Denver’s bass scene is becoming progressively saturated with forward-thinking producers and DJs, and standing out amongst the talent has become increasingly difficult. However, Denver’s A Hundred Drums — a deep bass artist currently making big waves in the national festival scene — is doing just that. For Gabrielle Watson, known on stage as A Hundred Drums, bass music is more than deep frequencies and vibrant soundscapes. It’s a tethering thread to society’s ancestral roots, a spiritual equilibrium balancing light and dark and a platform to speak on her experience as a black woman in America.
There’s something innately spiritual about Watson’s sound and style, which is grounded in various drums and deep bass you can feel through your bones. It’s the sound of community, a shared human connection between people that goes back thousands of years.
“Historically speaking, our ancestors would get together around a campfire with some instruments and would just play like hooligans and dance around to find themselves a bit more at ease,” Watson said. “I think a lot of that happens with us subconsciously at bass shows, and this sub-bass has a lot of magic that engulfs us physically and makes us be more present and in the moment. At least for me, that’s a big part of my experience.”
Every time Watson steps on stage she finds a way to tap into that ancestral spirit, moving the audience into a collective trance while their heartbeats synchronize to the music. The result is an atmosphere of pleasant awareness, a consciousness completely engulfed in each present moment the night provides, as Watson explained:
“When everybody is moving with a song’s BPM, there is this empathic connection that happens where all of our heartbeats start beating at the same pace.”
Although Watson often finds herself inspired by African rhythms and instruments, which she explained are often “connected with the human spirit and the human body,” there’s one instrument that she connects with above all the others – drums.
Music has been a crucial aspect of Watson’s life for as long as she can remember, although it took some time for music to ingrain itself as her primary focus. After picking up the clarinet and flute in elementary school, she felt slightly discouraged about her musical ability, saying, “I just couldn’t really get the hang of many of the things that I tried out,” until she started banging on the drums. Even still, drumming remained largely disconnected from any cohesive musical creativity until she discovered EDM shows and rave culture in her teenage years.
Quickly becoming infatuated with this strange new world, she began DJing and producing her own music. It took a few years to hone in on her signature sound and style, but her creative conviction was impossible to ignore and she began taking her music more seriously in 2014. That year, A Hundred Drums was born.
Since then, music has been a gateway into expression and a grounding force in Watson’s life. Music is always playing in her head, a byproduct of what she calls a “producer’s mind.” Even when she’s not making music, she’s always listening, especially when she’s surrounded by the natural world.
“I think we’re exposed to things that can always be transcribed to music, especially being out in nature… If you have a producer’s mind, you start automatically thinking, like, ‘man, this bird call is so cool, those birds singing has a nice rhythm to it.’ It’s just really cool to hear how organic and free nature is and how that can inspire my music.”
Life is more beautiful when you listen to the music of the world, but that doesn’t mean life is some magical, unflinching ray of sunshine. Life is about balance, a philosophical concept Watson holds close to her heart, guided by her Pagan religious beliefs. This idea of balance is manifested in her creative process and dark visual components projected at her live show, seemingly inspired by classic horror movies like Saw and The Ring. Speaking on this dynamic, she explained:
“I just want people to experience the balance of both light and dark because dark isn’t always evil. Light can sometimes be evil. ‘Cause light was when we see a lot of the truth, and the dark kind of keeps us away from that… A lot of people seem to be afraid of the dark, but really the dark can be a beautiful introspective space to get you prepared for what you’re gonna discover in the light.”
2022 has brought a lot of light into Watson’s life. Countless festival performances, support on REZZ’s “SPIRAL” Tour, shows with Zed’s Dead and a release with DJ Afterthought are just a few accolades she’s celebrated during the first few months of 2022, and there’s no sign of slowing down.
Like many of us, it’s sometimes difficult for Watson to take a step back and acknowledge the progress she’s made and the people she’s touched with her music. Touring leaves little time for self-reflection, and her full-time job as a recruiter-coordinator means that downtime is spent financially safeguarding the ladder to success she’s been climbing throughout the past eight years.
Occasionally, awareness breaks through when she crosses off accomplishments on a long bucket list of musical aspirations. From vibing with Flying Lotus after her set at Okeechobee to performing at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater last summer, her dreams are quickly becoming a reality. Sometimes, a photographer captures these moments in real-time, awareness and accomplishment written on the smile she boasts from ear to ear.
However, it’s impossible to ignore the hardships that accompany her experience as a black woman in a country that has systematically disenfranchised black lives throughout the past 400 years. But despite political messages in projects like her 2021 Enough is Enough EP, which was released on Deadbeats with unwavering support, Watson doesn’t consider herself an activist, as she explained:
“I’m not some sort of political leader. I’m just someone that wants to keep awareness alive for some things that are really important.”
The EDM industry has a reputation for inclusivity. From the origin of American techno clubs, which were designed to provide a safe space for the black queer community in Chicago, to the very first dub record, which was accidentally created in Jamaica, the wide-ranging genre owes much of its success to the black creatives that paved the way for its distinct creativity. Unfortunately, the demographics of electronic producers and DJs today are primarily made up of white men, something Watson is keenly aware of.
“Through my years of being involved in the EDM industry, I have definitely been a victim of some mistreatment and discrimination not only because of being a female but also potentially being a black female. It’s something that I do deal with and that I’m still dealing with today. Oftentimes I am the only black person on a lineup. There could be like ten women on the lineup, but I’m the only black one.”
That’s not to say there aren’t other black women making incredible electronic music. If you’re curious, Watson suggests doing your own research and finding black women who are breaking down the barriers of the genre. Two of her favorites in the industry are tech-house artist Honey Luv and downtempo trance-bass artist Canvas.
Pushing the boundaries of the electronic world is about more than just music. It’s about respecting the history and the culture. Artists like A Hundred Drums are defying expectations, giving a piece of themselves to the world through hypnotizing bass music and creating a spiritual experience, balancing the dark and light through sound and visuals. But that’s not enough. It’s time for the electronic industry to live up to its inclusive reputation and begin highlighting black and female artists across the sonic spectrum of creativity. Watson believes that starts with the promoters.
“Promoters are often booking what they know will sell, booking what they see is hot as opposed to taking time to find undiscovered talent and giving them a chance to shine. I feel like there’s a lot of that that is missing in this [industry], and if we did more of that on a larger scale, I think we’d have a bigger chance of seeing a lot more diversity in the scene.”
As she prepares for an extensive festival run this summer, fresh off the “SPIRAL” Tour with REZZ and a recent release with DJ Afterthought, she’s looking forward to a great year of explosive performances and collaborations with some of the industry’s most creative minds. One thing is for sure, you’ll be hearing a lot more about A Hundred Drums from here on out.