Big festivals like Bumbershoot generally aren't known for their adventurous bookings. With a pervasive all-things-to-all-people ethos that's tempered by an obligation to appeal to suburban families (and obviously, the bottom line), Bumbershoot is not in the business of catering to the freaks. History shows that the bulk of its lineups consist of stars in their twilight years; established, critically respected artists; middling performers with devoted cult followings; young musicians who've received substantial blog/zine buzz; and obscure locals who probably lobbied like gangbusters to get slots. That being said, some left-of-center acts do appear in the mid-reaches of the annual fest's schedule, even if it seems to happen as some sort of sop to a maverick selection-committee member's capriciousness.
Past Bumbershoots have hosted innovative artists such as Battles, Sun City Girls, pre-Jim Jamie Lidell, Herbert with Dani Siciliano, and Master Musicians of Jajouka. This year, the weirdest names—almost literally—in the schedule are Gang Gang Dance and Holy Fuck. (It's telling that Bumbershoot's promotional materials use prim asterisks in the latter's case to "camouflage" the profanity. How quaint.)
As recently as September 2007, Toronto's Holy Fuck were playing tiny holes-in-the-wall like Long Beach, California's Prospector Lounge. By March 2008, they were blowing minds at Austin's South by Southwest conference, with a particularly fierce performance at the Pitchfork showcase. Now this year, they're about to kick out their whirlwind motorik jams for the Bumbershoot masses. It should be interesting to see how Holy Fuck's mesmerizing, handmade-techno/Kraut-rock hybrids are received by the elephant-ears-noshing crowd.
As evidenced by their two fantastic albums, 2005's Holy Fuck and 2007's LP, Holy Fuck don't write songs, per se, so much as they construct aerodynamic rhythm vehicles with which to zoom down the autobahn to yr skull, with home-built analog-synth afterburners sparking plumes of synapse-zapping effects.
Listening to Holy Fuck's music is akin to cinematic space travel, with danceable beats kicking your ass in rapid 4/4 time. The main exception is "Lovely Allen," which achieves a sort of orchestral majesty and an epic rock sway (Final Fantasy's Owen Pallett magicked the strings on the LP version). The song is tailor-made for encores and movie-theater exit music.
But as impressive as their records are, Holy Fuck really shine onstage. What they do isn't very complex, but it's utterly visceral and exhilarating. Primarily using the metronomic rhythms that Neu! mastered in the early '70s as a template, Holy Fuck generate relentless waves of spine-tingling oscillations and a geekgasm-inducing mélange of sci-fi-flick FX, like some 21st-century Hawkwind. Other Holy Fuck signposts include Can's rhythmic wallop and Chrome's distortion overload. Tracks spectacularly climax, and then build to yet stronger climaxes, then typically stop on a dime. It's not a recipe for commercial success in the late '00s, but it is a conduit for transcendent excitement—if you're into that kind of thing.
New York's Gang Gang Dance take a less propulsive but no less bracing route to aural ecstasy. On early releases like Revival of the Shittest, Gang Gang Dance, God's Money, and Hillulah, they privileged ruptured dynamics, severely warped textures, and improvisational collage as strategies to achieve new forms of aesthetic beauty. Dub, psychedelia, gamelan, noise, and Yoko Ono's Fluxus-damaged take on rock all figured into Gang Gang Dance's mutational sonic stew.
With their latest album, Saint Dymphna, Gang Gang Dance (Brian DeGraw, Lizzi Bougatsos, Tim DeWit, and Josh Diamond) have buffed some of the abrasiveness from their approach and moved in a more dance-oriented direction. Gang Gang Dance's innate weirdness, though, makes for tracks that blur rigid genre strictures, fuse unlikely world musics, and find novel ways to confuse the hell out of you. They're still placing fun-house mirrors to dub, techno, house, and exotica, only now the shinier surfaces bring the band's bizarreness into higher relief. You no longer need to be an eight-limbed contortionist to dance to GGD (although it never hurts).
Nevertheless, don't expect mainstream club DJs to start caning GGD tracks in the foreseeable future. Nor should this more streamlined, "accessible" direction alienate the band's hardcore following. Strangeness will likely remain a prominent thread in Gang Gang Dance's DNA, even when they're toying with Madonna's "Holiday," as they do on "House Jam."
Bumbershoot's bookers should be commended for selecting Gang Gang Dance and Holy Fuck. And you should risk being alienated and/or baffled by these groups' music. If you're going to be adventurous with your food and drink intake (and you probably are), you owe it to yourself to be just as bold with your musical choices.