The inspiring rise of A Hundred Drums

2022 has kicked off with a next level bang for A Hundred Drums.

Currently in the thick of her first full tour – supporting the mighty Rezz – and sitting on a whole new slew of fresh productions, the LA-born-Denver-based artist is relishing every minute of her first full year of non-restricted shows since 2019… A time when the world, and her profile, were very different places.

Despite being a DJ and promoter of the dubstep, grime and D&B event B-Side in LA since 2014, A Hundred Drums (real name Gabrielle Watson) really came to prominence since 2020 with her debut self-titled album on Gravitas. Stepping up to Zeds Dead’s Deadbeats imprint in 2021, Gabrielle served up a knock-out statement with her label debut release Enough Is Enough.

One of the most startling and prominent releases on Deadbeats so far, the EP came with a powerful and poignant spoken word message by Leah Rigsby inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It also came with a deeply moving short documentary made by Gabrielle about her own experience in 2016 at the hands of a racist attacker and the mistreatment she faced from the police in the wake of the incident, which resulted in her being imprisoned for 12 days.

It’s a frustrating and upsetting watch but an important reminder of the reality of life in America for black communities. For Gabrielle, though, it concludes with a message of love and positivity. Released summer 2021, she’s since gone on to play some of her biggest shows to date and develop the A Hundred Drums sound into even more of an exciting psychedelic, rootsical melting pot than it already was.

Her recent single If I Have To landed last month and it’s set to be followed later this week with a killer collab with DJ Afterthought entitled Dream State. Ahead of her appearance at New Orleans festival BUKU later this month, we called up Gabrielle to take in her inspiring story so far…

You’re currently on tour with Rezz. You took time off to prepare for it, didn’t you?

I did. My last show was January 3 and I had six weeks off so I spent that time preparing for the tour and festival bookings I have this year and working on productions.

I’m playing to a lot of different audiences I’ve never played to before, and my DJ style was accustomed to underground dubstep prior to now. But when I did some DJ shows with Zeds Dead I realised some of my mixes and selections didn’t translate quite so well to those type of dancefloors, so I’ve really thought about my selections, my style of DJing and my mixes.

It was very challenging, but honestly for the better because I’ve advanced so much and I’m able to accommodate so many different audiences and different types of parties and line-ups now, but done so without compromising my sound at all.

Wow that’s super interesting. You don’t want to lose your sound, but you don’t want to lose the audience. That’s such a fine line. What epiphanies have you had during these explorations?

Before all my sets had the one style – underground dubstep, very heavily UK influenced. That’s my sound, I love it. But that’s a very niche sound over here, so in some of the biggest audiences I’d see people not reacting in the way I’m used to. I’ve always been into so many different styles of music so I’ve been digging deeper to find heavier music that’s fun and still sounds like something I would play. I’m having more fun as a DJ as a result – it’s allowing me to be more experimental, unpredictable and creative.

Sick! It’s great to see underground, deeper dubstep sounds enjoying a rise in North America at the moment. When I think of dubstep in the US, I think of headbanging and the big brodowns and drops. You’re the antithesis to that. I might be wrong.

Not wrong at all! Most people here will draw the same conclusion. I’m trying really hard to bring this style to audiences. Dubstep can be very meditative and hypnotising. Not everything has to be headbanging, not everything has to have this insane build up or drop. it’s nice to introspect sometimes.

So that’s what I’m working on. Something that’s still true to my roots and what I love, but still having that sound that people can be familiar with so they’re able to take in what I’m playing. Forcing something on an audience who aren’t ready can alienate them and I don’t want that. I want to gain more listeners!

So I like the idea of shuffling things around. Let’s say I have this great new record that’s super minimal and I’m really excited to play it but the crowd need a bit more convincing. I’ll put Cardi B’s Wet Ass Pussy over it and everyone is loving it. Then I’ll play a deeper instrumental next, but people will receive it because they’re still really into the previous mix.

I love that type of subtle trickery! That’s the art of DJing right there!

Yeah there’s a bit of psychology and a trick of the mind for sure! I’m having a lot of fun with that.

