Gabrielle Watson, who has performed under the name A Hundred Drums since 2006, was drawn from California to Denver in September 2019 by the city's reputation as the bass capital of the United States. As of late 2019, her career was flourishing. She had headlined the Black Box and played the three-day electronic-music extravaganza Sonic Bloom. She was also touring, playing Burning Man and Costa Rica’s Envision festival. She was even slated to perform at prominent producer Bassnectar's Freestyle Sessions at the 1STBANK Center in June.
But in March, COVID-19 hit Colorado, subwoofers around the world went silent, and the live-music industry flatlined without aid in sight. And when things loosened up a bit post-shutdown, experimental musicians weren't exactly welcomed by the craft breweries, dinner-and-jazz clubs and rock venues that opened their doors at a limited capacity.
To add to this dilemma, in June, Bassnectar (full name Lorin Ashton) faced a string of sexual-misconduct allegations on social media. "I am stepping back from my career and I am stepping down from my position of power and privilege in this community because I want to take responsibility and accountability,” Ashton announced on Twitter. “I feel intense compassion for anyone I may have hurt. I truly hope you allow me a chance to work together toward healing.”
With nowhere to perform and the bass-music community upended, Watson used her time away from the stage to develop more introspective headphone music. She recorded a new album, Sonder, shifting from hyper-crafted, left-field bass music to lo-fi, a down-tempo genre defined by its unpolished aesthetic and hazy motifs.
Westword caught up with Watson to talk about her creative shift, Denver’s bass music community, the Bassnectar allegations, and racism and sexism in the EDM scene.
Westword: You’re originally from California and have played all over the world. What made you decide to make Colorado your home base?
Gabrielle Watson: The move from Cali to Colorado was inspired by a desire to become more involved with the growing bass community here. [Artists in] Colorado — Denver, in particular — really add to the arts community by being so supportive and helping each other out.
I’ve enjoyed regular appearances at the Black Box, a Denver dubstep producer hub, and have had a wide-ranging family out here, [including] CloZee, Megan Hamilton and NotLö, to support me. In California, the bass community was far more sparse. There wasn’t as much opportunity for local bookings or collaborations. Here, they’re everywhere.
What inspired you to change genres besides the pandemic? Would you have done this at some point if there wasn’t one?
I’m exploring the lo-fi genre to expand my musical creativity. I grew up playing a handful of instruments, and I feel that producing lo-fi gives me the room to really incorporate live instrumentation.
Besides releasing Sonder, do you have any plans to continue this iteration of your sound?
This is something I'm doing as a studio project. When I need a break from being a dubstep producer, it’s nice to have something else to play with, so I certainly have plans to make more lo-fi music.
You recently were booked to play with Bassnectar. Because of the pandemic, that was canceled. During the pandemic, Bassnectar was hit with a litany of sexual-assault allegations, and his conclusion was to step away from music for a while and deactivate his online presence. What are your thoughts on this?
His actions [in] how he handled the situation makes him look guilty, in my eyes.
Would you work with Bassnectar again, if given the opportunity?
Absolutely not. I cannot and will not support or stand with someone who has done the things he has done.
There aren’t many women dubstep producers, let alone black women dubstep producers. Do you think this is a product of active discrimination and societal pressure for women to pursue other avenues? Or do you think it’s more nuanced than that, and why?
The EDM scene is not as warm and accepting as one would think. In fact, it's so heavily dominated by white men, I can see how a woman of color might not be interested in the scene or culture. There is simply a lack of POCs in the community as a whole. I really don’t know what we can do to change that, but the best I can do is continue to be a voice on the matter, to make a change. I remember when I first started to dive into EDM culture by going to raves back in 2009. I quickly realized how I hardly saw any black people. There were some, sure, but it was to a point where my white friends and I had to point one out whenever we saw a POC. It made me incredibly sad, and I often felt alone.
Have you personally experienced any overt discrimination in regard to your music career?
I have no doubt experienced this — however, not directly. I know I have been discriminated against when applying for jobs or even apartments. I can tell by the way I am spoken to over the phone, then how the tones change when they put a face to the name. In the EDM scene, it's easy to discriminate and get away with it.
How do you feel about all-female lineups or affirmative action-based booking? For instance, if a promoter came to you and was like “Hey, I want you to fill my black [and/or woman] quota,” how would that make you feel?
While I think there should be more of it, marketing it as such beats the purpose. We don’t see "all-male" lineups, so why does it have to be "all-female" lineups? The answer is clear: Female lineups are so rare and unusual that it has to be marketed as such. That alone shows how separated the EDM scene is from truly being about the art. It should not matter if I am female, she, they, them. It’s about the music.
Listen to A Hundred Drums' Sonder on Bandcamp.