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Here’s What Happens When You Listen to Nothing But a Kick Drum for An Entire Day

Can man live on a kick alone? We investigate.
This article appeared originally on THUMP UK.

The other morning, lying in bed, listening to James Martin yammering away in the background, I started thinking about just how omnipresent the kick drum has been in my life. So I decided to explore the humble thud and devote an entire day to listening, really listening, to a kick drum.

In lieu of being able to afford an actual drum machine that I could plonk on my desk and hook up to the office stereo, the easiest option was to let the virtual take over. So that's what I did.


Running to Google was an almost overwhelming experience—I was astounded by the level of drum machine choice at my disposal. Who knew so many kind souls out there in this awful world had devoted their time to creating virtual replications of drums? In fact, the sheer amount of options was overwhelming and a creeping sense of anxiety enveloped me. It was like being drunk in Subway.

After spending literally seconds hovering with indecision, I plumped for the HTML5 Drum Machine because the name was nice and sturdy, which seemed important when about to embark on the kind of endurance test that medical professionals would normally advise training for. For months. As I'd done no such preparation, normative determinism became the guiding principle.

With the link clicked, I was presented with a pristine digital interpretation of something that looked a little like a Poundland version of the Roland TR-808 we all know and love. I felt safe, secure, and steady. She was a creamy controller and I couldn't wait to get to grips with the unit. So that's exactly what I did.

10:05 AM

Setting up my day's soundtrack took mere seconds. I had the basic kick, but I needed to get the BPM right. 120 was fine, I liked 120, 120 was an easily swallowable kick, but it didn't feel quite right. The lower end of the scale—your cosmic disco territory—was going to send me into a slumber, and rocketing it right up to gabber speed would result in the kind of afternoon that sees you led into the HR warren, bloodied, confused, and profusely apologetic.

After a bit of tinkering I settled for the glorious speed of 125BPM. I'd always liked 125 as a DJ and it turned out that it was a great accompaniment to a day at work. It was five past ten, I had a coffee on the go, a banana in my hand, and a head full of dreams! This was the start of something beautiful!


Now, you might be wondering why anyone would think that listening to a kickdrum—just a kickdrum and nothing else, bar the occasional ooze of office ambience or a slither of human conversation—is worth doing in the first place, let alone writing about. The reason why I accepted the challenge of my own making was simple: this was about what it's like to be human.

Does that sound too flighty, too lofty, too ridiculously up-its-own-arse? Well, admittedly, it kind of does, yes. But—and here's an article-carrying but—a kickdrum—bear with me here—is essentially a replication of the heartbeat. Which, in a roundabout way, means that the kickdrum is elemental and primordial and has an incredibly deep-rooted connection to each and every one of us. By listening to what's essentially an amplified and hugely modulated version of the thing that keeps me eating crisps I thought I might find some deeper connection to both myself and to humanity as a whole. Yes, reader, I was going to delve deep into human nature and discover the meaning of everything while looking at Twitter and planning where to take my brother for lunch later in the week.

10:18 AM

After what felt like an hour but was actually 13 minutes, I'd begun to realise why people don't often listen to an unaccompanied kickdrum. It is, to put it bluntly, really fucking boring. And not boring in the way that the Antiques Roadshow, watercolour paintings, or new potatoes are boring. This was boring in an aggressive, heavy, domineering way. This was the deeply oppressive boredom of every teenage weekend you've tried to repress, and here it was drilling directly into my auditory cortex, like French homework that just won't go away.

11:05 AM

An hour in, an actual hour in, an hour in which I'd heard the same kick 7500 times (if my GCSE maths is correct), and I was no closer to understanding the human condition. I did, however, begin thinking about the nature of the kick. It's an anchor, a point of reference, a way of rooting ourselves within a record. I found myself thinking back to early encounters with dance music. Driving to the beach as a child with the radio on, what hit you was the ever-present thud of the 4/4. It was, is, and always will be, the sound of total propulsion, a way of negating any possibility of things moving anywhere but forward. It's also really easy to dance to when you're drunk.

1:20 PM

Hours passed; kicks kicked.


Lunchtime was a blessed relief because the kickdrum was augmented by the sound of my own mastication. Every chew of my hoisin duck wrap was like a momentary glimpse of heaven and I'd never felt so happy to hear the grip and slap of my own mouth before. The post-lunch lull, normally peppered by a quick catch-up with colleagues, become unnervingly unpleasant. The relentlessly unceasing thud of the kick's eternal doof-doof was leading me into a hallucinatory state.


I was convinced that there were nuanced tones emanating from the kick, unfurling ever so slowly. My previous experience of aural hallucination had come one night in Peckham a few years back. Stoned and sleepy, my state of lethargy was shattered by the almighty sound of a central alarm in my block of flats setting off every single other alarm in the building. Which no one but me responded to. For hours I waited for the arrival of the Southwark council noise pollution team, convinced beyond belief that the alarm was now ringing in song rather than tone. The whole sorry affair culminated in me being dragged into a stranger's car where I was proffered a crowbar and promptly told to smash the central command unit. This was a memory I didn't want to dwell on for too long.


In a Stockholm Syndrome way, I'd begun to nearly, sort of, possibly, maybe, acclimatise just a bit, a smidgen, to the non-stop thump of the 125BPM bullet that was pinging through both ears when it hit me: I had to nip out of the office for a meeting. Which meant that I was going to have to briefly slide myself out of the zone I'd been in since arriving. Removing my headphones, I took a few seconds to enjoy a moment of clarity. If I strained really hard I could hear the angels sing, I was sure of it.


The outside world was cacaphonic, an immense slab of sound competing for aural supremacy, a howling din that rumbles on infinitely. I was rudderless and confused, experiencing a kind of urban disorientation a la Walter Benjamin. I caught myself, stood at a pedestrian crossing, tapping out a 4/4 on my thigh. I caught myself in the meeting doing the same thing. The absence of rigidity had left me craving it. On the walk back to work my inner monologue was stuck on a loop. "One, two, three, four…one, two, three, four…one, two, three, four…"


Sat back at my desk, plugged back into the four to the floor matrix, my thoughts began to drift and float, almost (but never quite) freeing themselves from the kick drum. I thought about minimalism and space. I thought about how we've become enslaved—not to be too strong about it—to the 4/4 as the dominant means of communication because it offers us a continual sense of push and pull, of sustain and release, anticipation and pleasure. A simple kick says that everything is alright, that everything is steady, that reality's fluctuations are just that—they'll revert back again soon enough.


At this point I was faintly aware of a romanticisation taking place, a rationalisation of what had been, in real terms, a pointless experiment. In reality, I was still sat there listening to a pretty flat sounding approximation of a kick drum hammering away at 125 bloody BPM and, when I actually listened, actually took in what was going on, frustration and annoyance superseded any kind of wide-eyed wonder. When 6.30PM rolled round and I took my headphones off, I felt free. I had learned that man is capable of both anger and acceptance.


I got on the overground and put a mix on. It started with a kick. I was back.

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