Footage of a falcon flying over Dubai plays on the projector screen at Neumos. The video beams across the face of producer Terence Ankeny, aka Zoolab, who leans over his laptop. In front of him on the sides of the stage are the two drummers of King Snake, facing each other as sweat drips over their faces. It’s the end of the first night of Capitol Hill Block Party, and the room is packed with dancing festivalgoers swaying their bodies with the polyrhythmic performance.
“Have you ever been possessed?” King Snake drummer Trent Moorman later asks me at Hattie’s Hat in Ballard, sitting alongside his collaborators. “Sometimes I feel possessed by [Ankeny’s] beats.”
Moorman’s assessment isn’t far off. Ankeny’s DJ sets—which walk the line between IDM and poptimism—are transfixing on their own, but when Moorman and his drumming partner Andy King join the stage, it’s hard not to be mesmerized. The Block Party performance was only the fourth time the trio has performed together as a unit, but they’re all frequent collaborators. Ankeny and King, who also work together at Neumos, first brought up the idea of playing together when Zoolab was booked for Block Party in 2015. King wasn’t available, so he suggested bringing in Moorman. While that setup worked, it prompted Moorman and King to pursue an idea they’ve always wanted to try: two drummers and a DJ.
The idea was partially spurred by watching old footage of The Grateful Dead, says Moorman, while King also cites sludge outfits Big Business and the Melvins as inspiration. King and Moorman performed together as King Snake prior to teaming with Ankeny, with Moorman creating a medley track playing from his laptop featuring artists he’s worked with in the past.
“There’s just something captivating about two drummers locking in,” Ankeny says. During sets with King Snake, Ankeny is usually found engrossed in his laptop, running Ableton, orchestrating the foundation for the whole affair, and adding delays and echoes throughout. But above being a producer, Ankeny considers himself a drummer first—he currently plays for local psych-pop group Spirit Award. “The beats he writes are, for us, natural to play to,” King says. “He’s got that drummer brain.”
King and Moorman attest to Ankeny’s skills behind a kit, lavishing him with praise any chance they get. It’s not just a common interest, but a language they all share. “We all have different styles of drumming,” Ankeny explains. “They do whatever they want [in their performances], but I’m definitely hyper-aware of it too.”
Striking a balance is key to their success as well. King describes his role as being akin to a rhythm guitarist and Moorman’s to a lead guitarist, building around Ankeny’s tracks. “If you have the beats from the club, that needs to be first and foremost what’s going to be heard,” Moorman says. “And then, [King]’s kind of the huge foundation, just hammering. What’s really left is to fill it in, let the sound of the track inform what we’re doing.”
Moorman’s style is heavily experimental. When he hears a certain sound in one of Ankeny’s beats, he obsessively wants to recreate it. Sometimes it’s filling a popcorn-tin lid with escutcheons and whatever aluminum and metal pieces he can find and putting it all on his snare drum; other times it’s sticking a lead pipe on his kick drum. He’s gotten King to embrace it too, setting him up with a cookie sheet and goat hooves at their most recent performance. King and Moorman also admire Ankeny’s own prowess and inventiveness, particularly being able to pick up whatever piece of musical hardware he comes into contact with. “He’s just so down for whatever,” Moorman says. “I feel like you could throw him into a fucking open-heart surgery and he’d be like, ‘OK, which ventricle?’ ”
Ankeny’s production style leans toward the brighter—or as Moorman calls it, “icy”—end of the spectrum. It’s made for dancing, but blends enough avant-garde textures and rhythms that it verges into introspective “headphone music” territory. One second he’ll be playing something resembling deep house, the next he’ll be throwing in a remix of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.” These latter moments are big hits with the crowds at his shows—a rare chance to see a group of people all have a simultaneous a-ha moment.
“Something about taking a pop song that everyone knows and just fucking it up is really satisfying,” Ankeny says.
Aside from the sonic appeal of having the two drummers bolster these twisted pop songs, the three musicians emphasize the visual component. With each show, they’re constantly changing their set plot. Ankeny runs lights at Neumos, so he’ll often climb a ladder and get the lighting just right for their performances, with spotlights on each member; there are also video projections. Alongside that falcon film is a montage of GoPro clips that range from fighter pilots to scuba footage of an octopus engulfing a pink teddy bear—an homage, Moorman says, to the aquatic vibes he gets from Ankeny’s music. Moorman creates these reels with footage he finds online. But it goes deeper than that.
Each member is involved in an unending list of projects: Ankeny and Moorman play in Pillar Point, while King drums for J GRGRY and NYVES, etc. In Moorman’s mind, these aren’t separate projects and neither are his videos; they’re all part of the same experience—something like a book he’s writing. “It’s all aqueous. It’s because the beat is aqueous and [Ankeny] has that side of his personality too because water is energy,” he says in a devilish tone. “I’m writing a fictional story on a submarine. My character is a low-ranking person on a submarine who gets possessed by a Japanese warship commander that sunk in World War II. And it’s like … it’s all there.” It all exists within his head; he compares it to a diagram of the brain before interjecting, “Can somebody Google a motherfucking hippocampus right now? I mean, jeez.”
The date of the next Zoolab x King Snake show is currently unknown, but Moorman will join Ankeny when he plays Chop Suey on Sept. 7. The idea is to make their collaborative shows feel like special occasions, which leaves plenty of time for these three drummers to plan their next possession. Zoolab, Chop Suey, 1325 E. Madison St., chopsuey.com. $8, 21 and over, 8 p.m., Wed., Sept. 7.