Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stand Up (bass) and be counted

There's only so long a music critic can sit around in his dressing gown and clog-slippers critiquing other people's work without feeling guilty for not contributing to the world himself... He begins to feel like a hypocrite. So as part of Time Out's January issue – "New Year A New You" theme, I learnt a new instrument – the double bass. I've wanted to have a crack at it for years. From a combined love of rockabilly like Stray Cats and The Living End to hiphop like The Roots and the genre-bending weirdness of Soul Coughing, the double bass has always sparked my interest. I think I should stick to critiquing... I wasn't as cool as Lee Rocker here, that's for sure.

From: Time Out
It’s a guilty pleasure, my love for the cartoonish subculture of rockabilly, typified by the Stray Cats with their high hair and brothel creepers and of course the double bass. Undeniably cool, the double bass is at home within soulful hip-hop, smooth jazz, trembling orchestra and, of course, thumping rockabilly. After years of sitting behind a drum kit, it’s time for me to stand up and swing with the object of my affection.
Koen Nutters, Conservatorium van Amsterdam graduate has been exploring the outer limits of the double bass for some 12 years now but, for my benefit, he goes back to the start. A demonstration sees his hand run up and down the neck, his four fingers moving so quickly they blur into eight. The sound is smooth and pure, with an organic resonance that's absent in the more common electric bass.
Alas, what was a noble beast in Koen’s hands is a cumbersome monster in mine. His hundred-year-old instrument stands a foot taller than me; holding it I’m immediately little and lost. My strumming fingers pluck feebly while my left hand has dexterity issues. Koen dispenses tips to rein it in; thumb here, digits wide, ring finger aids the pinky. If I continue with the lessons I can to expect calluses and painful fingertips, especially with the heavy finger-plucking necessary for rockabilly.
Eventually the scales tip in my favour and I find my groove – not the rumbling roll or jazzy cool that my specially selected hat suggests, more like a tightrope walker rushing to complete every step on the wire – but a groove nonetheless.
Mainly it’s bum notes, hissing and whining punctuated with occasional purrs and growls. A Stray Cat I may not yet be, but maybe one day I’ll rock this town, rock it inside out.

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