Adam Betts – Colossal Squid: Exclusive Album Stream

Drummer with tectonic-plate shifting instrumental electronic outfit Three Trapped Tigers releases his debut solo album, Colossal Squid, streaming exclusively with The Independent

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As a member of Emperor Yes, The Heritage Orchestra and most notably for fans of super-human, tub-whackery, Three Trapped Tigers, Adam Betts has gained a reputation as one of the most innovative, skin-bashers in modern 21st century music. Utilising technology in the form of a variety of different effects, samples and triggers, and combining them with a ferocious, bonzo-channeling, technical proficiency, Betts is not only extremely adept at his instrument but also seeks to push the boundaries of what one person can do behind a drum-kit. The results of this experimentation can be heard on his debut album, the rather gloriously titled Colossal Squid, which is set for release through Blood and Biscuits on Friday 25th November, but you can hear the album in its entirety 11 days before official release below.

The material on Colossal Squid really started to take shape in 2015, as Betts twiddled his dextrous thumbs whilst waiting for the release of Three Trapped Tigers’ second full-length, Silent Earthling. The delay, which he simply and politely puts down to ‘label shenanigans’ allowed him the time to experiment with a few solo ideas he had been developing which fellow Three Trapped Tigers cohort Tom Rogerson encouraged him to try out in front of a live audience. ‘He's definitely the person that saw potential in my very vague idea’ says Betts ‘and then pushed me to put together a set by offering me a gig. He runs an improv night at the Servant Jazz Quarters (in Dalston, East London) called Proof Positive, which is a really cool place for people to get up on-stage and try stuff out. He goaded me into doing a solo set because I’d been umm-ing and ahh-ing over doing one for quite some time and it was beautiful, I mean you couldn't have asked for a nicer first gig! It wasn’t fully formed at that point, there was a lot of 'here's a fun sound on a drum kit, I'll just play a beat for a minute or two and then move on to the next beat’ so it didn't really go anywhere. But as an opportunity to sit there and just try it out in front of people, it was instrumental in making me realise that there was actually something there.’

Colossal Squid is the sound of Betts continuing to fuse his cacophonous octo-armed drumming with synths, samples and electronic flourishes. Using software developed by Berlin-based music tech innovators Ableton enables him to create melodic sequences that are programmed and linked up to individual drums on his kit. They can then be triggered live and manipulated using a multitude of different effects to create the tumultuous tapestry that Betts so intricately and painstakingly weaves. ‘The preparation is key to making the whole thing work,’ says Betts ‘I would often find an idea would come to me from playing around with an Ableton effect on the kit and I could have easily turned that into a self-indulgent exercise by making it this long-form, hour and a half, krautrock, drone, psych jam. But the real fun of it was turning these ideas into 3 – 4 minute songs that had movement and progression. And that’s where the preparation really comes in; you stack up all these various different synths, samples and effects, until you get to the point where the computer just looks like one colossal spreadsheet. It's a pretty blimin’ dreary process getting it all ready but the excitement comes in knowing that you’re getting ready to play all this stuff live, and that’s really fun!’  

The live component is something Betts has always been keen to incorporate throughout his musical career, so much so that an early version of Colossal Squid, recorded over a few months in various studios around London, was scrapped in favour of the live takes that make up the record. Recorded in just one session, it was felt that these recordings captured an enthralling energy and spontaneity that instantly usurped their previous studio counterparts. Having been schooled in jazz (at the Royal Academy of Music, although he quietly confesses that he ‘doesn’t really enjoy much jazz beyond 1970’) Betts views the recorded versions of the songs as merely blueprints to be deconstructed, reconstructed and improvised around in a live environment. After all, watching someone as masterful as Betts punish the kit is a far more visceral way to experience a live show then seeing someone press some buttons on an Apple Mac. ‘So much electronic music is virtuosic in terms of the writing but there's a difference between virtuosic writing and virtuosic performance’ he says. ‘A gig should make you feel 'Wow, this interaction is really happening right now!' and I think that's always been a challenge for electronic guys. Live gigs are all about connecting with people and using the drums as an interface to trigger the electronics feels like a good way to make that connection. If I just press some buttons and twiddle some knobs up on stage, I can't make it rock out as well as what I've been doing on the drums for so long.’

This approach of playing electronic music live has been beyond many for a long time, but the advances in music technology have now reached a point where it is possible to control and manipulate electronic music in a live environment. Betts points to the Norwegians as innovators in this field, citing labels such as Rune Grammofon and artists like Thomas Strønen and Supersilent as people playing electronic music with an almost improvised jazz-y feel. He also brings up Punkt, a festival started in 2005 that Brian Eno invited Three Trapped Tigers to play, where concerts are routinely remixed live. ‘The two key guys behind Punkt are Jan Bang and Erik Honoré and they’re both virtuosos who can play samplers as if they were conducting an orchestra. Jan has this sampler that’s so old, it still takes floppy discs! Whilst we played a set in 2012, they were stood behind us sampling our gig and they then improvised a show using our melodies, our synth parts, our drum parts; it’s totally incredible! It’s effectively melding the worlds of jazz and electronic music to create this virtuoso jamming electronica. It’s astonishing to watch and it's so weird that it's evolved and coming out of Norway! I think it must be something to do with the combination of the folkloric, improvised, ambient music and they're love and total ease with technology. There’s a huge scene developing there for what is basically improvised electronic folk.’

Betts is clearly enthused and inspired by the fusing of technology and music, but is also passionate about retaining that raw, untamed, punk spirit that comes from live performance. They’ll be a few live dates supporting Colossal Squid before he gets down the business of writing Three Trapped Tigers album number 3 alongside fellow Tigers Matt Calvert and Tom Rogerson. He describes the original idea behind their music as being ‘basically Aphex Twin as played by a punk three-piece’ which is probably the most succinct way that anybody has ever described such a complex, forward-thinking band. ‘I definitely think there will always be freedom in what I do’ he says. ‘Going forward, we’re definitely thinking about going in a slightly more improvised direction with Tigers; perhaps it would be nice to loosen it up a bit. As it is, what we do is very set in stone; it has to be, that’s the nature of the beast and that’s fun because it makes our music very direct and powerful. I think we approach Tigers as a rock band, I certainly play in that band like a rock drummer. I’m on the cymbals all the time and it’s derived from metal as much as it is from Squarepusher. But it would be nice to hear what we sound like with a bit of a looser feel. We're about to start writing early next year, just so there’s not a five year gap between albums, so we'll see what happens then.’ 

Colossal Squid is released via Blood and Biscuits on Friday 25th November and is available to pre-order now. Adam Betts plays an album launch show at Servant Jazz Quarters on Tuesday 29th November

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