Sick. The recent single If I Have To is part of this, too, I guess? It’s a deep tune but it’s maximal and psychedelic too…

Yeah, If I Have To is an introduction to an expansion of my sound as A Hundred Drums. I want to expand on myself a bit more. I was making dubstep that I feel was a bit predictable and I was feeling a bit pigeonholed but I was already making a different style of music – I made a study beats EP back in October during the pandemic, my first ever release was a reggae tune, so why not develop on that?

If I Have To is the start of that and I had a lot of fun making that; it’s different, it’s still me but it’s got a pop element with Saule’s vocals on there. I’m very proud of it and you can expect more in this direction.

Finding Saule was a serendipitous moment wasn’t it?

Yeah I was looking for this acoustic song that goes ‘I believe in the good of things, come in, come in, come in.’ But this came up and it was actually better than the song I was looking for! I did more research on Saule and fell in love with his voice. He’s incredible. So I hit him up, introduced myself and asked if he’d be interested in working with me. He’d never done a project like this before but was interested and within a few days he sent me this demo which blew me away. That’s how it all came together.

Will you be working together in the future?

Yes absolutely, 100%. We’re planning on performing live at an event later this year too.

Sick. You mentioned a lofi, study beats style EP… That was Sonder, right?

Yeah. I was feeling uninspired by making bangers because it was during the pandemic and I couldn’t play them anywhere. I was listening to a lot of lofi stuff and got inspired and thought ‘I’m going to have a crack at this.’ I was happy with the results and made an animation for them for YouTube, too.

You also made a documentary for your Enough Is Enough release. It’s not an easy watch, it’s very upsetting to understand the awful experiences and mistreatment you went through…

It was inspired by Black Lives Matter movement. When I was going through my situation in 2016 I didn’t really have too many people by my side. I was dealing with it alone and my partner at the time’s family. I was fighting my case with lawyers and private investigators.

When the pandemic happened I lost a lot of work and was falling behind on my fees to pay them back. So I came out publicly about my case. I was ashamed of what had happened to me but I started the Gofundme campaign and within 48 hours I exceeded my goal. I’d paid off my legal fees and was able to pay off all my debts. It was an amazing experience.

Then when the Black Lives Matter movement happened, I was in downtown Denver at the time, and there were so many marches. I thought, ‘Wow this is a lot for me to hear – millions of people around the world were shouting my life mattered.’ For once, I felt like I had a voice and I wanted to expand on that more.

At the time Deadbeats had reached out asking for demos. I’d been really shy and it took me a year to send them anything, but I’d sent them the tracks and felt l needed to do something big with it and wanted to make an introduction. My friend Leah Rigsby had done this Facebook post saying everything that’s on her intro on the EP.

I cried. She’d articulated everything I’d felt but could never convey as succinctly as that, so I asked her to record what she’d written and amplify it. I wanted to make this focussed piece on Black Lives Matter – the statement, not the organisation. Black lives still matter and this is something we need to remember.

I sent it to Deadbeats and they were fully behind it and asked what else they could do. I was quite shocked because I thought this might be too controversial for them. I thought, ‘Is their audience going to be open to this?’ But Deadbeats put everything into it and they enabled me to make the documentary and get my story out there.

Any worries about audiences not being open to political discussions is long gone. If people can’t handle messages and conversations like this then it’s their problem.

I’m hoping that is the truth and we have seen some change, but there’s still a long way to go before things are really different.

Massively. One thing I took from the documentary was that your message was of love. Not bitterness or animosity towards the police.

It has to be. And that is the point. We need people to remember what we’re going through and continue to spread love and keep awareness alive. That will help with enabling and developing change.

Have you had people reach out to you and say you’re an inspiration or given them a reference point in their own situation?

I’ve been getting a lot of messages yes. Black people, female, non-binary. People thanking me for putting that out there. I’ve been tagged in a lot of videos of people showing their beautiful faces with the intro playing. Leah’s words have given people more confidence and empowerment. People don’t feel alone.

When the documentary came out, it was very well received and I want to do more. But I want to do it tastefully and with love. I’m not an activist and I tend to stay away from those conversations because it can get very dark but I want to use my platform to promote love and peace and awareness.

Promote Leah as well. Her words are so powerful.

She’s a great speaker and writer and she puts a lot of her feelings online about black lives matter. It’s not something she does for a living, although I’d love to see her do that. She’s an incredible soul and it’s great to amplify what she does and what she has to say.

