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Fans of the tribal-meets-punk racket of early Gang Gang Dance may still be settling into the Brooklyn quartet’s most recent album, last year’s Saint Dymphna. Spectral and sleepy, it’s a clear departure from the free-jazz violability of past efforts God’s Money and Retina Riddim, although there’s still plenty of lurid moans and madcap drumming. According to keyboardist/percussionist Brian DeGraw, the next record may find the band embracing traditional songwriting more than ever.
“We’re only halfway into it,” he says, “but so far, it’s definitely even more [about] song structure than the last one. It’s on a pretty mellow tip. It’s smoother jams and not so raw. In a way, it’s more, like, ambient. So far, it has a really chilled out mood.”
He points to “Vacuum” as an example: “That moody, ethereal kind of thing, but not necessarily ambient.” The song is groggy and lathered in a familiar pedal effect that can’t help but recall My Bloody Valentine circa Loveless, only slowed down and unmoored. “It does kind of sound like them,” DeGraw admits, “but it wasn’t conscious. I just really like that kind of mood to a song. It’s less about My Bloody Valentine and more about the mood they create. That’s what I’m talking about with the new record.”
Another striking highlight of Saint Dymphna is “Princes.” It pairs the buried vocals of drummer/singer Lizzi Bougatsos—who, with drummer Tim DeWit and guitarist Josh Diamond, completes the band—with an energetic guest turn by rapper Tinchy Stryder, a young but inveterate member of the East London grime scene. DeGraw had been a fan of Stryder’s for years, and when Gang Gang Dance did a day of recording in London, some mutual acquaintances arranged the ear-popping collaboration.
Despite the band growing savvier with their recording and less reliant on improvisation, DeGraw still thinks of Gang Gang Dance as more of a live unit than a studio entity. “We’ve been recording again, and every time we do that, it makes me want to just play shows instead,” he says, laughing. “I don’t know . . . the magic just happens when we’re jamming live. When we get in the studio, it’s a much different experience.”
Just as the live show remains the band members’ chosen mode, they’ve made a smooth transition from the DIY basement gigs of their early days to top-tier outdoor festivals such as Coachella. “We were so used to these raw little spaces that didn’t even have a PA system,” explains DeGraw. “But lately, we’ve been more into bigger shows. It’s nice to hear this gigantic sound coming out into the audience.”
Gang Gang Dance thrive on such potential conflicts—stage vs. studio, improv vs. structure, insular vs. huge—to the point where everything blurs into one arty whole. Thanks to Bougatsos’ squealed vocals and so much competing percussion, that whole can sometimes sound like Tom Tom Club doing acid jazz. As for the balance between heady electronics and live instruments, DeGraw doesn’t see them as being at odds with one another. That makes sense, considering he juggles percussion and keys.
“We don’t like it to be too tight, I guess, and too perfect,” he says. “That’s the only real conscious thing we try to think about. But all the electronic sounds are kind of our favorite. We don’t try to control that in any way. I’d say the more electronic sounds, the merrier, especially right now.”
So it looks like Saint Dymphna is pointing the way toward Gang Gang Dance’s future, but then again, leave it to them to keep us guessing.
Gang Gang Dance play Saturday. For set time, visit www.coachella.com.