Anyone can lay down a beat but can you keep up with sporadic time changes on the drop of a drumstick? This month, JUICE gets calculative with Math Rock…
WHAT IS MATH ROCK?
You might be wondering how Math and Rock could possibly be related. Apart from drummers shouting “1-2-3-4”, creating rhythm is actually a very mathematical process.Â Most Rock and Pop music uses a steady 4/4 beat that is easy to catch or dance to. Math Rock, on the other hand, is like a mad scientist trying to crack quantum physics. The bands of this genre take pleasure in being rhythmically erratic and unpredictable.
Math Rock’s characteristics include constant beat changes, irregular pauses, criss-crossing melodies and clashing chords. Think of the technicality of Progressive Rock merged with the rapid-fire energy of Punk Rock, stirred up with the surprise element of No Wave, and you’re somewhere near the dismantling effect of Math Rock.
Lyrics are generally not the focus of Math Rock with the voice treated as just another instrument. Often, vocals are mixed at a low volume, as in the recording style of Steve Albini. Many famous Math Rock bands are entirely instrumental, such as Don Caballero or Hella, though both have experimented with singers.
Math rock groups often give their albums and songs unusual titles like Don Caballero’s album What Burns Never Returns and songs ‘In the Absence of Strong Evidence to the Contrary, One May Step Out of the Way of the Charging Bull’ and ‘Delivering the Groceries at 138 Beats Per Minute’.
HOW DID IT START?
During the late 80s, Math Rock emerged alongside Post Rock in the underground music scene of the American Midwest.
Some earlier bands share similarities like using instruments for textures rather than melodies and featuring offbeat rhythms.
Soon the genres diverged: Math Rock concentrated on complex rhythms while maintaining its Rock-ish aggression and Post Rock expanded its soundscape by using Rock instruments for non-Rock purposes.
Canadian Punk Rock group Nomeansno, founded in 1979, has been cited by critics as a “secret influence” on Math Rock, predating the genre by more than a decade.
FAMOUS MATH ROCKERS
â€¢Â Â Â Giraffes? Giraffes!
â€¢Â Â Â Tera Melos
â€¢Â Â Â Battles
â€¢Â Â Â Don Caballero
â€¢Â Â Â Polvo
â€¢Â Â Â Chavez
MATH ROCK INFLUENCES
â€¢Â Â Â Black Flag’s My War
â€¢Â Â Â 20th century composers: Igor Stravinsky, John Cage and Steve Reich
â€¢Â Â Â The free jazz of John Zorn’s Naked City
â€¢Â Â Â Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Yes, Rush, King Crimson, Gong and Pink Floyd
HOW MATH ROCK CHANGED JAPAN
Math Rock is huge in Japan with many early groups exporting their music back to US, in turn, influencing later American Math Rock bands. Popular Japanese Math Rock bands include Zeni Geva and Ruins, with Yona-Kit being a collaboration between Japanese and US musicians.
MATH ROCK POSTER BOYS
Battles – credited for making Math Rock fun and accessible.
Killeur Calculateur fuses Math Rock with Punk and Screamo in their explosive sets.
MATH ROCK MATH
Ten Feet Cymbal + Munchkins + Robots = Battles
NomeansNo + Fugazi + The Undead = Killeur Calculateur