On Oct. 9, 1997, The Baltimore Sun published a feature on David Bowie, who died Sunday, that previewed his Oct. 12 performance at the Capitol Ballroom in Washington. The interview focused on Bowie's album from that year, "Earthling," which incorporated the sounds of an emerging genre, drum 'n' bass. Read the story, as published, below.
Some people suspect that the only reason rock stars have become interested in drum 'n' bass -- the hip, hyperkinetic dance music built around digitally sped-up "breakbeats" -- is that they want to keep up with the latest crazes.
David Bowie has a different theory. "It's because it's so jazz-based," he says of drum 'n' bass.
"From its inception, it had such interesting breakbeats that any drummer worth his salt wanted to work out how on Earth he could get involved in it. I guess it's the nearest thing that we've had to a respectable version of [jazz] fusion."
Bowie hastens to add that drum 'n' bass, unlike fusion, leaves little room for instrumental self-indulgence. His current band began working with drum 'n' bass rhythms while recording the "Earthling" album, and considerably expands on those ideas in concert -- something that takes an unusual degree of discipline.
"You do have to work as a team," he says. "That's something we've learned a lot over the last couple of years. Working in the genre live, [you learn] that once you start to get too improvisational, you lose the whole raison d'etre for playing the music. There's a certain minimalist accumulation that gives [the music] its momentum, and once you start to decorate it too much, you lose that."
In part, says Bowie, that's because the breakbeats themselves take up so much space in the overall sound. "You've got to realize that they're the boss, and that you are there to support and enhance them, not the other way 'round.
"You're all the time finessing and honing back what you're doing. So you end up playing actually quite severely disciplined parts."
Fortunately, Bowie's band -- guitarist Reeves Gabrels, pianist Mike Garson, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and drummer Zachary Alford -- is more than up to the challenge.
"They are a unique unit, they really are," he says. "Probably the best band I've had since -- the last best band I've had!" He laughs. "It's difficult to know when that was.
"Possibly the last best band I had, a band that left me gasping for air like this one does, would be the band I had around '76-'77, which was with Simon House on violin," he says, referring to the jTC group captured on the live album, "Stage." "One of the greatest bands I've worked with. As well as the Spiders [From Mars], of course. And this band. I really do believe that this is one of the best bands that I have been able to assemble."
Having such a great band behind him has led Bowie to take extraordinary chances with his music onstage. "I'm not sure where it's going, but we've been doing some more experimentation," he says. "We now have a 50-minute, just full-dance set that we put together for [the European] tour -- because we played a few dance clubs and things -- which is completely instrumental.
"We've got such great abilities in the band that the combination is really very exciting. And it's forced me to play more saxophone. A lot more saxophone.
"Otherwise, I'd just be standing there playing tambourine, and I couldn't bear to not be on the stage," he says, laughing uproariously.