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The Venice Beach Drum Circle

By Bruce Shutan
© 2002 Bruce Shutan. All rights reserved

The drum circle phenomenon is playing out across America, but nowhere is the scene as riveting as it is on L.A.'s Venice Beach, where drummers, dancers and spectators have been gathering on weekends for some 50 years. The Venice Beach Drum Circle fosters a multi-cultural sound and primal energy captured on "Harmonious Mayhem/Absolutely Live," a 39-minute CD sold on the VBDC Web site ( whose title says it all about the blessing and curse of open drums circles.

Beginners usually provide the backbeat and rhythm, while more skilled players improvise and solo, observes Joseph Hernandez Tiu, an architect who has been drumming at the VBDC since moving to Venice about five years ago. One problem, he says, is when too many drummers show up and pound out multiple rhythms as loud as they can without listening to one another.

The VBDC "is a little bit like the Mulligan Stew people made in the Great Depression," adds Marc Madow, whose documentary about the Venice Beach Boardwalk devotes 39 of its 67 minutes to the VBDC. "There are some talented regulars who drum in a way that inspires others into certain musical places. But because there are always new visitors to the drum circle you get
interesting new sounds and sights to blend with."

The VBDC includes musicians who've performed with Santana and the Jefferson Airplane, according to Madow. What's also worth noting is how many people bring homemade instruments. "One guy shows up with a piece of metal salvaged from a demolished building," he says, "while another guy has a piece of textured brass."

Drummers flock to the VBDC because of the surf, sand and, of course, sweet sounds that balance improvisation with basic beats. "For musical adventure," Madow believes, "the unlicensed, unregulated, un-elected, not FDA approved, absolutely free VBDC is the game."

Bruce ShutanAbout the Author: Bruce Shutan, an L.A.-based freelance writer, has been playing the drums since 1970. He has performed and recorded in numerous bands.

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