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Interview: Gang Gang Dance

24th August 2009

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As they release one of the albums of the year, Danielle Goldstein probed avant sonic-adventurers Gang Gang Dance on the creation of their latest ethereal masterpiece
Gang Gang DanceIt started with a beheading and ended with one of the most hyped avant-garde records of the year. Saint Dymphna, a 14-year-old Irish girl who was murdered by her disillusioned father, happens to be the title of choice for Gang Gang Dance’s long awaited fourth LP. Although it’s fitting for the chaotic trials the band faced during writing and recording, you may be happy to know that they haven’t taken a turn for the sinister.

 And come October 20, just over three years after the release of God’s Money, the Brooklyn quartet will be ready to reveal that all their hard work, numerous studio changes and pernickety habits have paid off.

In ways that their previous records were more industrial and raw, Saint Dymphna has surpassed, by taking an even more unsystematic and almost anarchic approach to create a more conventional – well, as conventional as arbitrary noise can be - record. There is more disparity between the tracks and Lizzie Bougatsos, the enigmatic drummer and crooner with Kate Bush-esque pitch, shows signs of following a tune as opposed to breathing over the tracks and letting the words fall where they may. Could it really be that it took three years to hone this cosmic sound? After all, it took them a year to record the masterwork that was God’s Money. We tracked down Bougatsos to find out why they’ve left us hanging for so long and how they’re planning to make up for it.

“Well, the gap was filled with an EP, a soundtrack and a DVD. Plus our touring kept interrupting our time in the studio,” she states. But even holding down time for that was becoming difficult.

“The Gang was testing out several studios and engineers to figure out what we liked, so that took a lot of throwing out.” Bougatsos goes on to mention that over the three years the band threw out a whole four albums worth of material due to the fact that they couldn’t all settle on a decision.

 “The constant quest for capturing our live sound in the studio is a feast in itself. There were too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. Everybody wanted to sequence, mix, sing, etc. We got confused with the state of the band and what we were trying to do. Then we got back to basics and it all worked out. But overall, I’d say Saint Dymphna actually took like 2 months [to record].”

So they were all at each other’s throats for a while, some what fitting for the frenetic tale of Saint Dymphna. “Mentally ill in a good way,” as Bougatsos describes it. “I thought it fit the album for many reasons, like the state of the band and what the music actually sounded like. We were toying with other names [such as Within, Without] and Saint Dymphna felt like a stretch - a really hard path to follow - and I wanted to go for it. It clicked for me.”

When they got on to actually recording the album earlier this year, the disorder died down and the “Gang” started to work together again rather than over each other. They jammed like jazz musicians, following a thin line and making the rest up as they went along. “We improvise and play a lot of live shows to see how we can make it as pleasant for the listener as we can. That’s how we compose music. I apply my lyrics later, or during show sets. But we always leave room for improvisation. It keeps it exciting,” she exclaims.

During recording the band worked with several people, Sean Maffucci – their live sound engineer – and Matt Boynton (Lemonheads, Telepathe) from Vacation Island Studios being key players in the mix. “We also had MC Tinchy Stryder on one of our tracks,” says Bougatsos. This would be ‘Princes’, the grime track on the album that stands out like an extremely attractive sore thumb. “We’ve been a fan for years. We had some friends, Tim and Barry [grime scene documenters], ask him for us and he came in. It was magical.” With Saint Dymphna, GGD have managed to squash pieces from a lot of different fields of music into one huge pulp, resulting in something akin to “outer space.” And to get the word out there, they took hold of Warp’s extended hand…

“I think Warp approached us at the right time,” Bougatsos explains. “Other offers came at times when we weren’t ready for the plunge. Warp also accepts us the way we are. With other labels it seemed like we had to change more. With Warp we get to do our own thing and the band is much more understanding of what we want out of a label.”

As well as releasing an EP (RAWWAR), a soundtrack and a DVD (Retina Riddim) in 2007 - that the band have been known to describe as a commemoration to their late singer who was struck by lightning in 2002 - the band spent this summer collaborating with The Boredoms in conducting an 88 minute long concert in Brooklyn with an 88-strong band of drummers.

“The Boredoms asked us to do it in whatever way we saw fit. They left it up to us. We did have some help from Ryan Sawyer [Lone Wolf] and Hisham Bharoocha [of Soft Circle]. They helped with the organisational aspects so we could compose and concentrate on the music. Of course, it was scary to compose an 88 minute piece in a short amount of time and play live with 88 drummers. But we did it.”

Following that spectacle the band will be heading off on a major US tour at the end of October, but before they do they’ll be playing an exclusive one-off show in London. Can we expect something special? “We did have some serious DJs joining us,” Bougatsos mutters. “But our live shows are what they are, and we just do what we do.”

 At least you can look forward to acquainting your ears with fresh tracks from Saint Dymphna before the release, but Bougatsos promises they’ll be back very soon, and with “a whole lotta’ honesty.”

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