Perhaps it’s not entirely accurate to say that a band is only as good as its drummer. After all, countless examples suggest otherwise.
Still, there’s no underestimating the value that a resourceful, technically proficient drummer brings to the table. A top-rate rhythm jockey is not merely the icing on the cake but the fondant holding the thing together. He/she is the flour and sugar and butter that combined makes the batter—the vanilla extract and artificial coloring and strawberry garnish. All of which is to say that good drumming make a difference.
Below are our picks for the most accomplished, interesting, and all-round influential drummers in alternative music today.
Stephen Drozd – The Flaming Lips
In addition to being one of the most imaginative drummers in modern rock, Drozd also plays keyboard and guitar live for the ‘Lips. Since joining the band in 1991, Drozd has seen his role gradually transition from drummer to songwriter. Nevertheless, Drozd remains a trailblazer on the skins.
Dan Snaith – Caribou
He may look unassuming but underneath those 3-foot thick spectacles is the brain of a percussive genius. The multi-instrumentalist behind Caribou and Manitoba, Snaith favors dense rhythms, and complex psych-pop polyrhythms for his tracks—preferences befitting a man with his academic background (Snaith has PhD in Overconvergent Siegel Modular Symbols from Imperial College London).
Bryan Devendorf – The National
Devendorf is what they call in the drum biz a “beast”. Off-kilter, muscular, and ever in command of his instrument, Devendorf can take formless songs and turn them into bulldozing indie rock.
Questlove – The Roots
Questlove is the unlikeliest of rock stars. A drummer for a hip-hop band who doesn’t sing, and isn’t prone to controversy or lascivious behavior. Born Ahmir Khalib Thompson, Quest is simply a jaw dropping technician with stunning breadth of musical knowledge (he’s also a music critic and DJ in his spare time), and a whole lot of style.
Chris Bear – Grizzly Bear
Not only is Chris Bear one of the most appropriately named dudes in indie rock. But he’s also one of the genre’s great outside-the-box percussionists. Influenced by jazz more than straight rock n’ roll, Bear is a triplet-loving, syncopation-enthusiast with unpredictable snare placement and an ear for song-stealing fills.
Jaleel Bunton – TV On the Radio
With his groovy, hip-hop inflected rhythms and ungodly power, Bunton may not get the same fanfare as some of his bandmates, but he’s just as responsible for the band’s continued success.
Logan Kroeber – The Dodos
As one half of the San Fran duo The Dodos, Kroeber fills an impressive amount of space with his syncopated, ticky-tacky, drum lines. Combining Kroeber’s experience in metal bands with singer Meric Long’s background in West African Ewe drumming, the two found breakout success in 2007 with their brilliant second album Visitor.
Zach Hill – Death Grips
There’s no mistaking Zach Hill for anyone else on the skins. With both Death Grips and other more noise-inclined experimental projects (not that Death Grips isn’t hella noisy and experimental themselves), Hill favors de-tuned toms, tricky double-strokes on the bass drum, and harsh sounding “trash” symbols. With his love of playing on “beat down shit,” and tonally unique style, he may be the most exciting drummer in alternative music today.
Honourable Mentions: Sebastien Grainger (Death From Above 1979), Loel Campbell (Wintersleep), Doug MacGregor (The Constantines), Joe Easley (The Dismemberment Plan), Greg Saunier (Deerhunter)