On June 1, Brooklyn’s Gang Gang Dance played their previously postponed London gig at Dingwall’s in Camden. FACT got thereearly for a post-sound check interview with the band, only to fit them wiggingout over a broken keyboard (and as it later transpired, a couple of broken amps as well).
With Lizzi Bougatsos already bogged down dealing with twointerviewers, Brian Degraw at the heart of the sound check problems and JoshDiamond slumping off to his mate’s flat for a shower (a shower that, he latertold us, turned into an hour-and-a-half long nap that meant he had to run toget to the show on time), we decided we’d be better off calling the band themorning after, intending to mostly talk about where the band are at with the follow-up to last year’s Saint Dymphna.
But before that, some words on the show. It took place in two halves: the first entailing ‘House Jam’and a lot of percussion-based improv that intrigued but never really got thecrowd dancing. After going off-stage for 10 minutes to regroup, the band cameback on for a second half-an-hour – and if we see a better 30 minutes of livemusic this year we’ll probably just declare music finished and call FACT a day.Seriously, their Hoxton Bar and Kitchen gig from last year was good, but thisblew it out the water – Degraw and Diamond’s waves of synth and guitar drippingwith vibrant, aquatic tones, Lizzi and an additional drummer contextualisingthem in percussion patterns that ranged from mutant funky house to liquidjungle. And the entire thing was ad libbed.
Alexis Taylor arrived on stage to provide further percussion, theband’s spiritual advisor (Gang Gang have a Bez!) was dancing around them, andthe vibes in the crowd were through the ceiling. So we got in touch with them the morning after, speaking to Josh Diamond about this show, their future dates with Animal Collective, the fire that wrecked their equipment earlier this year, and what it’s like right now back home in Brooklyn.
How’d the show go for you last night?
“I had a good time, it was fun. Our keyboard broke; we weren’t able to do any of our songs really, for our set, so we just had to improvise. We just had to make something up; we didn’t have a choice. The whole thing was improv.
“We had this really nice set plan – we played one of our best ever shows in Barcelona, and we were really excited to play…just what we’ve been working on, you know? But we couldn’t do it. People seemed to like it, I guess.”
How’s the new album getting on?
“We’re gonna continue to work on it in the fall. We have a lot of stuff recorded already [from their sessions earlier in the year at Joshua Tree], and we’re gonna record more sometime. We don’t have a set date; we don’t know where, or how, or really have any concept of what we’re gonna do… [laughs].
“We have a lot of stuff recorded, but we didn’t necessarily crack the code on what the record’s gonna be like – we didn’t go there for that purpose.”
Was it more a case of feeling out ideas, or is a lot of what you recorded going straight on the album?
“I’m sure a lot of the stuff we’ve done will be on the album, but I don’t know quite how yet. We did record a lot of things that are nice; we’d managed to tread the water, see what we can do out on our own there.”
Considering Saint Dymphna was probably your most popular album, did that effect how you approached the new sessions?
“Nah [laughs] We just do what we do, you know? We recorded some things that we’d been playing around with live for a while, and we did some improv – we’re always just a mix. Whatever we feel like doing at the time, we do.”
What’s it sounding like compared to Saint Dymphna?
“Well so far…that’s what I mean I think, when I say we haven’t figured out what the record’s gonna be like. We don’t have any final mixes, or anything like that, but I imagine this album will be a combination of what we do live, and what Brian [DeGraw] does with editing songs and making new things out of our music. It hasn’t really taken shape as far as the overall arc of the record, but right now I’d say the recordings sound pretty similar to how Saint Dymphna did. I don’t think that’s how it’ll end up though.”
You had Alexis Taylor and others joining in towards the end of your performance last night – was that impromptu, or pre-planned?
“Well we had our friends there, you know? It wasn’t planned – all of last night was impromptu. We couldn’t play any of our songs man, we couldn’t do our shit so we had to make it up. Alexis came on and helped out on drums, our spiritual advisor and good friend Taka[hiro Immamura] was there dancing. It was a little party on stage; it was fun.”
So how did that fire affect everything?
“Well Brian lost some samples; he was able to recreate some of them. We’d talked about doing a new version of [Saint Dymphna closer] ‘Dust’ for this tour, we couldn’t do that. It was traumatic when it happened, but we’re fine, we can still do our thing. It’s okay.
“I almost lost my stuff [for the new album]. I had a memory card that was in the fire but it worked, once, then it died. But that was long enough to get the samples off it.”
What happened exactly?
“Well we stored our gear, at the storage closet at the club, and we were going to go pick it up in the morning when we were told there’d been a fire, and some of our stuff might have got damaged. Then we get there, and the vast majority of our stuff is in like a giant pile, just smouldering. It was actually the smoke detector that they’d installed two days before we got there had an electrical freak-out of some kind and caught on fire. So the thing that was supposed to protect our stuff from fire actually set it on fire.”
