Gang Gang Dance
Tues June 7, Chop Suey, 9 pm, $8 adv.
"When the going gets tough, the weird turn pro," the late Hunter S. Thompson famously muttered. Which may explain why the troupe of bizarre New York bohos known as Gang Gang Dance are touring dozens of European and North American cities to crowds consisting of more than just cognoscenti squeezed into tiny galleries.
This shouldn't be happening. Gang Gang Dance's 2002 self-titled CD and the new God's Money reveal affinities with the sonic avant-garde, yet the freaky foursome are playing venues with four-figure capacities and garnering ink and HTML in high-profile publications and on highly trafficked websites. We're witnessing a renaissance of open-mindedness to unconventional sounds.
A confluence of versatile artists for whom music is just one more outlet for their wild imaginations, Gang Gang Dance sound like the Beatles-if they formed in 2000 and were comprised of Yoko Ono, the John Lennon of "Revolution 9," and George Harrison circa Electronic Sound, with mushroom-fueled side trips to African and Southeast Asia.
The group members' pedigrees are as fascinating as their music. Vocalist/effects manipulator Lizzi Bougatsos and synthesist/percussionist Brian DeGraw are internationally acclaimed visual artists and play in Angel Blood; while DeGraw, guitarist Josh Diamond, and drummer Tim DeWitt all played in Ssab Songs with cult director Harmony Korine. DeWitt's also drummed with Neil Hagerty, Cass McCombs, and White Magic.
Despite all this activity, Gang Gang Dance have cohered into a major priority for the members. "GGD began very casually and was more of a therapeutic exercise in which we could speak to one another without talking-just improvising and bashing on objects and screaming or singing," states DeGraw. "Then we began to take it more seriously when all these Brooklyn bands started creeping out of the woodwork with their studded belts and retro guitar riffs and fashion-magazine motives; that is when it became slightly more necessary to work harder on our music and to make sure that the world didn't become inundated with all this lazy rock-and-roll rehash."
Though lousy with poseurs, New York also abounds with musicians (Black Dice, Excepter, Animal Collective, etc.) expanding the experimental/psychedelic tradition. "I do feel that something interesting is going on in NY and all around the world with musicians achieving some new level of respect while making music that isn't [formulaic]," DeGraw says. "But that's what people said about punk rock in 1977, and once that had a few years to emerge from its cocoon, it became one of the most formulaic subgenres of rock. So, in a sense, what's happening now is exciting, yet equally doomed. There are bands here that we respect immensely, but the respect is due to their desire to be completely original and I often have trouble understanding why certain bands are constantly being name-dropped aside one another. It is an honor, but none of us sound anything alike."
DeGraw has a point. Without sounding retro, Gang Gang Dance combines the spacey meanderings of '70s Kraut-rockers Ash Ra Tempel with the controlled frenzy of '60s improv iconoclasts MEV and Cro-magnon, and garage-rock primitivists the Godz. By contrast, God's Money interestingly messes with ethnic music by coating it in an otherworldly, prog-rockish sheen, then filigrees it with Bougatsos's Ono-esque ululations. These white Americans strive for a novel form of non-Western music-and succeed.
GGD's music has noticeably become more focused, structured, and rhythmic between Gang Gang Dance and God's Money. "The change was a result of improvising for so long and realizing that oftentimes being too loose about playing can work very backwards," DeGraw explains. "The idea of improvisation is to create urgency and to make music that is fresh-sounding, spontaneous, and instinctive. But I think we all began to realize that after doing this for four years, what was actually happening was quite the opposite. Every session began to sound too similar and nothing was sounding as fresh as it ought to because we were often stuck with the same sounds and the same ways of attempting to be 'free.' So the idea of creating more composed pieces was actually very refreshing and much more exciting then continuing to struggle with trying to squeeze life out of a process that had become too natural.
"It is very spiritual when we play," DeGraw asserts. "You will notice closed eyes and speaking in tongues and energy being lifted from bodies. Music should always be a spiritual experience-the essence of instinct." ■