A Drumadic Time in New York With William B. Johnson

As I stood in New York's Mercury Lounge, after walking what felt like the length of Manhattan, my feet ached. When I plonked myself down I realized, to my delight, that I rested next to William B. Johnson. Former bucket drummer to Alicia Keys during "The Diary of Alicia Keys" tour, Wil and I spent the evening comparing the onslaught of bands that addressed the stage. Having intrigued me by claiming to be very good with his hands only seconds after introducing himself, he confidently assured me that whilst his own band Drumadics was very different, he could blow these other kinds of performances out of the water -- or off the stage, as it were.

Subsequently, he invited me to his practice session at The Studio on the West Side of Manhattan to prove his point. The only other musicians I'd met in New York up until now were from Williamsburg. On the whole they were pouty, bar-sitting notebookers (anyone who has been there will know only too well what I'm talking about). Wil, who lives on the Upper East Side, is jocular and affable; he's someone who doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. And for this reason I made the assumption that his band might be just a little better than amateur. How wrong I was.

This is a 10-piece percussion and horn band made up of Afro-centric funk and hip-hop geniusness, fused with a shovel of soul. Like a body needs organs to survive, each of the musicians in Drumadics is party to producing exceptional music vital to the band's success. Wil, however, is the heart. As musical director he uses his skill, knowledge and expertise to keep the band beating. Modestly, he credits Drumadics' success on their combined collaboration. Every one of the musicians, for Wil, is a musical painter, and he wholly encourages them to be creative, celebrated by them becoming musical narrators within his symphony of songs, and grabbing ownership of the spotlight.

As I looked on at their arrangement at The Music Studio it was like looking at an alternative version of Noah's Ark. The band was symmetrically formed and went two-by-two according to instrument type. With Wil sitting on one bucket and drumming on the other (yes, that's right, simply an empty paint bucket) I was astounded by the variety of sound and the amount of depth he produced. And watching him was quite mesmerizing.

Overall, their sound -- as diverse as it's players -- is a juxtaposition. In many ways it has structure, form and is like musical prose. It's rehearsed. However, it is simultaneously rejected for a sound that is experimental, improvised and colorful. In parts it's comparative to bebop jazz for it's aural mayhem, which is Wil's intention; he wants the music to sound as free as possible.

Like so many musicians who start out in New York, Drumadics began down in the subway. They've since emerged above ground, accompanied the likes of Mya and Mary J. Blige, and played major events such as The Grammy Awards and The American Music Awards. Their bigger plan, of course, is to go global. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thrilled to hear this -- I'll be the first in line to buy a ticket to any of their shows. To listen to them is one thing; they are astounding. To actually watch them is something else. You can't help but stop in your tracks as your chin hits the floor (whilst you also indulge in some boot tapping and body shaking). Their performance is visually spectacular.

Drumadics offers a range of music that is upbeat, insightful and gives the listener a symbolic slice on New York culture. You're never admiring the band's shoes because everything else seems to pale in comparison. Honestly, I couldn't tell you whether they were even wearing shoes. For me, this is one of the new sounds of the moment. And, yes, I'm very excited.