John Colpitts, better known as Kid Millions, began his musical journey as a teenager in Connecticut, playing classic rock covers in a band named after a pancake joint in California. From humble beginnings in Lakeville, best remembered by Colpitts as the town where the little known classic psych-folk album Red Hash was recorded by Gary Higgins, the percussionist and composer moved to Brooklyn full of dreams and naiveté to become one of the most respected and sought after drummers in New York City.
In addition to touring and recording with Spiritualized and Akron/Family respectively, he now primarily splits his time between two musical endeavors – the psychedelic experimentalist rock band Oneida, and Man Forever, the exploratory percussion project helmed by Colpitts, and featuring an impressive list of guest collaborators with the endurance and skill to play his technically complex compositions.
Man Forever was conceptually formed by Colpitts in 2010 after witnessing Lou Reed’s infamously polarizing Metal Machine Music performed by a chamber orchestra at Columbia University. The lengthy guitar feedback piece was transcribed and rearranged for the orchestra by LA-based German composer and saxophonist Ulrich Krieger, who inspired Colpitts to try something similar for the drums. Other influences on Man Forever’s sound include LaMonte Young, widely considered the first minimalist composer, and Colpitts’ percussion peer Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s.
Chase has released his own percussion project called Drums and Drones, and assisted Colpitts with a specific kind of tuning called Just Intonation for the first Man Forever recording. The name Man Forever, Colpitts said, came to him “in flash. It’s a persona. It’s a person who believes in the ability of mankind to solve all our self-imposed problems.”
As two sides of the same coin, Kid Millions may or may not share Man Forever’s intrinsic faith in humanity, but they do share the desire to push musical boundaries and create an ecstatic, pure sound experience. As a drum leader for 77 Boadrum, the circular drumming concert by 77 performers organized by Japanese noise band Boredoms in 2007, Kid Millions was an intrinsic part ofa communal and transformative musical performance piece that he found to be “totally life-changing.”
The layered effect of a multitude of drummers, and the subsequent drones and sonic nuances produced by repetitive music is central to the compositions of Man Forever. The complexity of patterns created by variegated drum rolls combine to anchor the seemingly dissonant surface. The effect of the subtle shifts within the progression of the music is amplified by the volume and duration of Man Forever’s frenetic live performances.
The first recordings were achieved by Colpitts playing drums carefully tuned to maximize harmonics overdubbed dozens of times, and augmented by bass guitar. For his latest album, Ryonen, Colpitts recorded with So Percussion, the nations premier ensemble of percussionists, who are well suited to perform his meditative workouts. The members of So Percussion met while students at the Yale School of Music, and in addition to performing classic and contemporary percussion ensemble repertoires, they compose their own large-scale works featuring unusual percussion instruments. Ryonen combines the restless energetic expressionism of Colpitts with the informed precision and contemporary style of So Percussion.
The album title was taken from the Zen story of a woman who aspired to be a Buddhist nun, but was turned away from the temple because of her beauty. Ryonen, which means to realize clearly, decides to burn her face and destroy her beauty, thus allowing her to be accepted as a disciple. “The Clear Realization,” one of two tracks on the 30 minute record, is an “exploration in poly rhythm performed on two drums sets, two sets of bongos, a concert bass drum, snares, crash cymbals, and vocals.” Each instrument is played in a different time signature from the rest, but all are played at the same tempo. The second track, “Ryonen” focuses on the resonance of the drum tuning, which creates overtones that hover over the seemingly chaotic conflagrance of repetitions and rhythms of the drumming beneath.
The astounding technicality of these compositions may only be fully understood by the musically trained minority, but Colpitts is committed to creating a palpable sonic landscape that can be appreciated by the music loving majority.
Though Colpitts admitted that “percussion-based music can be marginalized” he finds that Man Forever performances are energizing for his audience, and he strives to create a “nurturing environment for ecstatic experienced .” This can be difficult, he said, at a large festival, but the intimacy of The Southern, where Colpitts will be joined on stage by classically trained percussionists Carson Moody, Matt Evans, and Amy Garapic of New York-based TIGUE, will certainly be conducive to the crowd getting “their faces blown off” (in a good way!) by the sheer power of will and immersive performance of this modern drumming master. —Cassady Fernandez
$10-12, 8:30. The Southern Cafe and Music Hall, 103 S. First St. 977-5590. Kepone and Horsefang open.