Today, i woke up to the news that Gabe Serbian died of (as yet) unknown/unreleased causes. Gabe, primarily a drummer, was an ambitious multi-instrumentalist with varied tastes who always pushed the envelope of intensity, from chops to to aesthetic, in every project he touched.
His work includes:
- avante/futurist hardcore/punk synth/noise band The Locust
- originator/former-guitarist of Cattle Decapitation,
- drummer w/ Alec Empire
- drummer fro Head Wound City
- original singer of Dead Cross (replaced by Mike Patton)
I discovered Serbian in 2001, when my buddy Reed showed me The Locust on vinyl. Their music was like nothing ever hard before; their sub-minute songs were delightful salads of riffs and freakouts, repetition and surprises, packed with more novel ideas and compositional devices than most “progress music” of any stripe that I’d heard before.
The music of The Locust were invariable wrapped tightly Gabe’s mix of jaunty punch-pause-work and cursive flow of rolls across rumbling toms and/or washing cymbals.
One of the most obvious distinctions (aside from the costumes) is the physicality of his playing; from it’s power to it’s fluency to it’s mere geometry.
Check the 2021 House of Blues video below for a taste of how he moved w/in his music and his band.
In just over 3 minutes, Gabe conducts his band-mates through half-a-dozen “songs”, full of abrupt changes, stops, and signaling.
I was fortunate to see The Locust live, at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia. Here is a camera from side-state of the whole show. I’m in the front rows, right in front the drums.
For a steady drum cam of the song “AOTKPTA” from the same tour/era, watch HERE on Thommy Browne’s YouTube Channel, and for the same song w/ multi-cam close-ups (showing more detail of his buoyant arm movements, check it here.
One of the (many) impressive things about Gabe’s drumming is how quickly he moves around a drum kit that of his configuration. I see that this setup must have evolved (over brute force and time) to support the distinctly agile/powerful approach. While he uses a “traditional” 4 piece kit, his layout for The Locust is quiet an “obtuse trapezoid”.
Check his layout and his movement in this footage of the band taken from behind/above the kit:
Most 4-piece setups but the single rack tom straight outward form the snare, with the ride-cymbal hanging somewhere off-enter. We see Gabe puts his (huge) rack tom quite far left, increasing the distance between rack and floor.
The seems to serve a series of advantages for his approach.
- While this makes playing traditional round-house across the tome extra impressive (especially at his speed, it seems to also encourage the toms to be
- This leaves him room to bring the ride cymbal dead center, to be played as ambi-central as his snare drum.
- This brings the toms/ride plane to a flat low plane, so both crashes can remain low and close, which facilitates his deliciously choppy usage of abruptly choking cymbal-hits with the same hand that hits them.
I could go on (and on) about his technique, but we’ll summarize thusly. As someone commented on YouTube, “Gabe makes seriously hard drumming look effortless.”
“Meeting your hero”
When I saw them at the First Unitarian show (above), I hung around long enough after the headliners packed up to see them come out (unmasked, stoned) to mingle w/ the audience. While many may not readily recognized them without masks, I made him by his tell-tale Star Wars(TM) “Rebel Alliance” tattoo. …and the glow of sweaty effort still glazing his skin.
I still recall our awkward 90 seconds together vividly.
“I just wanted to say thanks to you in particular for putting on such a great show. I’ve been drumming for years, but yours is refreshing inspiring… “
“Well thanks, friend,” he said, leaning in, his breath reeking of good pot, his tone simmering with grace.
“not just musically, but also like, ergonomically, even in the visuals…”
“Well, like after drumming, I started studying dance, and yours looks like calligraphy, where like the embellishment IS the form, ya know.”
“Wow, thanks…. and right on… “
“So, to finish with a question; since your drumming obviously requires a lot of practice. Your playing motivates me to practice more, but… like… what does it feel like inside to drum and count and dance and play …your way? “
I don’t remember his answer. If he even gave one, it could have been profound like “trust the blur” or “work past the aggression”, but he just as well could have been too stoned for my super-fan vibes.
I remember a hand-shake became a half-hug, and that was it.
The Voice Inside
Gabe was interviewed 2015-January-24 for this episode of “40 Day’s to 40” Podcast, talking life, music, and more while servicing a motorcycle.
Gabe was featured on the 2016 November 9th episode of The Trap Set, Joe Wong’s podcast by/for/about drummers and drumming. Check episode 96 HERE to hear this in-depth interview, revealing more of the personality, hardship, curiosity, and growth within his life.
Yes, Gabe, “music is a form of meditation.” Sometimes it’s the loudest and most aggressive form.
Gabe, you were a huge influence on me. From the first spin I heard your music, it expanded my understanding of drumming ever since. You were, and remain, a “light-speed cool”, a metric standard of distinction and refinement that continues to inspire me and so many others.
If you’re moved to help, please consider donating to Gabe’s family through his Memorial Fund here: https://gofund.me/f39cf17d
As the energy of your single-body disintegrates and spreads into endless space-time, may the joy and inspiration of your life’s work continue.