Bang out of order
As a former member of British rock band Siouxsie and the Banshees, drummer Budgie is used to experimental music. But his new project, The Butterfly Effect: East West Percussive Parade, really pushes the boundaries. 'What I like about this project is that it's free-form - there's no constant pulse,' he says. 'When I proposed the idea to the festival, they placed no restrictions on me. They just wanted me to come and play. It would be crazy to restrict myself when I haven't been asked to - so I've decided to push the boat out.'
The Butterfly Effect, which premieres this weekend at the New Vision Arts Festival, features three drummers from different regions: Budgie, taiko expert Leonard Eto from Japan and percussionist Mabi Thobejane from South Africa. Melodies are added by the cosmically-oriented Japanese guitarist Sugizo and former Banshees guitarist Knox Chandler. Budgie's idea is to improvise rhythms between the drummers on stage and give the guitarists free rein to play what they want over the top. The result should be a far-out fusion of disparate musical styles.
Budgie, 53, has played with each member of the impromptu outfit before and, knowing their musical styles, is confident the mega-jam session will come together on stage.
He worked with Ito on Hai, a 2002 album he recorded with The Creatures, an experimental group Budgie formed with fellow Banshee's singer - and ex-wife - Siouxsie Sioux. Ito plays the barrel-like taiko drums, which Budgie says are very different to Western drums.
'I'd heard Leonard's recordings, but we didn't meet until I was setting up my drums to record The Creatures LP with him,' he says. 'I hadn't seen taiko drums close-up before and found them astonishing. They have a very tight drum head - it's made of buffalo hide stretched over a big piece of wood - but there's still depth to the sound.
'I realised straight away his drumming technique was going to be different from how I'd imagined it. I knew I'd have to listen hard to work out where he was going to go.'
Music is often about finding the common ground in disparate styles and Budgie noticed some similarities, too. 'I'd tried to do my own version of taiko drumming by using a bass drum with a floppy drum head - I really used to pummel it! So I had some idea about it.
'I'm self-taught, and so I never learned the rudiments of Western drumming,' Budgie says, adding he doesn't hold the sticks in the usual jazz grip, but in a matched grip, whereby both hands have palms facing downwards. 'I noticed Leonard held his sticks like me.'
Many Western drummers have a fascination for African drums and rhythms. South African percussionist Mabi Thobejane, who Budgie previously worked with in the experimental group Juno Reactor, brings this element to the drum trio.
Budgie says his interest in tribal drums sprang not from music, but from a viewing of the British film Zulu! in his youth. 'There's one scene where the Zulu warriors appear on the horizon and they all hit their spears on their shields. The sound made a massive ripple effect. After hearing that, I decided that I wanted to try and make the sound of 100 drummers myself. I wanted to get my drum sound somewhere between that and the taiko drums.'
Budgie describes Japanese guitarist Sugizo as 'the magic dust on top of the sound'. 'He'll probably do fast arpeggios and play ethereal tunes and themes,' he says. 'The festival organisers nearly fell off their chairs when I mentioned him - I never realised he was such a big star in Asia.'
New York-based multi-instrumentalist Knox Chandler will be grounding the sound and holding things together: 'He's a very interesting player who uses a lot of loops when he improvises. I like to call him a landscape guitarist.'
Budgie, born Peter Clarke, wanted to be a drummer from a young age. 'I was always breaking chairs by bashing them,' he says. As a schoolboy, he performed in bands at working men's clubs for, he remembers, a good wage. By the time the British punk movement was emerging in the mid-70s, he'd given up music and was planning to become an art student. But when Liverpool punk band The Spitfire Boys needed a drummer, they talked him into joining.
Budgie then made a name for himself in Big In Japan - which featured Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Holly Johnson - and then joined English punk-reggae group The Slits. He joined Siouxsie And The Banshees at the height of their success in 1979 as a replacement for drummer Kenny Morris. It heralded the Banshee's most creative period with innovative albums Kaleidoscope and Juju.
'I'd had a brush with reggae on The Slits' album before I joined the Banshees,' Budgie recalls. 'So I realised that I could play anything on the drums that I wanted - I didn't have to play in a fixed style.'
Much of the innovation was, unexpectedly, the result of the Banshees' heavy touring schedule. 'We jammed a lot and wrote a lot during sound checks before gigs, as there was no time to do it anywhere else. It really fired our imagination. That time, in the early- to mid-80s, was a very creative period for me.'
Budgie also had a long career with The Creatures, a band that revolved around him and Siouxsie Sioux. The group originally started-off as a side project with a cover of The Troggs' Wild Thing, but evolved into an entity in its own right. The Creatures were drum-oriented and this gave Budgie full rein to explore his playing.
'It was raw and it carried a tune and the drums were the driving force,' he says. 'I could develop the sound of the drums as a music entity. It evolved into a thing in itself.'
The Banshees split up in 1996 and The Creatures disbanded in 2005. Budgie and Sioux divorced in 2007.
Although it's a singular project, Budgie feels that the improvisational nature of The Butterfly Effect may be the way forward for him.
'There's an element of wait and see to this,' he says. 'It's a one-off but if it goes well there's a chance that we could do another performance somewhere. I really think that this performance has opened up a new path for me.'
The Butterfly Effect: East West Percussive Parade, Nov 6, 8pm; Nov 7, 3pm. Sha Tin Town Hall. Tickets: HK$120 to HK$340. Inquiries: 2370 1044