Gang Gang Dance have been around the block. Born in Brooklyn over a decade ago, their sound has evolved from the brutal tribal drum-laden noise experiments of “Revival Of The Shittest” and “God’s Money”, to 2008’s more eclectic and expansive “Saint Dymphna” and now the sparkling, outward looking avant-pop record “Eye Contact” (4AD, 2011).
“I can hear everything... It’s everything time,” intones Taka Imamura, aka Baby Love, the band’s spiritual guide, at the start of the record. It certainly feels like “everything time” in the foyer of the Princess Hotel in the coastal outskirts of Barcelona, where the band and many of the other acts playing this year’s Primavera Sound are staying. Members of Odd Future have a mini row with the hotel management while Daniel Blumberg the singer from Yuck looks on with a mixture of awe and bemusement. Knackered looking tour managers cling to coffees as the some of the world’s music press mingle over cigarettes with up-all-night musicians and hangers-on outside. Away from the madness sit members of Gang Gang Dance. Lizzi Bougatsos, Josh Diamond and a quiet, contemplative Baby Love. They tell us about how their new record rose out of the pits of disaster, how the band have grown out of rehearsing in cramped Brooklyn basements and the tantalising archive of unheard sounds that they do not know what to do with.
People have talked about Lizzie’s vocal becoming more central on “Eye Contact”– it kind of feels like it could be more accessible. How did that process work?
Josh: We have nothing to do with whether somebody finds our music accessible or not. That is what other people say about us. We just continue to make the music we make. We didn’t plan out to make a record a certain way – we just make a record.
How much of the new sound is down to the disaster in the Paradiso in Amsterdam in February 2009, when you lost nearly all of your gear in a fire? Like having less bottom-heavy tribal drums now, for example.
Josh: I think psychologically that ended up being a really good thing for us. It was really sad when it happened. It was hard to go through when it was going on but everything worked out. The Paradiso was really good about helping us get back into a good situation. As soon as we got back to New York we played at MOMA and we put on a really good show.
Did you have to work something out quite quickly?
Lizzi: I borrowed all these pedals from friends who donated equipment. I didn’t know how to use anything, it was all totally different to what I normally use but in a way it was really freeing to lose everything. We just had to start from scratch. It was a good process for us. Because we had so much shit before.
Josh: I lost a synthesiser, an old guitar and a pickup system that cost thousands of dollars. Brian lost some shit; we lost all of our back line. We played the upstairs room of the Paradiso. Afterwards we were told to pack all of our stuff in this little storage closet and pick it up in the morning. We actually asked if we could leave it on stage and they were like ‘No put it in the storage closet,’ so we did. They had just got a new smoke alarm system and it horribly malfunctioned and caught on fire. So the fire alarm is what actually started the fire. It was weird because that was the only room that burned in the entire club.
Did you start to think that as a band you were plagued by disaster?
Lizzi: We’ve had things happen to us which are pretty tragic and alarming [including the death of band mate Nathan Maddox after he was struck by lightning on a roof during a storm in New York in 2002] but nothing that other people don’t go through. Everybody loses people in their lives and everybody has to move on. After the fire happened people were afraid to tour with us. We got this stigma. They thought we were cursed. People that we worked with, like tour managers, were afraid to work with us. But for us it was a totally different experience, like a phoenix rising from the flames. For us it was very freeing and mind bending.
Josh: I also think we have been going for so long now – Liz, Brian and I have been in it almost 11 years and Taka has been in the band almost that long now. Things happen, experiences happen to everybody, you lose people, people die, heavy things happen. I don’t think we’re cursed, I think it’s kinda natural if you’ve been doing something long enough.
You seem a pretty close-knit band. How often do you rehearse, is it still pretty full on all the time?
Lizzi: It depends.
Josh: Right now we don’t really have a rehearsal space. We had a really shitty one in Brooklyn...
Lizzi: Then we moved upstate into a house. It was really beautiful but then we had to go back to New York. It is kinda hard to leave a paradise like that with loads of trees for Brooklyn.
Do you all feel like you have done Brooklyn considering you were there for so many years?
Lizzie: I think it is a bad situation. I don’t think it is really good for us, letting real estate moguls controlling your life because you have to find a place to rehearse and you have to pay them lots of rent.
Is it much tougher now than a decade ago?
Josh: It’s very hard right now. Nowadays New York is not as open a city as it used to be. If you make a lot of noise somebody is going to call the police and complain. There are practice spaces available but they are little sound-proof boxes. We do our thing but at this point we thrive in an environment where we can be ourselves and be alone to make music. When you are in a tiny room in this complex where everyone is shoved in and there is nowhere to go – that’s just not how we like to make music.
Do you think you will move somewhere else completely?
Josh: I don’t know what we’re gonna do yet.
Lizzie: Maybe we’ll go to Rockaway Beach.
Josh: Taka lives in Rockaway. It’s a beautiful area – but I don’t wanna talk about it as I don’t want the neighbourhood to get so crazy!
Do you find that is what has happened to Brooklyn? Ten years ago, when you and bands like Black Dice started getting press Brooklyn seemed the coolest place ever. This made a lot of people migrate there who have perhaps diluted it a bit.
Josh: I dunno. I wouldn’t necessarily blame it on the people moving there but the fact that they moved there has made it very expensive. To be honest, I feel bad for young people that have the dream of moving to New York these days as it is a lot different than it used to be. I moved there from Pennsylvania when I was 19. It is much more difficult to move to now. I think all these students and whatnot read about Williamsburg and think it’s gonna be this great place, and maybe it is for them but for me it is really not.
Finally, it’s intriguing how much you are supposed to have recorded as opposed to how much has been aired in public. Do you get rid of stuff and don’t look back, or do you have an archive that you might return to and use again?
Lizzi: We have a lot of archive stuff. We used to archive every single practice; I have a bag at my house right now that has my favourite vocal takes from all of our practices that I was going to give to Josh to digitise. We’ll do it but we’re just slow.
Josh: I am thinking about putting some of that out there, you know. We try and keep our music moving forwards so the process of archiving, when you are moving backwards – it is hard for us to find the time to do that. But we do have so much stuff. I’d kind of like to go through it. There must be so many tapes, Pro Tools files... I have reel-to-reel tapes from “God’s Money” which have extra tracks on them. So much stuff.
PlayGround is media partner of San Miguel Primavera Sound
Some people they are cursed, but that’s not the point: Gang Gang Dance have emerged from their own disaster –losing almost everything in a fire– with one of the wisest records you can listen to this year. Enter a new realm of heavy and heartbreaking psychedelia.