Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara move quickly and smartly. The core of the prolific project known as Lucky Dragons, they make music (19 albums and counting) and art (they host a weekly collaborative drawing society called Sumi Ink Club) as if there were no tomorrow; they squeeze the day with their prodigious creative energies. The world—at least the minuscule portion of the populace aware of them—is richer for it. Oh, and Lucky Dragons also run Glaciers of Nice, "a small press and internet community." Feeling lazy yet?
Lucky Dragons' latest release, Dream Island Laughing Language, represents the zenith of their sonic adventures. Older works such as Norteñas and Future Feeling employ a scrappy indietronica approach that sounds like Icelandic cuties Múm if they were raised on UK post-punk spazzes Swell Maps and hit "record" while buzzed on Jolt. By contrast, Dream Island seems to be informed by a deeper immersion in music from distant cultures (primarily Southeast Asian gamelan) and an appreciation of Jon Hassell's haunting Fourth World ambience and minimalist composer Steve Reich's penchant for the note juste. Dream Island is freewheeling exotica executed without irony, but rather with a pure, unfettered desire to generate unexpected forms of beauty in sound.
Immersed in L.A.'s fertile DIY culture, based in autonomous zones like the Smell, Echo Curio, and Dublab, Lucky Dragons, according to Rara, view everything they produce as a collaboration. "Our live performances are designed to generate equal power-sharing situations between members of the audience and ourselves," she elaborates. "I would say our working process is similar—hinged on the idea of living in a kind of equality, creating that collaborative space."
Fischbeck further expounds on Lucky Dragons' MO: "I think before we made sounds, we were a band, and everything we've done since the beginning was to change the simple thing of what it means to be a band. This often, but not always, means making or rearranging sounds."
Listening to Dream Island and the excellent Fear Melody EP, it seems as if Lucky Dragons have entered the postsong age. So, do they think we've exhausted the possibilities of conventional songwriting? Is the most interesting music now mainly about rearranging elements of the past into new hybrid configurations and messing with technology to create new tones?
"I think music is still very much in a song age," Rara replies. "Very few people are making work without a specific duration or end point—and I think the sense of time and ending is integral to our idea of a song. Some [Lucky Dragons songs] are very short-lived, just a few sputters and then gone; other pieces revolve around shepherd tones and expand for hours. Technology hasn't changed the structure of songwriting entirely; I think more about the way free jazz changed the structure of a song."
"Maybe it depends on what is meant by 'song,'" Fischbeck says. "A song in my mind is something that is completed once it is distributed and can come back in a changed form through a listening reaction. That's optimistically vague, but it keeps me calling what we make 'songs' instead of the much more technologically neutral 'tracks,' which doesn't imply any human interaction at all!"
Lucky Dragons' opposition to methodical working processes and their tackling of multiple ongoing projects keep their music evolving. "Often when we make an album, we find that we have made two albums with completely different sensibilities at the same time—and we release the better one," Rara notes. "Many of our songs begin with improvisation, which is like a game where the only rule is that each action must generate a kind of response or new action—this kind of improvisation keeps us moving in several new directions at once."
Dream Island may sound like an attempt at exotica—like Lucky Dragons' take on Can's "ethnic forgeries"—as well as meditative/healing music, with a computer instead of a band and "real" instruments, but this observation is off-base.
"We use acoustic instruments to produce all of our sounds," Fischbeck says. "The more 'pure' electronic sounds are processed recordings rather than generated from scratch. I've never used the term 'exotica' before—it's very titillating! As for the distinction between genuine and forgery, I think our stuff is too detached from any original to classify as a fake. As for meditative/healing music, that is something I feel a lot. Maybe a mix between political and healing—meditative punk... what would that even mean?"
Essentially, Lucky Dragons' compositions seem to be about the rupture, the unexpected. "Yes, that's life," Rara states. Fischbeck adds, "I like newness and creative reuse and multiple points of view. When we edit sound, we do so to isolate and amplify these aspects of everyday sounds."
In Lucky Dragons' hands, "everyday sounds" become alluringly other. That's art, folks.