My 2021 pandemic escape
By Mark Voger, author
“Holly Jolly: Celebrating Christmas Past in Pop Culture”
“Ah, I see the YouTube algorithm has brought us, all great men of culture, here together,” commented “lexv” on A-Yeon‘s video cover of “Demon Slayer” by LiSA. Commenters on the South Korean drummer’s videos are overwhelmingly male, and evenly divided between “droolers,” as you might expect, and earnest admirers of her precision on the kit. I admit to straddling both domains. I wouldn’t watch Bun E. Carlos‘ video drum seminars (if such things exist). Then again, I don’t think I’d watch videos of A-Yeon putting on makeup. (Although, I once did this with Megan Thee Stallion. She didn’t use a mirror! It was fascinating).
A-Yeon wears lingerie, yoga bodysuits and the rare cosplay costume while playing along with heavy-metal songs. Within the confines of this simple formula, she never disappoints. Her preparation is thorough; her drumming fleet and direct; her hair black and silky. There’s something fierce about a petite young woman (A-Yeon is 5’3” and age 30) from the other side of the world nailing this very male, very hostile, very Western music. Watching A-Yeon sail through these sometimes brutal songs was, for me, a welcome distraction from the snow, isolation and ongoing political turmoil of early 2021.
It would feel ungentlemanly to gush about A-Yeon’s beauty, so I’ll limit my commentary to her drumming — in particular, her double-bass technique. I’m more of a ’70s-rock guy than a heavy-metal guy, but there’s a lot of metal I dig. The more radical of the metalists I’ve seen perform live — I’m thinking of bands like Lamb of God, Slipknot and System of a Down — often employ relentless double-bass drumming. Like a machine gun, almost. It’s very freeing and very cool. A-Yeon duplicates every split-second staccato kick in a way that seems as effortless as Fred Astaire dancing.
A quick digression about double-bass drumming: In my time, dudes like Ginger Baker and Tommy Aldridge and Neil Peart were kings of the technique, and their kits were set up with two separate kick drums, each with its own pedal. Later on, someone invented a double-bass drum pedal (two pedals linked by a connecting rod) that could be used with one kick drum. Purists might call it cheating, but the metal community embraced it. (Less force is required, thus speed can be more easily maintained.) This is how A-Yeon generally does it, as her intermittent ankle-level “pedal cam” helpfully illustrates.
When A-Yeon really gets to kicking, when her little heels fly, she’s as ferocious as John Bonham or Bill Ward ever were, and it feels like a wild ride at Six Flags without the nausea, and for a few moments, I’m no longer thinking about “vaccine passports” or Matt Gaetz‘s Apple Pay receipts or the Jan. 6 Capitol riot or the latest mass shooting or Georgia’s “election security” bill or the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. I’m just sailing along on those kicks. And I’m grateful.
P.S.: Couldn’t resist looking it up. Yes, Virginia, there are such things as Bun E. Carlos drum seminars on YouTube. No, I won’t spoil this post by including one.
‘CRITICAL ACCLAIM’ by Avenged Sevenfold
This is my favorite of the videos — not for the song, necessarily, but for A-Yeon’s performance. The final 45 seconds are pure kicking, with sticks (and hair) flying. When A-Yeon (flawlessly) gets through it, she looks empowered.
‘DEMON SLAYER’ by Gurenge
Selected video comment: “I will be honest. I clicked due to the thumbnail, but I stayed ’cause that drumming is fire.”
‘ONE PUNCH MAN’ from ‘The Hero’
Selected video comment: “Wait, she cosplays, plays drums and dances — I found my wife.”
‘OBLIVION’ by the Winery Dogs
I love how this band blends soulful, bluesy vocals with crazy prog-rock runs. A-Yeon keeps up with their complex arrangements, making me wonder what she’d sound like on Emerson, Lake & Palmer or King Crimson or Rush.
‘SCREAM’ by Avenged Sevenfold
Selected video comment: “I am a simple guy. I see a girl drummer with no pants, I click.”
‘SAD BUT TRUE’ by Metallica
Selected video comment: “Wanted to see a drum video, and ended up getting into a fight with my wife.”
‘HYSTERIA’ by Muse
Watch for quick-cut inserts of A-Yeon in darkness with glowing sticks. (Ooh, fancy!)
‘NARUTO’ by Silhouette
Selected video comment: “She has more faith in that shirt than my parents had in my future.”
‘STOCKHOLM SYNDROME’ by Muse
Selected video comment: “Now that I’ve seen this, I’m going to try and live to old age.”
‘FLOWER DANCE’ by DJ Okawari
Our heroine alternates between drums and piano on this one (not to mention looking extra Goth). She sight-reads on the piano while playing a classically influenced piece. Suddenly, I wanna hear her on “Burn” by Deep Purple.
‘LAID TO REST’ by Lamb of God
Just to prove to the old-schoolers that she can kick it like Aldridge, A-Yeon plays actual double bass (with two kick drums) on this video. Another digression: The title is ironic, because I was almost laid to rest at a Lamb of God show one time. Funny story. For another time.
‘WALK’ by Pantera
Selected video comment: “I am so used to seeing a thick dude with a lot of beard and/or a lot of muscles behind the metal and rock drums. This girl have been invading my memory cells and replacing them with a new meta.”
‘TOXICITY’ by System of a Down
Here, A-Yeon plays a spiffy red kit with red cymbals and red sticks.
‘TEARS DON’T FALL’ by Bullet For My Valentine
Selected video comment: “I watched this twice before I realized there was sound.”
‘INTO THE UNKNOWN’ from ‘Frozen 2’
Selected video comment (with vulgarity warning): “I just realized that my dream is to be a drum throne stool.”
‘WARRIORS’ by Imagine Dragons
This is a cosplay one. (She’s Wonder Woman, right?) Very different from A-Yeon’s studio shoots. Different energy. A-Yeon is playing a “clear” kit, the better to observe her — all together, now — double-bass technique. And speaking of drumming on the beach, I once worked a photo shoot of Peter Criss “playing” a truncated kit on the jetty at Spring Lake. He said it reminded him of when, in the ’70s, Kiss posed atop the Empire State Building. Anyhoo, yet another story for another time.
‘PSYCHOSOCIAL’ by Slipknot
There are some dopey, stilted fills (per the song), but again, terrific double-bass. And “cookie monster” vocals in reasonable doses can be a liberating thing. (Not everyone will agree.)
‘EYE OF THE TIGER’ by Survivor
We’re back in red land. The dead-center stick wear on her snare head doesn’t surprise me.