Seeing Kevin Sawka on the drums is the only way to believe the hype. He can play the most complex of jungle, drum’n’bass and breakbeats utilizing no loops and no extended samples
only his two hands and two feet. If you can catch him in the right moment –live, at a show, or in a studio session you’ll witness him perform each and every 808 bass kick, snare slap, and compressed highhat tick himself, in real-time.
“I’d like to be able to play like that all the time, however, live, I want to give the people the fully-produced, complex sound I’m envisioning, so I not only play the drums, but I manually trigger the basslines, melodies, riffs and now even the light show and projections with my drums –so it’s a lot harder to focus on playing every single little single sound with my sticks. But it’s like I’m playing even more with my sticks lately, not less.”
10 years ago
when drum’n’bass was very near it’s zenith in popularity, and Kevin was playing in prominent rock bands in Seattle (grunge was huge) someone played him an LTJ Bukem track, and, as he says, “It scorched my brain. I dropped everything, and focused solely on how to recreate that on the drums.” He heard Dieselboy as well. More brain-scorching. He started writing utilizing the style, and honed his new concepts and approach to the drums. He debuted the new sound in the band 94th Street, a band years ahead of it’s time: a pop drum’n’bass band with a sense of humor. While the band didn’t gain much momentum, the word about Kevin was out: there’s a drummer in Seattle who’s performing jungle and drum’n’bass beats on acoustic drums, what was once thought to be absolutely impossible by any human. And here Kevin was making it look easy -like watching a jazz drummer who’s said to play “like water flowing,” Kevin instead was doling out insanely syncopated d’n’b.
Word spread quickly. Seattle resident superstars were checking him out. Michael Shrieve, drummer for Santana for many years and lover of drum’n’bass, took him under his wing and showed him off to anybody and everybody: Andy Summers of the Police, Bill Frisell, Amon Tobin, Jack Dejohnette, Will Calhoun, and many more. Kevin at this time was playing an amazing next-generation drumkit: a custom half-acoustic, half electronic drum kit with one diabolically huge kick drum, one insanely tiny kick drum, three snares, a multitude of trashy sounding cymbals & saw blades, a few electronic drum pads and all the acoustic drums set to electronic triggers. His band at the time
still ahead of it’s time was the all-improvisatory avant-garde drum’n’bass trio Siamese. They toured the country multiple times in ‘02 and ’03, bringing down the house in San Francisco at latenight afterparties and raves; in New Orleans during Jazzfest; opening for LTJ Bukem and MC Conrad in Portland; and, put simply, slaying nay-sayers and dropping the jaws of industry, musicians and fans nationally by performing astonishingly long sets of uptempo jungle and d’n’b without set breaks -without even breaks between songs. Again, seeing is believing.
Throughout this timeframe Kevin was always recording his own material, which is now seeing the light of day with his present project “that will never break up”
KJ Sawka. Breaks, drum’n’bass, IDM-based and reminiscent of an uptempo Ninja-Tune-like style, the tracks on Synchronized Decompression –and now Cyclonic Steel should evoke the pioneering work of Sawka’s main influences: Amon Tobin and Squarepusher, with a bit of Noisia and Boards of Canada. Using some of Seattle’s most widely-known underground female singers, they bring a balance of Seattle darkness, moodiness and beauty. Live and in the dj scene, Sawka is pushing the envelope with his one-man balls-to-the-wall dancefloor show, which now does include a laptop, samplers, loops, and a rack of gear to produce a full-on production -plus projections, live-action cameras, and intelligent. For many live music venue gigs, Kevin also employs a full featuring ethereal female vocals, a keyboardist, and a cellist performing similar material in an in-your-face way that only the reverse-engineering, seemingly bionic Mr. Sawka can bring.
Welcome, to the 21st Century.