The best punk drummers of the 2000s, from Travis Barker to Meg White
How they and many others set a beat for a new decade of punk.January 21, 2022
As the new century’s first decade unwound, things evolved or deteriorated rapidly, depending on your perspective. The entire world was changing in every aspect. So of course, punk rock was gonna change with it.
The fundamentalists would scream and moan about how these changes weren’t punk at all, that we needed to go back to basics, how everything was better in “the old days.” Which was downright silly. Nothing stays the same, nothing remains pure. Time alters everything. New influences seep in, new ingredients are introduced. The initial tincture gets adulterated, and new versions of the original formula result. It’s not worse. It’s the way of the world.
So, yes. There were plenty of great “old-school” punk bands out there. Garage reentered the room in a big way, and pop punk remained the underground sound leaking into the mainstream, to the point where blink-182’s incredible skin-pounder Travis Barker would go on to collaborate with hip–hop artists. Then there were the crossovers with metal, prog and other DNA strands never deemed possible in days of old. Punk was morphing into all kinds of fascinating new forms.
One thing remained true: Whatever punk subgenre you were playing, the beat had better be hard but true. Your drummer had to be a trained killer. And to stand out from the pack, your drummer needed to be unique. Sadly, there was an unfortunate amount of faceless, undistinguished beatkeepers out there during the ‘00s. They were perfectly functional, but truly creative groove masters were rare.
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Possibly, their CD collections only went as far back as Mötley Crüe’s Shout At The Devil, missing out on the marvelous jazz grounding of ‘60s rock drumming. Some of the best drummers of the era listened to anything other than punk — hip-hop, reggae, whatever. It made a difference.
With this in mind, welcome to Alternative Press’ survey of the 10 best punk drummers of the ‘00s. Please enjoy our custom playlist sampling some of the finest tracks from our nominees as a soundtrack for your reading.
CLAIM TO FAME: The White Stripes
SIGNATURE MOVE: Oh, there’s gonna be some complaints out there over Meg White’s inclusion. “Whaaat?! She just beats the shit outta two and four!” The odds are high that those complaining think crucial rock drumming is the province of macho lizards with million-piece drum kits, playing every one of those drums in every measure of every song. Jack White is a very good drummer himself — it was his first instrument. And once they began writing those deceptively simple garage-punk tunes full of killer subtleties, the beat needed to be simple but true. Meg’s primitive stomp was perfect for their needs, and the perfect drummer for the White Stripes.
BEST HEARD ON: Elephant
CLAIM TO FAME: The Libertines
SIGNATURE MOVE: The Libertines took the Strokes’ lead, refit it with a England 1977 vibe and changed the central songwriting influence from Lou Reed to Ray Davies. They ended up the most beloved British punk band of the era, inspiring thousands of ramshackle, guitar-based garage-punk outfits with highly developed songwriting. Co-leaders Pete Doherty and Carl Barât were fortunate to have a rhythm section as solid as Gary Powell and John Hassall, as chaotic as Libertines gigs could get.
Powell proved to have a remarkable sense of dynamics, as witnessed by his whisper-to-scream, tom-tom-heavy performance on their 2003 single “Don’t Look Back Into The Sun.” He was good enough to deputize for the late Jerry Nolan the following year, when the remaining New York Dolls reactivated for what was initially a one-off reunion show.
BEST HEARD ON: Time For Heroes – The Best Of The Libertines
SIGNATURE MOVE: There’s a reason Travis Barker is guesting on what feels like a hundred albums every month. He was a member of the Aquabats when he joined, after subbing for original blink drummer Scott Raynor twice on tour, learning their set in under an hour. The album recorded immediately after, Enema Of The State, was their breakthrough. Barker was essentially to blink-182 what Dave Grohl was to Nirvana: The X factor that makes the whole band.
He certainly benefited from high school jazz and marching band training, and his enthusiasm for hip-hop has made him a major crossover figure in that world. It’s also made him key to Transplants, Tim Armstrong’s vital punk/hip-hop/reggae hybrid. Barker’s dynamic performance is the glue holding together the disparate elements flying at your head from their classic “Diamonds And Guns.”
BEST HEARD ON: Transplants
Christian “Chris Dangerous” Grahn
CLAIM TO FAME: The Hives
SIGNATURE MOVE: The engine driver for Swedish garage superstars the Hives, Chris Dangerous has an impressive flair for machine-like grooves played with maximum speed and precision. He can also break up his beats and insert new ones with computer-like precision. And he does it all from a minimalist, four-piece kit. Think of the way he dices and slices “Two-Timing Touch And Broken Bones,” from 2004’s Tyrannosaurus Hives. Or even the accuracy with which seemingly randomly cuts-and-pastes fills into the insanely motorik groove of the single that introduced the Hives to the world, “Hate To Say I Told You So.” Dangerous lives up to his name.