Yeah! Amplify what you have coming out, too. You’re just about to drop Dream State with DJ Afterthought aren’t you?

That’s right. We actually recorded it in the Taylor Gang studio and we did two tracks. Dream State is out this week and the other one still has work left to do on it but I will say this… It’s got a member of Earthgang on it which is amazing.

As well as that, there’s an EP I want to drop after the tour, but my computer has broken down and I’m waiting for a new one to arrive, so I’m not 100% sure on the release of that. And of course, there are lots of festival dates. A lot more than I’ve ever done before and a lot to be announced. It’s a big year, my life has changed so much since Enough Is Enough. It’s gone crazy.

That’s amazing. I was going to ask – how did your attack and police mistreatment affect your creative life and approach to music?

I was a baby in my career at the time. I was just helping a friend leave a bad situation and I got attacked but it did change me and fuel me in a way. It brought me closer to music. Music has been the only consistent thing in my life. My mother was never really around, my dad was away and has now passed away. I’ve always been alone and music has been one consistent thing in my life. if something happens – good or bad – music is my outlet. And that situation is what heavily fuelled Enough Is Enough so it eventually had a huge influence on me as an artist and one that I’ve taken ownership of in the most positive way I can.

I have been mistreated in the industry too, though. I’d turn up to shows and people wouldn’t acknowledge me or they would think a male friend with me is the artist. I have a unique set-up with a separate computer with Traktor set up in HID mode with the CDJs. It’s not the most conventional set-up but when there’s an issue with connection I can identify it.

99% it’s never an issue on my end and it’s almost always the CJDs needing updating. It takes a two minutes. But if I vocalise this situation the sound guys almost always treat me like shit. They try and diagnose the problem, I’m trying to tell them what the issue is and they push me aside until they can’t figure it out and realise I’m right… After being rude to me and giving me attitude.

But if I snap back because I’ve lost my patience, suddenly I’m called a rude or a diva. Yes, I gave you attitude back because you treated me like shit. But no one talks about that.

This is really frustrating to even hear – let alone experience it!

All my life I’ve been an easy target. I grew up in an all-white neighbourhood and went to an all-white school. I’ve been different all my life, so I recognise it and I know it’s because I’m different and female or a black female and people don’t see many black females doing what I do.

I have to say I’ve had less mistreatment in recent years. A lot less. So things have changed and there’s a call to action to try and equalise a lot of the unfairness and mistreatment of women, especially black and non-binary, have dealt with. I’m glad there’s some change happening. So I’m doing my best to show up strong and confident and hope to inspire others.

That’s awesome. Sonically what type of inspiration can people expect from A Hundred Drums show and what can people take away?

I want people to enjoy the experience and the show. I don’t want the fact I’m black or female or pansexual to have any influence on that or for people to identify me as any of those. To do that is to perpetuate the situation we’re all trying to get away from anyway.

I want people to love the music and enjoy the experience. I want to take you on a journey through sound. I’ve put so much time into digging my music and thinking about how it all works together – that’s what I want to give you. Not to have people be like, ‘oh it’s a black female, I like it even more!’

No – like it because you enjoy it. It’s about the music. The experience is how you feel. I have someone called Infinite Konceptz who does all the artwork and branding and I have a VJ called Actualize who brings her art to life and it’s The A Hundred Drums Experience because we’re bringing something different and unique to our sets: Original music, original concepts and hopefully some live drums which is a goal for me in the future, too. I’ve ordered them, I’m just waiting for them to arrive. So yeah… Just something really special and totally unique.

Sick! Any chance we might catch this in the UK any time soon?

Nothing in the pipeline yet, but I hope I can come over to the UK. I have a production company on the west coast called B-side LA. We’ve been doing shows for seven years and we’ve booked pretty much every UK pioneer and producer. Our events started it because of them. But I think they know me as a promoter and not as an artist.

For now!

Hopefully. But sure I’d love to come to the UK at some point. In the meantime, though, I’m really excited about the shows and the music I have coming up in 2022. It’s an exciting time…

A Hundred Drums will be making her BUKU debut playing alongside names like Alison Wonderland, Moore Kismet, CloZee, Liquid Stranger, Mersiv, SVDDEN DEATH, Wreckno and many more.
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