Global Beat Junkies

Gang Gang Dance embrace Bollywood and Chinatown

Gang Gang Dance is one rhythmically attuned band. Live, the New York City act often combusts into percussion jams, using congas, cymbals, cowbells, and electric drum pads. So when drummer Tim DeWit bet his girlfriend's 13-year-old brother that he could stop smoking by the end of 2006, the consequences could've been grave. With two months remaining in that year, DeWit conceded defeat, kept his pouch of Bally Shag, and handed his kit over to the kid.

The loss of the main beatmaker's instrument wasn't a setback for Gang Gang Dance, though. "I really hate drums. I'm always trying to do things to my kit to just make them not sound like drums," says DeWit. "I love playing them but an actual drum kit is something I'm not very passionate about. The only drum I have right now is a piccolo snare. I just love the thing."

The noisy, amorphic Gang Gang Dance also embraces the international aesthetic of its city: Bollywood musicals, Jamaican dancehall, U.K. grime, African jazz, Timbaland, and 4AD's aural opiates, topped off by vocalist Liz Bougatsos' Kate Bush-like wail.

Bougatsos met guitarist Josh Diamond in West Virginia, where she was enacting deranged multimedia performances in dive bars. For years, the singer, keyboardist Brian DeGraw, and DeWit were ronins in various projects: Bougatsos and DeGraw played in painter Rita Ackermann's black-metal band, while DeWit drummed for singer/songwriter Cass McCombs.

They all eventually resolved to forge a group together. "It was never a band," Bougatsos clarifies. "We would never rehearse, but instead just have this ... reaction to everything." In the miasma of art openings and basement parties, Gang Gang Dance found its sound. DeGraw realized that after hours of improvisation in the studio, "the only way to make some sort of cohesive record was by cutting it up. The editing process was almost as important as the actual writing process." Created with that collage approach, the music captured early on is a gnarled mess of no-fi rehearsal tapes, squalor, loops, and the band's no-wave take on ethnological music. The sound resembles a Chinatown market: bustling, gritty, oriental, disorienting, cheap yet glamorous. With the 2005 release of Gang Gang Dance's full-length debut, God's Money, most of these far-flung touch points came together as jagged, heavily rhythmic pop songs.

Despite Gang Gang Dance's ability to, in Diamond's words, "write a song in as long as it takes to play it," the band recently eschewed follow-up wisdom and released a DVD+CD, Retina Riddim, a video collage made by DeGraw as he fucked around with hours of tour footage. "Really, it's me smoking weed and sitting up until 7 in the morning. I learned a lot musically from doing that, taking these bits of music and basically dropping in visual equivalents." While the DVD messes with images and their sonic equivalents, the CD mashes up soundchecks, weird loops, and scraps of studio sessions, weaving the disparate strands into a 20-minute mix that's as intricately psychedelic as a Persian rug.

Sifting through hours of studio recordings, the band is still finishing up its second album, but not to worry, it'll feature plenty of drums. Soon after conducting this interview, DeWit called back to announce that he got a new kit. But perhaps the best sign of future good fortune came when DeGraw was about to fly over to Japan for a DJ gig. "My cab rolls up to the gate and right in my window, I see this huge fucking yellow clock," he recalls. "And it was Flavor Flav, dressed all in yellow, smoking a cigar ... and he just bear-hugs me. 'Respect, man,' Flav said, patting me on the back. I felt really blessed after that."

 
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