BEST HEARD ON: Your New Favourite Band
SIGNATURE MOVE: It seems appropriate that the band who most took on Refused’s epoch-altering recorded manifesto The Shape Of Punk To Come as gospel would have a drummer who avoided 4/4 time signatures like they were a roomful of rabid rats. This isn’t to say At The Drive-In’s Tony Hajjar didn’t play 4/4 — he did all the time. But, as with their breakthrough album Relationship Of Command’s single “One Armed Scissor,” he screwed with the beat every way he could. Most effective was the waltz rhythm tapped out on his snare rim during the first verse. They build the song’s tension almost unbearably until it explodes on the chorus.
BEST HEARD ON: Relationship Of Command
CLAIM TO FAME: Backyard Babies
SIGNATURE MOVE: The majority of early 21st century Swedish garage-punk invaders treated the sound of Detroit 1969 as if it were another form of heavy metal. Think of the Hellacopters rewriting old KISS riffs as if they were MC5 outtakes, which isn’t an insult. Backyard Babies distinguished themselves from the horde by coating Motörhead’s roaring thunder with the sleazy swagger of the New York Dolls. Drummer Peder Carlsson doesn’t get enough credit for his role in achieving that goal. Take the title track from 2006’s People Like People Like People Like Us. His booming stadium-rock tom fills cut up an otherwise standard Ramones groove as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. That takes talent.
BEST HEARD ON: Stockholm Syndrome
CLAIM TO FAME: The Applicators
SIGNATURE MOVE: As the English rock press became enamored of American garage-punk when the Strokes and the White Stripes invaded their shores and their charts, Austin’s the Applicators briefly surfed in behind them. Their melodic old-school punk values — think Ramones-meets-Misfits-meets-Motorhead, with a dash of the Undertones — distinguished them, however. Their drummer for the bulk of the ‘00s, Stephanie Tower, was just basic enough, with plenty of skill and thunder to keep them precise and powerful. She especially shone on 2006’s My Weapon, as the band injected modern pop hooks and production into their classic punk format. “Tragedy” was a great example of how she drove the stop-start dynamics.
BEST HEARD ON: My Weapon
Jesse “Jessie 3X” Hamilton
CLAIM TO FAME: The Riverboat Gamblers
SIGNATURE MOVE: As Sweden claimed Detroit 1969 as its musical heart in the early ‘00s, Austin by way of Denton hellhounds the Riverboat Gamblers reassembled pieces of the Grande Ballroom in Texas’ state capitol. Except they didn’t have the blueprints on hand during reconstruction, so they reinjected that spirit into messy 1977 punk. They’ve had a few drummers in their 25-year history. Ian Walling currently grips the sticks. But it was with Jesse Hamilton, billed as Jessie 3X, that the Gamblers cut the early ‘00s sides that established their good name. He ably propelled their high-energy antics with his cymbal-heavy attack.
BEST HEARD ON: Something To Crow About
CLAIM TO FAME: The Donnas
SIGNATURE MOVE: It was Torry Castellano, known as “Donna C.” in the days when the entire band assumed Ramones-like pseudonyms, drove Palo Alto punk-metal specialists the Donnas with her hard, basic tub-thumping. If there’s any drummer she most resembled, it was AC/DC’s steady, solid Phil Rudd. Castellano slammed her kit so aggressively, she developed tendonitis, requiring surgery and physical therapy in 2003. She had to relearn the drums, discovering her condition resulted from “improper technique”: “They called it ‘the grip of death,’” she told Modern Drummer magazine. A shoulder injury led to her retirement from drums in 2010. She’ll always be remembered for the potency of her percussive pounding.
BEST HEARD ON: Spend The Night
CLAIM TO FAME: The Distillers
SIGNATURE MOVE: Andy Granelli first gained notice on the drummer’s throne for Hellcat Records hardcore act the Nerve Agents. He later joined another ex-Nerve Agent, Tim Presley, in the psychedelic Darker My Love. But it’s the Distillers with whom Granelli is most identified. Granelli joined in time for second album Sing Sing Death House, and it was his energetic bashing that anchored their breakthrough full-length Coral Fang. He rejoined along with the rest of the Coral Fang lineup when leader Brody Dalle reconvened the Distillers in 2018. He can be heard on last year’s Live In Lockdown album, where he’s mixed prominently.
BEST HEARD ON: Live In Lockdown