New York’s neo-tribal, ritualistic and experimental ‘beat-makers’ are about to shock – and in the most not-at-all-shocking way possible. Gang Gang Dance, leaving their interminable improvised renditions of primal noise behind them for the moment, are now for the first time releasing an album of actual, tangible ‘songs’ – shock, horror indeed. Indigo Clarke writes.
“We make beats – we are beat makers,” says Lizzie Bougatsos, Gang Gang Dance’s absorbing frontwoman, definitively. “That is a big part of what we do. We are all about the primal impulse to create sound – and that always has its base in the percussive and the rhythmic.” Driven by beats, does New York’s best-known and loved neo-tribal avant-garde outfit make dance music then? “We would like to think we make dance music,” Bougatsos says, and with a laugh continues, “but we’d also like to think we make pop songs – so I guess we can’t very accurately describe what we do. I like to think we make music for the future.”
Drawing on the distant past, on music that was little more than percussion mimicking the sound of heartbeats, Gang Gang Dance takes music at its most basic and through hours of improvisation transforms it into what the band view as a new or ‘future’ sound [“I think we’re just trying to achieve the future,” explains Bougatsos]. Since 2001 when the band of four – Lizzie Bougatsos, Brian DeGraw, Tim DeWitt and Josh Diamond (then five – band member Nathan Maddox tragically died in 2002 after being struck by lightning on his rooftop) started out, Gang Gang Dance has been recognised as much as an art or creative collective as a band. With backgrounds in art, Bougatsos (who is often compared with the iconic Kate Bush) studied dance and performance art before launching into music, they recently performed at the distinguished Whitney Biennial, no mean feat for a downtown NY band, and headed the NY chapter of the 08/08/08 BOA festival initiated by vanguard Japanese band The Boredoms.
Their live shows, often spectacles of improvised percussive and synth-based sound, are renowned as being immersive and ritualistic experiences prone to inciting audience riots. “Our live shows are probably the most important part of Gang Gang Dance,” says Bougatsos. “I know personally it’s very cinematic, a rollercoaster of thought, emotion and sound. Sometimes I’ll fixate on an audience member because they inspire me – I’ll create a dialogue with them through my performance, so it is quite interactive.” While their performances are likely to remain unstructured and raw, their latest album, released in November, signals a new era for Gang Gang Dance – one in which their album is compiled of songs as opposed to loose, multifaceted chants and rhythms. “We just got bored a couple of years ago with not writing actual songs,” remembers Bougatsos. “There was a reason to do improv-based work in the beginning… We were trying to be a ‘band’ in our own way and were reacting against the accepted ‘bands’ around us at the time that were just making music that sounded like something you’d already heard before. Now on this new album, there are more structured songs, which I’m happy about. I think it’s definitely more accessible – it’s a little more commercial…” Bougatsos hesitates for a second, pondering the age-old question of selling out. “Oh you can’t worry about selling out – it’s just about making art or music that is meaningful and resonates with you and hopefully others. In reality, you want to see everyone you love doing well commercially and creatively.”