Clear the decks, uninstall the software: Brass and woodwind instruments are making a comeback. Why? Because they tell it like it is – with no bullshit.
Three years ago, videos of a band playing in subway stations in New York City went viral (here’s one example). The band is Too Many Zooz, a set of young musicians whose unruly performances convinced social media users to click ‘share’ tens of millions of times in a matter of weeks. With a baritone saxophone, a trumpet, and a bass drum bedecked with cowbells and assorted clicky-clacky bits, the three-piece stood out from the online crowd. Since then, they’ve toured the globe, released an album, and appeared alongside Beyoncé. Earlier this month, they released a video of their new song, Bedford:
The video was shot in a single continuous take, during which the band play the intro while waiting on a subway platform, board a train, and disembark a couple of stops later – playing the entire time, without interruption.
It’s a recording that says a lot about the appeal of bands like Too Many Zooz, who have shot to the forefront of a movement including peers such as Moon Hooch, The Blow Trio, Youngblood Brass Band, Busty & the Bass, and Lucky Chops (a group that TMZ’s bari sax player, Leo P, used to be part of). These are groups driving an analogue revolution, with brass, woodwind and percussion instruments at the core of their sound. And they are drawing huge followings around the world.
While trombones, trumpets and saxophones are nothing new, it’s fair to say they had gone out of fashion. When I was learning the sax in school, the instrument was considered to be a fusty throwback to an era of trilby hats and the prohibition of alcohol. I may as well have been strumming a lute, or cajoling a clavichord through Greensleeves (no disrespect: I’ve written about this great song before). The comeback of these instruments, made sexy and defiant in the hands of the musicians listed above, is something few people saw coming. The reasons behind their success seems hard to pin down.
Single-take videos like Bedford point to one possible explanation. Auto Tune software, lip-syncing and the ubiquity of televised singing contests have led listeners to seek a more authentic experience. With analogue instruments, the musician communicates without a filter – and the message is pointedly more intimate. There is no hiding behind a reputation built on computer programs and glossy marketing campaigns: The sound is raw, undressed, and gloriously human.
At a time when preening, polished politicians and their focus-group-tested platitudes are being rejected in favour of outsiders who speak from the gut (for better or worse, see previous post here), it’s difficult to deny that authenticity and humanity are the order of the day. The rising popularity of bands built around brass and woodwind sounds may be a response to a volatile, unconnected political and cultural climate. With their punchy beats and ferocious riffs, they may be exactly what’s required — to slap some sense into 2017, and beyond.