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Thursday, February 10,2011

Drum and bass and metal is massive

Pendulum keeps swinging forward

By P.J. Nutting

Pendulum is, in one UK-inflected word, massive. So massive that the rock-electro hybrid, consisting of three core members and three touring live musicians, will spend nearly every day of February splitting up across the globe to facilitate heavy-hitting live shows in the States and DJ sets squeezed in wherever globally possible. Bassist/DJ Gareth McGrillen was “just chilling in Montreal” when Boulder Weekly caught up with him on the phone. McGrillen had just finished a DJ set alongside group member Paul Harding after an appearance at Madison Square Garden and a sold-out headlining show at Irving Plaza in New York.

Pendulum cultivates an incredibly accessible sound by way of NASA-grade, airtight production that allows head-banging and ass-shaking to merge into one. “Most of our members come from a producer background,” McGrillen says, “and Rob [Swire, vocalist/producer] is one of the best engineers I’ve ever known. It’s the most important thing; that’s what consumes our life. And that’s why, first and foremost, everything we do is self-produced and self-engineered.”

It takes a fleet of buses and an entire Peterbilt truck to haul Pendulum’s live show across America, a full trailer of instruments, guitar cabs, preamps and processing units. Their live shows are some of the most hardware-intricate in today’s electronic music: The group reverse-engineers its albums onstage to perfectly replicate its studio sound.

“We take the whole show into the studio and we remix the instruments to have it match how it does on the album,” McGrillen says. “In a sense, we take the entire mix, piece by piece and channel by channel, and transpose it into the live rig. We’ve got ProTools Venue System out front so all the mastering and presets are done by MIDI, so right down to the obscure, third-party plug-ins we use on certain vocals and guitars, we’re literally recreating it live.”

The result is unique. In the last year, Pendulum showcased their accessibility through support slots at huge festivals on both sides of the pond. In one weekend, Pendulum opened for Tisto at London’s Victoria Park, then for Iron Maiden and 80,000 metal fans at the Sonisphere Festival.

“To do that was a bit of a pinnacle kind of moment for us,” McGrillen says, “because it showed us, the world and our fans really how much we span both genres.

“And to be honest with you, the set didn’t really change a whole lot. … We just shuffled some songs around, really,” McGrillen says, citing dance-y tracks from the band’s 2008 album In Silico for the Tisto crowd and newer, more bombastic tunes like “Self Vs. Self ” (featuring vocalist Anders Fridén from Swedish metal group In Flames) getting two horns up from Sonisphere. “It did change but it didn’t change drastically,” McGrillen said. “It wasn’t like two different bands on two different days. It was still us.”

The dual-identity crisis has proven the easiest with which to fault Pendulum. The band has survived its most unforgiving years. From the start, their first incarnation as a nu-metal group instantly stirred boos and hisses from those in the dance community. Then, smitten with the sounds of early drum and bass acts like Konflict, Shy FX and Goldie, the core trio moved from Australia to London in order to dive headfirst into the genre, subsequently championing the scene with the platinum release of Pendulum’s first album, 2006’s Hold Your Colour. But their breakthrough sophomore album, 2008’s In Silico, also going platinum in the UK, was then declared traitorous as the band sought to bring back its rock roots.

“In Silico was tough. It was self-conflicted second-album syndrome and we kind of chased our tails. In a way, we hate that album,” McGrillen laughs. “We love it for what it’s worth, but as an album it was so difficult to write. The whole idea behind that album was like, let’s do an electronic album but let it be influenced by what we’re listening to, like Led Zeppelin and surf rock, and heavier rock like Meshuggah and In Flames.

“We were always so afraid that we were going to be stuck on an iceberg floating in between two countries, one of them being drum and bass and one of them being rock, and that no one was going to swim out and meet us,” McGrillen says. “We just had to bite the bullet and understand it was a risk we were taking and just stick to our guns and make what we want to make. We learned a lot of lessons on that album, so when it came time to do Immersion it wrote itself, basically. It was a lot of fun, and it wasn’t angst and anguish.”

Immersion immediately claimed the No. 1 spot in the UK, outselling Glee the Music, Vol. 3, by almost 14,000 records, and sent their highest-ever charting single “Watercolour” to No. 4 on the UK charts. The album also showcases collaborations with prog-rocker Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree and Liam Howlett of The Prodigy as well as In Flames’ Anders Fridén.

Drum and bass has caused Pendulum the lion’s share of drama, but it has become an irrevocable part of their heavy brand of sound. McGrillen agrees it’s like being married to a really sexy alcoholic.

“Definitely,” McGrillen responds.

“You have to take the good with the bad, and she’s got a great ass.”

Drum and bass is still America’s dark corner of electronic dance music — possibly because it’s such a London cultural product, and London culture, especially when backed against Boulder culture, has a much more in-your-face attitude. However, the same goes for dubstep, which has blown up Boulder’s college scene in recent years. McGrillen argues that there’s a definite reason for that.

“Dubstep was always going to beat drum and bass to the pop, because it instantly appeals to everybody,” he says. “Hip-hop culture is so massive because of America, and when you get a beat that’s crunk like that, it’s just gonna instantly appeal to everyone. You’re gonna get black people, white people, Hispanic people; they find that crunk kind of hip-hop-esque vibe really appealing.

“[Drum and bass] is fast, and it’s got an aggressive energy. People that like rock and metal seem to be attracted to it. And it’s an electronic genre, I think it’s the most intense, palatable electronic genre, and it’s very diverse as well. It can be dainty jazz or it can be death metal. In a way, it’s just a tempo, and you can work within the confines of the tempo and do anything with it.

“England is so small, and the amount of drum and bass going on weekly was just massive, whereas I think a lot of the bigger drum and bass artists weren’t visiting America a lot. The drum and bass scene has kind of always been as big as it is in London, because that’s a popular destination but no one in drum and bass is really often visiting Tucson, Arizona, or Minnneapolis. … Because America is such a big place, the scene nationwide is never really able to grow that big. It’s always going to be big in L.A. It’s always going to be big in New York. It’s the middle bit that really defines the genre.”

On the Bill:

Pendulum plays the Ogden Theatre on Wednesday, Feb. 16.

Doors at 7 p.m. Must be 16 to enter. Innerpartysystem and DJ Fury open. Tickets are $33.75 including service charges.

935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-830-2525.


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