Subterranean (Motorik)

Dylan Howe

Released July 2014

DownBeat Five-Star Review

Jazzwise Top 10 Best Albums of 2014




Drummer Dylan Howe, son of YES guitar legend Steve Howe, has recorded a radical new take on the instrumental cuts from David Bowie’s 1977 albums ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’. ‘Subterranean’ is Dylan Howe’s first studio album in ten years. It is made up of his arrangements of Bowie’s influential music from his ‘Berlin Trilogy’ and has been seven years in the making. Some of the music featured on this album was previewed live at the London Jazz festival in October 2007. This is the completed album and is universally accepted as Howe’s strongest to date. It features some of the best musicians in the UK with special guest Steve Howe playing koto (‘Moss Garden’).

The response to ‘Subterranean’ has been simply phenomenal; it has garnered universal critical and popular acclaim from all corners of the globe with sales to match. The CD is already in its third pressing with the double vinyl well into its second.

David Bowie recently sent a message to Dylan saying; ‘That’s a top-notch album you’ve got there. Really.’ He requested a vinyl copy the following day.

Dylan Howe: “This is the first of my albums on which I’ve really utilized the potential of the recording studio, with multiple sessions and overdubs, really thinking about production, I was making a record this time, not just recording an album. In the past I would be in the studio for a day or two at the most, or just bring a mobile studio to a gig; this time however, the process and result has been a little like the music, kind of cinematic, a feeling of scale and intensity; think the John Coltrane Quartet produced by Neu! mixed by Brian Eno in an air-raid shelter.”

Interview to

MD: Your solo work is generally in a jazz vein. How did you come to cover music from Bowie’s Berlin period?

Dylan: When I first heard those albums they seemed austere and spooky. But then I realized I could arrange the songs and turn them into something else. With some tracks, like “Warszawa,” we played it as a Coltrane, modal thing. It’s atmospheric and very dramatic. Bowie got flak when he did those records originally; he was ahead of the curve. And everyone thought I was crazy to do this. After we released it, Bowie sent me a message that he really liked it.

MD: Bowie contacted you?

Dylan: After the album was out a few months, I got an email with the subject line “from David Bowie.” He wrote, “Dylan, that’s a top-notch album you’ve got there. Really. David Bowie.” I was ecstatic. It was really important to get his approval. Then they shared the record on Bowie’s website, and suddenly we sold thousands of albums. It’s incredible. It’s totally new territory for me.

I wanted to change the grooves from the original songs and go into other areas. The source material is simple, melodically and structurally; it’s very malleable. And it’s comfortable to solo with because it has that openness.

MD: Did you extend Bowie’s melodies for soloing?

Dylan: The more you listen to these Bowie tracks, smaller themes and overlying motifs appear. Some of our tracks are faithful to the originals, as with “Subterraneans”—we used an orchestral score of that as our template. Other tunes are essentially AABA, but we might go into double time or change the feel. The music is faithful architecturally in some ways; in other ways it isn’t. All of the melodies are quoted, and the keys are the same. We went for a cinematic approach, a kind of landscape where it feels like you’re going somewhere in the music. We’ve been performing it all over England, with a movie about Berlin in the ’70s playing behind us on a scrim. Everyone gets transported.

MD: Bill Bruford was your first teacher.

Dylan: I took my first lessons from Bruford; he’s been a mentor. He wrote the liner notes on one of my albums.

MD: What jazz drummers have you focused on?

Dylan: I was a Tony Williams freak for years. Elvin Jones, of course. Latterly I was into Roy Haynes on Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. Elvin took a lot from Roy and adapted it for himself. You can hear that with Tony as well. Roy didn’t get his due until recently. And he is so advanced with Charlie Parker and Lester Young. He played quite avant-garde drum stuff in the ’40s and ’50s. He adapted to everyone he played with because he has his own beat, his own feel, and all of his language is so unique. That’s why everybody wanted to play with him. He has such a buoyant beat. Such an important drummer.

MD: Who did you study with after Bruford?

Dylan: I’m self-taught, really. I had a series of lessons with other teachers, but that didn’t last. It took me until my twenties to learn how to practice properly. I got by on feel and enthusiasm. I didn’t go to school for drumming. I studied different books, including The Jazz Drummer’s Workshop by John Riley, Buddy Rich’s Modern Interpretation of SnareDrum Rudiments, and George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control.

