Gang Gang Dance - Biography
Gang Gang Dance is undoubtedly one of the most interesting art-rock bands to appear in the 2000s. Alongside Brooklyn groups like Black Dice and Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance are defined by that classic New York City art-damaged take on rock deconstruction that brought us sonic innovation from the Velvet Underground to Sonic Youth. The band’s sound folds in various strains of electronic music, ethereal ‘80s art-rock, noise, dub and a keen sense of rhythmic experimentation. From its beginnings as a loose-limbed psych-improv unit to the band’s ever-evolving take on pop song structure the results are always hypnotic and unique.
The five founding members of Gang Gang Dance have deep ties to New York’s art and music scene. Before forming the band’s members played in groups like The Cranium, SSAB Songs and Jackie-O-Motherfucker. First playing shows as Death & Dying, the five piece changed its name to Gang Gang Dance in early 2002. Comprised of Brian Degraw, Lizzie Bougatsos, Nathan Maddox, Tim Dewit and Josh Diamond, the group earned a reputation for long form shows incorporating noise, tribal drumming and psychedelic jams.
In 2002 the band recorded in Kentucky and New York, resulting in what would later become its self-titled debut full-length on the Fusetron label. Sadly, that same year Nathan Maddox was struck by lightning and killed as he was watching a storm from a rooftop.
The band went forward, playing to growing crowds in New York and refining the tribal trance-out of its live shows. Prior to the proper debut on Fusetron, the band released Revival Of The Shittest on The Social Registry in ’03. The recording captured the controlled chaos of Gang Gang Dance’s live performances. Edited from live recordings the album is the best document of the band’s early stages, featuring long tracks of propulsive drumming, lush electronic textures, chiming guitar and Bougatsos’ banshee wail.
2004 brought the proper debut on Fusetron, based on the earlier recordings from 2002. It’s a stunning debut, made up of thick drones, motorik Can-style drumming and shimmering ambient electronics. Around this time the band’s performances started to hint at a new interest in song structure, albeit a warped and elliptical one. This new approach proved popular, producing some legendary shows and by the end of 2004 the group had played with Sonic Youth, Slint and Animal Collective.
While working on its second studio album, the group released Hillulah in ’05. Again edited from live shows the EP captures the band in transition as it reaches through its ramshackle improvisation toward a more structured sound. The resulting music is some of the best in the group’s discography, capturing the band jamming around loose songs. Later in 2005 Gang Gang Dance released its tour de force with God’s Money. Recorded in Brooklyn, the album was a game changer for the band. While it still incorporates elements of improvisation and experimentation, God’s Money is a collection of proper songs. And good ones at that. The vocals and guitar work are notably different, with Degraw’s guitar recalling the Smiths’ Johnny Marr as Bougatsos delivers proper vocal melodies over verses and hooks. Never losing the exploratory electronic textures or tribal rhythms that propelled its early music, Gang Gang Dance charts new ground with tracks like the stunning “Egowar” and “Before My Voice Fails.” It’s a near perfect art-rock record, right down to the warm, dubwise production. The band proved itself to be a creative force in indie rock with God’s Money. The record stands as one of the best of its decade.
God’s Money earned the band some much-deserved attention beyond the New York scene. 2005 was spent touring Europe, the States, Australia and Japan as well as playing big festivals like the Vincent Gallo curated All Tomorrow’s Parties.
Following two years of constant touring, the band released a multimedia DVD/CD package in 2007 titled Retina Riddim. Produced by Brian Degraw the music and film are rapid-fire edits based on Gang Gang Dance recordings from 2005 and 2006. The resulting music is a bass heavy, echo-laden dancehall freakout. The group followed this up in late 2007 with an EP called Rawwar. Three songs hinting at an even more evolved pop sound for the band, these tracks melded experimental electronic textures, vocal hooks and dance beats.
The group’s change toward structure drew the interest of the legendary Warp label. In 2008 the band released its third full-length Saint Dymphna on The Social Registry in America and Warp in the UK. The album moved the band’s sound further toward electronic dance music, incorporating elements of dubstep and ambient and British grime vocalist Tinchy Stryder appeared on a song. The album manages to maintain Gang Gang Dance’s spirit, perfectly merging modern dance music with classic ‘80s art-rock and psychedelic influences. After Saint Dymphna was released, Tim Dewit left the band and was replaced by drummer Jesse Lee.
Gang Gang Dance’s unique sound has been defined by a focused dedication to the experimental tendencies the band was founded on while incorporating a sense of pop music structure. The results have vaulted the group into global acclaim as one of the most innovative and intriguing bands in recent times.