicians create, but even for the most imaginative listener, the CD fails miserably in providing that same energetic imagery. Luckily for Street Drum Corp, in addition to the CD they’ve given us a DVD. So when we listen to a track like “Bang!!” and we hear chiming, whistling, and bells and wonder what exactly it is that they’re hitting to reproduce that sound, we can see for ourselves. If only for sheer entertainment value, it’s impressive to witness the wide arsenal of percussive items these guys use uses to create the driving pulse one hears. However, if the album had been released sans DvD, Street Drum Corps’ guerilla-spontaneous art ethic would not be fully realized.

Some confusion may arise as to whether or not they want to be received as musicians trying to do something that is both musical and unique, or if they are trying to be performers producing material that will appeal to audiences with an interest in “spontaneous” art. I put the word spontaneous in quotations because, much like countries that have the word Democratic in their name, music that claims to be spontaneous often is not. If one ventures to Street Drum Corps’ website, they will see that the group is just as commodified, easily marketable, and somewhat plastic as any other. Their website states: “Street Drum Corps are featured in the new Las Vegas reality show Inked, which debuted on the A&E channel… Street Drum Corps have launched their own merchandise line which includes men’s and women’s apparel, custom drumsticks, a custom drum shoe, and a metronome watch is in production,” etc. One of the appeals of so-called street performances and music is that it provides a break in the disciplined, programmatic routine of modern living. Hence, when we see someone banging away on an empty bucket in the middle of a busy intersection of any bustling metropolis, comparisons to some unfettered id abound. It is untrammeled energy (or at least that’s what we ascribe to it). We might even say, “Whoa, look at that guy cut loose.” As I’ve said, Street Drum Corps try to reproduce this spontaneous ethic, but in the end they in turn prostitute this ethic out to advertisements, endorsements, logos, and marketing.

However, while this may tarnish their intent, it certainly doesn’t hinder the music. I think the group will find its audience among hardcore percussionists and those interested in music that adds a rhythm and pace to modern living. The rhythmic passages are driving, and Alt / Alt / Zummo understand how to work polyrhythmic variations into their tracks. It might not be as complex a rhythmic passage as Frank Zappa’ s “Black Page,” but their ideas are impressive and at least provide some notable work. For that reason, it’s not as easy for one to dismiss them as individuals trying to commercialize something.