I also played along with records. Playing along to your favorite albums is such a good way to learn. You get to know how it’s supposed to feel, and you learn the ride cymbal beat. I played with all of the Blue Note albums with Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and Roy Haynes. I began with Philly Joe Jones and Jimmy Cobb—that’s a good way in. Jimmy and Philly Joe’s right-hand rhythms are quite immovable time centers. Then I got into the modal era and the mid-’60s Blue Note stuff, which is a lot more open. I found that really inspiring. I focused on understanding that feel and thinking, How do I do that?

MD: Did you work on the twenty-six rudiments and Ted Reed’s Syncopation?

Dylan: I did that all the time, especially after I got my own practice studio. I gradually found all the connections between the books. And practicing Alan Dawson’s Rudimental Ritual was important. That’s good because it has everything in this musical four-bar looping pattern.

One book that really turned me around was Peter Erskine’s Time Awareness, where he breaks everything down into understandable chunks. He covered a lot of styles. Finding my way from that into John Riley’s books was good…understanding how to propel a group with the ride cymbal and that it’s all about the quarter note. I spent untold hours in the practice room. It’s not really about playing drum solos—everything is about your time feel. If that works, everything will work.

I saw Buddy Rich when I was thirteen, and that was really inspiring. And all that music from the ’60s, that’s what I go to for inspiration. Also, all the great session drummers of the ’70s who were coming from a jazz thing but applying it in the backbeat era. [I got from them] how to make the time feel good and how to be tasteful—hundreds of subtleties that come from those guys.

MD: What’s made the biggest difference to your drumming?

Dylan: It sounds stupid, but I remember in my early twenties reading the Erskine book and understanding the value of the quarter note. It sounds basic, but Erskine made that understandable in such a powerful way. The quarter note is going through everything, and the moment you count a song off, that’s the train track that everything has to wrap itself around, and it’s up to you to keep that clear and steady. That hit me. Then understanding how to phrase properly with the ride cymbal beat and on to soloing. Now I’m working on three or four books at the same time. I have Danny Gottlieb’s The Evolution of Jazz Drumming, which has history and transcriptions and comping studies. That’s helped me understand Mel Lewis’s playing and the way he glued everything together. Also, John Riley’s The Art of Bop Drumming and Beyond Bop Drumming. Everything is about improving the fundamentals. I set the metronome low, at around twenty-five, and subdivide up and down. And I do the same with the rudiments—soloing over ostinatos and trying to get really comfortable with all the language. Just trying to get better!

Ken Micallef (

Track Listing:

1. Subterraneans (David Bowie) 8:23

2. Weeping Wall (David Bowie) 7:04

3. All Saints (David Bowie) 11:04

4. Some Are (David Bowie) 6:29

5. Neuköln – Night (David Bowie / Brian Eno) 4:59

6. Art Decade (David Bowie) 4:41

7. Warszawa (David Bowie / Brian Eno) 11:07

8. Neuköln – Day (David Bowie / Brian Eno) 5:28

9. Moss Garden (David Bowie / Brian Eno) 6:23


Dylan Howe: drums

Mark Hodgson: double bass

Ross Stanley: piano

Julian Segal: saxophone

Brandon Allen: saxophone

Nick Pini: double bass

Adrian Utley: guitar 

Steve Howe: Koto

Recorded at Eastcote Studios, London; Motorik Studios, Rayleigh;
Coda-cola, London; Pipe Dream Studios, London 

Produced and directed by Dylan Howe 


Dylan Howe’s beautiful, shape-shifting and at times eerie Subterranean (Motorik; 51:22 HHHHH) is like an interstellar journey with Tony Williams’ Spring and Terje Rypdal’s To Be Continued as your collective soundtrack. The son of Yes guitarist Steve Howe, Dylan has played on over 60 recordings and released four solo albums, one playing the music of David Bowie’s Low and Heroes and described as “future jazz sextet with strings and electronics.” Subterranean embraces sizzling electronic sounds and moody European soundtracks informed by Howe’s pulsating, time-chipping drumming, with a subtle English chamber music approach. Ed Blackwell-inspired drumming opens “Weeping Wall,” the song nearly levitating via a marimba loop, breathy saxophone and an ascending melody. “All Saints” does a slow burn with simmering metal guitar blasts and Dolphy-inspired tenor blowing. “Neuköln-Night” turns over a nightmarish vision of queasy synth, stark piano chords and traffic sounds set aloft by Howe’s elastic, spring-boarding drum interplay. Colorful and consistently surprising, Subterranean leads you on a journey where the destination is no more important than the ride itself. Stunning, essential.

Ken Micallef (DownBeat)