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Baker's Dozen

A Flash Of White Heat: John Stanier Of Battles' Favourite Albums
Kiran Acharya , September 17th, 2015 08:40

With Battles' new LP La Di Da Di out, the drummer with the highest cymbal in rock takes a journey through hardcore, hip-hop and baroque and reveals his 'never-leave-home-without-it security blanket record' for Kiran Acharya

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Hold up, hold up, before we get started - it's important to get this on to the record and out of the way, because people have been talking and it's become the subject of conjecture. Why does John Stanier keep that cymbal up so high?

"You've probably heard a rumour," he says. "Like I was in a snowboarding accident and I ripped the rotator cuff of my shoulder? That was a good one. But to be honest it started out as a joke at our very first show. I was like, hey, look, isn't this funny? And everyone was like, 'Leave it! Leave it!'"

That first performance took place more than a decade ago, at Northsix in Brooklyn, opening for Les Savy Fav. (Incidentally, Battles' second gig was supporting TV On The Radio, who were playing their first show.)

"I stripped my drum set way down at the very beginning anyway," says Stanier. "At first I wasn't going to have any cymbals. When I decided I was going to have one I thought, right, when I hit it it's going to be a really big deal. So I put the cymbal way out of the way. There are songs where I'll just hit it once. But after a while, it was like, wow, it really does look like a flag. It's been up there for too long now to break it."

Stanier's precise, crisp and relatively cymbal-less drums have become just about the only tradition in Battles' music. The new album is preceded by 'The Yabba', a tense and captivating track that dares you to flinch, a track that delivers the trademark playfulness and dramatic grandeur. On songs and "palate-cleansing movements" such as 'Tyne Wear' and 'Flora > Fauna', Stanier is choppy, inventive and intense. "I'm maintaining the exact same set-up that I've had for the last ten years," he says. "I don't change. If anything, I find there's more pressure to recreate the wheel each time, because I don't want to repeat myself."

While the title La Di Da Di might seem like a whimsical title, it can also be read as a reference to the classic single by Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick. This in turn points to Stanier's love of hip-hop, especially records from the early to mid-nineties. His Baker's Dozen is a tour through the rap records that soundtracked his years in New York, the hardcore bands that excited him in his youth and the avant-garde compositions which formed the basis of two years spent studying orchestral percussion at the University of South Florida.

He remains a voracious listener, a self-confessed sucker for baroque and a vinyl addict who keeps up-to-date with house and techno while running. "I'll download the newest Resident Advisor podcasts and go running every morning," he says. "I definitely run to every single Beats in Space. I run to FACT mixes and every Crack Magazine mix, although there aren't too many of them. On top of that I download, religiously, every ESPN FC podcast."

La Di Da Di is out tomorrow, September 18, on Warp. Battles are currently on tour, with UK dates beginning on October 23 at Manchester Academy 2; for full details and tickets, head to their website. Click on the image below to begin scrolling through John's choices


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Christopher Owens
Sep 17, 2015 9:35am

Excellent choice with Animosity. I rate it more highly than anything released by Minor Threat and Circle Jerks (although I do love those bands).

Bl'ast certainly picked up a lot of alienated Black Flag fans (who weren't fans of Loose Nut or Slip it In) and gave them the follow ups to Damaged that they were after. Interesting to note that Rollins slags them off in Get in the Van.

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Sep 17, 2015 10:43am

Permanent Waves - yes! Also my desert Island top choice. Enjoying all the selections thus far...

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Sep 17, 2015 11:14am

Aside from Rush (God I hate Geddy's voice), I'm really liking this list and I'm looking forward to listening most of these.

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Sep 17, 2015 12:11pm

I like baroque and 90s east coast hip hop. I hope that (let alone adding prog and punk into the mix) is -not- a measure of pretentiousness. Interesting list, way better than the one from the fellah with Righteous Minds a few days ago.

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Sep 18, 2015 5:43pm

"I can't believe he chose that over Zen Arcade…"

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Sep 18, 2015 10:16pm

I can- I also think it's better than Zen Arcade.

Plus, Die Kreuzen! Yep. I'm from the Midwest.

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Sep 20, 2015 6:17pm

Wow. An entire list without Bowie, Lou Reed, or Iggy. What has this site come to??

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Sep 21, 2015 3:13pm

Honestly it warms the heart to know that John Stanier reveres Neil Peart to this extent. One virtuoso accepting the baton (or drumstrick) from the other.

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