After years on the outskirts contentedly beating away, Gang Gang Dance have suddenly provoked some interest around their noisenik carcass. For almost two years now the New York outfit have struggled to record and release the follow-up to 2005's God's Money, so DiS met up with Tim DeWitt and Liz Bougatsos ahead of their performance at Cargo and the release of new EP Rawwar.
"It was almost a year and a half ago that we tried to record our album. We spent one week in a studio - we could only afford one week - and we tried a bunch of things and we just did it wrong. We were experimenting and we don't know how to make records and we thought we needed to sound a certain way but we tracked things wrong and moved city. It's a long story with what's going on with the album but every couple of months we'll get another week and then work on things when we're on tour where the songs are changing, and the EP was a way to use some of this stuff we had tracked. We basically have to re-record an album so that means there is no album right now, but we needed to put something out. There were a few things that I liked from what we tracked originally but none of us are computer-savvy. I've played drums and made music my whole life but I haven't played with ProTools. It's been trying to figure out how to record ourselves that has caused the delay. We are not a formulaic band with the usual structures so we don't know what approaches to take to record ourselves. We make this huge sound and then we go into the studio and it's a struggle to figure out how we translate that on a record."
The trials and tribulations of so few boundaries. Shifting from unabashed enthusiasm to agitated irritancy, Tim DeWitt is wrapped up in discussion surrounding Gang Gang Dance's continuing attempts to provide their music with an appropriately majestic recording. With their highly anticipated follow-up to God's Money having had its release date continually put back the act have had to further themselves to pursue this aspect.
"I've been spending all this time since we've been trying to write this record learning how records are made. It’s been a nightmare trying to cram all this information but I've evolved into doing production work. I just helped this band White Magic produce a record and I feel I know what I'm doing now and how to record our record in the next month and we have a plan how to do it now. We always wanted our shit to sound like something from the radio and then on _God's Money we freaked out because we always heard it as sounding like a Timbaland track or something and instead it sounded as if it was recorded like a garage band. We didn't track it right, we recorded three times and recorded everything direct and it sounded so bone dry and nothing like us. You'd have to spend a year tweaking every sound to get it all sorted and to sound like us."_
After years spent involved in various acts, in 2001 the current members (Bougatsos, DeWitt, Josh Diamond, Brian DeGraw) - along with Nathan Maddox - started Gang Gang Dance with an immediate focus on free-form improvisational performances with each distinct influence imposing itself over another. In 2002 Maddox was fatally struck by lightning from a rooftop. Rather than fracture the act came together, more focused than previously, with their improvisational grounding used as a writing tool to form material that whilst peculiarly skewed possessed a structural consideration they had not previously employed.
"For years we were a band that did not rehearse or write songs but put on shows and our concerts would be improvised experiences that people really got in to and was always different avoiding the usual steps to being in a band," DeWitt announces, eager to distance his act as one that formed through the usual motions and with crass aspirations. Bougatsos chips in: "When we first started making music together no-one was playing improvisational shows and then all of a sudden all these improvised bands started up and we reacted against that and became composed. [...] It's a large system of construction."
When asked which musicians influence their current sound both DeWitt and Bougatsos strike in agreement over Indian composer AR Rahman. Rawwar unashamedly documents their applying a particular focus on a newfound pop sensibility, with Rahman amongst many other Bollywood influences applied, acting as a signal of intent but with each element of the quartet suitably splintering violently against one another. "Sonically, the sounds are all over the place. There is a lot in there that inspires as a producer and relates to what we do." Bougatsos snaps her head with agreement: "There is common cinematic quality between our sound."
This visual attribute was touched upon and incorporated into Gang Gang Dance's most recent release, Retina Riddim, a DVD/CD created by Brian DeGraw piecing together video footage the band had taken whilst touring. But, as with Hillulah, which was initially no more than a live EP to be sold on CD-R during their tour with Animal Collective in 2004, DeWitt insists the DVD – eventually released on Brooklyn label The Social Registry (Blood On The Wall, Jah Division, Telepathe) – was more a means of documenting progression than a bona-fide release, and was only a vague attempt to truly encapsulate the visual element they see as so relevant to their sound.
"It was more made to have as something for the merchandise table, it wasn't supposed to be beautifully packaged and instead our record label was anxious to have something to give people so they really pushed it. But for us it was a simple thing - Brian's first final cut editing. _[...] In order to make this make sense with regards to our cinematic essence or whatever I think Brian would agree that Retina Riddim doesn’t touch that, as his first experience of getting to the final cut."_
With various avant-garde acts from New York gaining a newfound exposure, particularly with regards to Black Dice and Animal Collective (whom they shared their first practice space with), Bougatsos and DeWitt are open to the fact that the tags they attribute can work both ways.
"I think experimental music became a term that helped us a bit, but then it’s fucked us, too. We would go on tour and play with noise bands who we didn’t associate with," Bougatsos retiringly proclaims as DeWitt cuts in: "But it's also treated as this thing that no-one cares about because it's this underground thing and all around us our best friends are becoming massive as a by-product of all this hype around us because anyone who looks at Animal Collective or Battles or whatever, if they're looking for something else they'll find Gang Gang Dance in the chain, so there is this odd relationship. We've become helped in that we’ve been hyped in a way we never imagined we would be."
Referring to the relationship they share with those acts DeWitt seems to fear ill-informed pigeonholing: "It's shared experiences and we all get the same promoters all over the world. What's hard now is getting this audience that doesn't necessarily understand where we're coming from. At [Tales Of The] Jackalope there was this _NME writer who was saying he was writing a piece on us and was talking to his friend and saying,_ 'this is this new band, Gang Gang Dance'_ when we’ve been together forever."_
With DeGraw previously quoted as dismissing those that do not make an attempt to progress there is an open trajectory upon which Gang Gang Dance work. Whether or not each release encompasses a sense that individual goals have been reached though seems far from the point.
"It's more organic than that, more natural. I mean, I used to be so against a 4/4 and hated the kick-drum new-wave percussion, but now we play these bigger shows you need something that is steady and monotonous."
GGD have outwardly started to conceive that, for however captivating a prospect their live performances can comprise, for some they can also be a particularly difficult act to indulge in, far from their notions of their accessibility. But despite reservations they seem to be making a more conceited effort to take this into consideration with Bougatsos eager to further this suggestion that there has been more of an attempt by the act to be more inclusive:
"Percussion and the rhythmic element of music is universal the world over and the way it is manipulated is the often the same. With every show we used to play we would completely re-structure the whole new set and compose a new set calculated and now we're starting to understand our relationship live."
Just don't expect anything too close to resembling a chorus.
Gang Gang Dance release Rawwar on September 11 on XL/Young Turks.