When he was growing up in Tours, France, French-English hip-hop/electronic beatmaker, producer and finger drummer extraordinaire Beat Matazz dreamed of, much like his heroes AIR, being surrounded by analog synthesisers, sequencers, and drum machines. With time, as he fell in love with the music of Flying Lotus, Samiyam, Prefuse 73, James Blake, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Amon Tobin, caught their vibes, and began to build his own collection of customised studio gear and software. Electronic music production led him towards his current area of expertise: finger drumming.
Beat Matazz has been presenting his furiously funky finger drumming routines to live audiences since 2015, but earlier this year, he took things to a new level when he ousted all challengers to win the Sample Music Festival 2018 Finger Drumming Competition in Berlin with a ridiculous routine. Since then, he’s been building relationships with Herrmutt Lobby’s Playground App, Akai, and us here at Melodics. With an upcoming Melodics lesson based on his winning performance in the works, we spoke with him about finger drumming and his time at the competition. Check out his winning performance here (scroll to 2:33)
Could you talk a bit about your musical experiences before you started finger drumming?
I started out at age six as a classical percussionist, xylophone, marimba, and timbales. When I was a teenager, my teacher agreed to teach me drums as I wasn’t to keen on classical music. These experiences gave me the rhythmic skills to drum in many bands for many genres. I played pop, hip-hop, electro-funk, experimental, world music and even in a marching band.
How did you end up adding finger drumming to your skill set?
In parallel with drumming, I started using music software like Reason and Ableton to make music for fun. After years of composing, I became frustrated and bought my first Akai MPC500 [sampling workstation] off Leboncoin (the French version of Craiglist). Hardware-based beatmaking made sense to me, and a gigantic world opened up. It allowed me to link the unlimited creative paths afforded by software to a tactile instrument. I remember sampling George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ and thinking, “Oh my god this sounds like a perfect hip-hop instrumental!” At the time, I was attending an art school in Nantes. I was very focused on sound art and music. They kicked me out, which gave me the perfect opportunity to fully devote myself to music.
You discovered finger drumming by using the Akai MPC500. What was it about the process that inspired you to devote so much time to developing your skill-level?
I love the portability of pad controllers and the musical genres that rely on them. The research process you go through to create these very personal textures and sounds are very important to me. You can tune samples far more than you can tune a real snare drum. I can also put more of myself into the rhythms of the music by playing them. I love the trance state I enter when I’m in my home studio. Thanks to my previous drumming experience, and having created tracks with software, I already had the core skill sets. I just needed to combine them. I tweaked my finger positioning and started to work and play hard.
What sort of approach did you take when you started practicing your finger drumming?
I didn’t know what I was doing when I started. I’m very spontaneous when I create and have no habits. My approach is always the pursuit of pleasure, and feeling the desire to create. Since I started playing and making music, that hasn’t changed. My first sample mine was old vinyl I found in flea markets. Even the most shitty records sometimes have two chords that make my day. Fat basses are what I need to feel, so I got an old analog synth: the Korg MS-10 (plugged into the Korg SQ-10 sequencer). The people who designed that marvelous device where thirty years ahead of their time. It’s become a spine to my beats.
How did you transition into taking part in events like the SMF 2018 Finger Drumming Competition?
After spending years developing my techniques, I knew I had to make the world know what I’ve worked for. Last year, I won a battle in Paris at the Bataclan, a legendary 90s hip-hop venue. Being acknowledged by the hip-hop network changed how I looked at myself and my music. It also made me be more specific in my thinking around who would be hearing my music. Battle audiences know exactly why they’re at the end. Battling is so raw; you find out what the crowd thinks of you instantaneously.
What were your thoughts on the SMF 2018 Finger Drumming Competition in Berlin?
The skill level was very high in Berlin. The team was so nice and devoted, and so were the participants. When I was there, I understood that I had found my place. Geeks were able to scratch and jam for hours, with or without spectators. It was a space where musicians were speaking a common language, all with the feel of a real community, and the codes and sounds that quote the subculture. It was real and vibrant, and it felt so good to be part of that experience. The experience was great. We need to gather together and feel those vibes more often.