Joonas Nieminen: A Finnish Drummer with Groove and Finesse

What is hip? I mean really? That’s almost like asking the question found in the beginning of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good–Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”

When it comes to good drumming, I don’t think we do need to ask. It reveals itself, plainly and clearly. There’s no question when you hear it. The “there” is THERE. You don’t need to go looking for it.

The other day, I had a real hunger for some classic Tower of Power, so I went to YouTube and searched “What Is Hip?” Of course, the classic version popped up immediately, from the original 1973 album… and then I saw cover version posted from a Finnish drummer named Joonas Nieminen… and I don’t really remember why, but I hit Play and gave it few seconds of listening…

Boom. There. THERE. Right there. Noooo question.

I had never heard of Joonas until looking for this song, but I watched the entire clip with respect that increased with each measure. Not one shred of ego. Hardly even a shred of anything other than pure drumming and pure drummer attitude. It was like a breath of fresh air to watch and listen to someone so focused on nothing else but construction of the groove.

Now there are many fine drummers in the YouTube universe, and I hope Joonas doesn’t mind me pointing out his clip and playing, but I feel compelled to because it’s just so right there. The absence of any kind of attitude. No wasted motion whatsoever. Economy of movement 101.

Did Joonas play the classic exactly as recorded? I don’t know, my ear probably isn’t sharp enough to catch every little nuance. To me, it didn’t matter even if he didn’t. The performance of simplicity and focus was what held my attention. The clip is an excellent lesson in these two elements, not to mention good dynamic level balance.

And that snare. CRACK! Every hit was CRACK! Sound was being produced, and this is a very important point. I once heard David Garibaldi speak at a Sam Ash drumming clinic in Los Angeles maybe 10-12 years ago, and one of the points he emphasized was the idea that we have to be our own recording engineer and monitor the volume level of each limb very carefully. We have to consciously produce the sound EACH TIME WE STRIKE A SURFACE.

I only found a few other links to Joonas’ playing and background, which you can seek out by putting his name in quotes followed by “drums” if you like. Longtime readers of this blog know that I used to find people who had something really interesting to offer and write a post like this to bring them to your attention and let you look for more info. That said, here’s the link to Joonas’ YouTube page:

I’m gonna be getting back to more of that, along with some long interviews of players you’ll enjoy hearing about in their own uncensored words. For now, click PLAY on Joonas’ clip and check out an unassuming drummer. You don’t need flash when you know how to burn steady, and that’s the real lesson. We may not need anyone to tell what is hip, or what is good or not good, but it sure is nice to hear hands and feet moving in synch with the right stuff. And when it’s there, it’s there.