Ian Chang's pioneering electronic/acoustic hybrid drumming style
Long gone are the days when acoustic drums and drum technology were considered separate mediums, though few drummers have melded electronic tools and acoustics into their unique style quite as well as the prolific Brooklyn drummer Ian Chang. Chang, a Hong Kong native, is a highly musical player that makes his own music utilizing the groundbreaking Sensory Percussion technology integrated into his C&C Drum & Istanbul Agop set-up. A prolific band member and touring drummer as well, Ian plays with Joan as Police Woman & Benjamin Lazar Davis, Son Lux, Landlady, Rubblebucket, and has played on over a dozen records.
I met Ian through another amazing Brooklyn drummer and a collaborator of mine, bandleader Ruben Sindo Acosta, with whom Ian and I both played as members of A Bunch of Dead People. I've been blown away by Ian's technique, musical sophistication, kindness, and ability to retain a unique and identifiable style while playing with very different bands. We conducted this interview via email.
Nick G: Your style seems as influenced by acoustic drummers as it is by both electronic/dance music and hip-hop. Was there a defining musical project or period in your life where you think what is now the “Ian Chang” sound locked in?
Ian: I play in a band called Father Figures that was most active from 2009-2011. It started out as a group of friends getting together periodically to improvise freely. Looking back, this was a very inspired time for me. We all encouraged each other to play from an honest place, and to avoid falling into anything too stylistically codified.
Though this period of time certainly shaped my sensibilities, I have changed alot since then and hope to continue to evolve as time goes on. It's just more exciting that way.
Nick G: As a drummer who works with so many different bands and different artists, how do you create drum parts that both fit the song while also allowing you to express yourself in a way that’s uniquely you?
Ian: For me the song has to always come before any individual. To start, I internalize the melody/ harmony and existing rhythmic information. Then I try to think about how I can best complement what is already there, whether that means highlighting a certain rhythmic motif in the bass line, leaving space for hushed vocals, hocketting my hihats to the guitar part... I'm always trying to find different ways to be supportive. It's such an open ended and intuitive process so it's kind of hard to talk about, but I think that the ultimate goal is to bring forth/ retain the spirit of the song.
Nick G: What was your introduction to experimenting with electronics in your drumming?
Ian: In 2009, I started playing for Body Language, who pushed me to incorporate electronics into my setup, as well as interpreting programmed beats for a live environment.
Nick G: Regarding your technique and physicality behind the kit. You hunch. You choke way up on your right stick. You throw your entire body into your playing. How do you think your physical comportment behind the kit developed, and how much of it is an intentional element of getting your sound?
Ian: Hah! I think that I have a lot of work to do to create healthier habits, and I wouldn't recommend using my physical style as an example for anyone.
Nick G: Two part question. Who was your first, most important drumming influence, and who are some of your favorite drummers right now?
Ian: The reason I started drumming was this kid who I went to school with named Mark Lung. He played a drum solo to the mission impossible theme at a school assembly and it totally blew my mind. That's when I knew I wanted to play the drums.
I love so many current drummers... here are a few- Marcus Gilmore, Deantoni Parks, Zach Saginaw (Shigteo), Mike Johnson (Dirty Projectors), Austin Tufts (Braids), Stefan Schneider (Luyas).
Nick G: For acoustic drummers thinking about experimenting with some electronic elements behind the kit, where would you recommend they start?
In terms of approach, I would recommend doing exactly what many do when they first get into acoustic drumming, which is to emulate. For example, you could do a drum and electronics cover of Idioteque by Radiohead. Ask yourself how you'd split up the programming between electronic samples and acoustic drums, where you'd find the sounds from, what technology you're going to use, and how can you put your own spin on it? I find that working backwards from a goal can be the most inspiring way to learn.
As for gear, I currently use Sunhouse's Sensory Percussion and the Roland SPDSX. The SPDSX is an industry standard and generally a good place to start, sensory percussion requires more experience with electronics but is much more nuanced.
Nick G: Are there drummers in New York you regularly get together and shed with?
Ian: I rarely have time to shed with other people, but here's a list of drummers that I consider to be NY fam- Booker Stardrum, Charlie Ferguson, Jeremy Gustin, Max Jaffe, Jason Burger, Cinque Kemp, Dave Cole, Bryan Bisordi, Miles Arntzen... the list is long.
Follow Ian via his FB page, and catch him on tour in your town:
With Joan As Policewoman & Benjamin Lazar Davis
11/16 Manchester, Gorilla
11/17 Hebden Bridge, Trades Club
11/18 Brighton, The Haunt
11/19 Portsmouth, Wedgewood Rooms
11/20 Bristol, Thekla
11/21 London, Heaven
11/23 Vienna, Wiener Konzerthaus
11/25 Rome, Monk Club
11/26 Bologna, Locomotiv Club
11/27 Milan, Magnolia
11/28 Zurich, Bogen F
11/30 Utrecht, Tivoli Vredenburg
12/01 Paris, FLOW
12/02 Brussels, Ancienne Belgique
12/04 Berlin, Heimathafen
12/05 Hamburg, Gruenspan
12/06 Aarhus, Voxhall
12/07 Copenhagen, Pumpehuset
12/11 Brooklyn, Baby's All Right
12/10 Brooklyn, The Bell House
01/19 Providence, Fete Music Hall
01/20 Boston, Paradise
01/21 Fairfield, The Warehouse
01/26 Albany, The Hollow
01/27 Ithaca, The Haunt
01/28 Philadelphia, Union Transfer