That’s pretty fucked up.
“Yeah. And of course it was only that storage closet that got set on fire, nothing else.”
You’re playing with Animal Collective soon, in Brixton. You’re long-term friends with them; do you guys get to play together often?
“We haven’t played with them in such a long time; it’s one of the reasons we’re so excited to do this gig, because they’re long-term friends but we’re both always all over the place so we don’t see each other enough. They actually stay at my house sometimes when they’re in town, but we haven’t played with them in years, so it’s a nice opportunity to have a little family show. Or a big family show, I guess – it’s a massive place.”
Do you do a lot of collaborative stuff back home in Brooklyn?
“Yeah, we have a little community of long-term friends and musicians – we get together and jam sometimes. I think Brooklyn’s a lot different to how it’s portrayed in sections of the media, but you know, I’ve lived there for fifteen years, and we’ve been a band for nine of those, and we have a lot of old friends who we play with: the Black Dice guys, Animal Collective, I.U.D. [Gang Gang’s Lizzi Bougatsos’ band with Sadie Laska from Growing], Ryan Sawyer who plays in like a million different bands. There’s all sorts of people around; I’m always open to jam with anyone really. Like if someone asks me if I want to jam with them, then I’ll jam with you, you know?”
What sort of spaces do you play in, anyway?
“We have a horrendous practise space right now. Like the ceiling is less than an inch over Brian’s head, it’s like being in this windowless cage – it’s like a cave.
“It’s no good. We’ve been in there for eight months or something like that, we lost our last one – we had it for years, we wrote all the old records there, but then it got overcrowded with bands and got shut down. We had to find something fast, so we found this place, but it’s too small man. We need certain things to be able to make music at this point I think, and it would be nice to have a little more space.”
What was the old one like?
“It was like this big warehouse/office kind of thing, but it had these big windows, and it was a large room – there was a more open feeling. Now we just dread going to the space, so it’s hard to get together. Nobody wants to go – we’re a bit claustrophobic.
“That’s one of the reasons we recorded out in Joshua Tree. I think at this point we’re really set on making this music with more love, or something like that, and we think the environment [we record it in] has an effect on that. Like if we can do it in some place that’s beautiful and be ourselves, it’ll come across in what we’re making.”
Are you gonna do the next set of album sessions there too?
“I think they’re gonna be in a different place, but somewhere with a temperate environment. And obviously someplace cheaper, because we don’t ever have very much money to do anything. We’re looking for someplace warm though.
“We’ve got loads of different ideas; most of them probably just dreams, like going to Jamaica or something. But our only real criteria is that the weather’s temperate and that was have space. We don’t want to feel caged. Our music tries to be expansive, so it would be nice to be able to actually feel expansive while you’re recording it.”
When’s the follow-up to Retina Riddim happening?
“That’s been discussed recently; I think another film is gonna be developed soon. Brian has some pretty ambitious concepts; I think the new one’s gonna be deeper, and longer, and more involved, and it’s gonna be funny. It’s gonna be a romantic comedy starring various members of the band, and our various friends. It’s gonna be pretty good.
“We’ve got so much going on man, I can’t even tell you. A new album, this tour, a new film…we do have collaborations possibly that I don’t want to talk about in case I jinx them, but there’s so much on our plate that we want to do. Brian just did a solo gig, and maybe he’ll make a solo record too – it’s quite possible that that would happen. He’s actually recorded a tape by himself, and that could surface in some form.”
So what’ve you been listening to lately? You turned me on to Sublime Frequencies a while back.
“Well there’s this seventeen year old kid, from Detroit…”
“Yeah, he’s really good. I was turned onto him relatively recently, by Brian, listening to the stuff on his myspace, and that Omar-S mix. I think he’s amazing.”
Last night, we were saying after the show that some of the rhythms you had going were really house-y, and obviously it just flowed like a DJ mix rather than a series of songs. Do you still think concerts are Gang Gang Dance’s home, or do you think something like Sonar by Night would suit you better?
“Well I made a resolution a while ago that I would enjoy every gig from then on, and I’d find something to love about every time we play live. I hit a wall earlier this summer, playing one of the worst gigs I’ve ever played – I had a really introspective time, and ever since then every show we’ve played has been like a blessing.
“I did a lot of thinking, and music is so much a part of my life that I want to feel good, and happy, and positive about what I’m doing, what my friends are doing, and what my family are doing, and I think the gateway to that is music. For the hour that we’re on stage, that’s how I’m looking at it. I’m a happier guy in general now, and I want to bring a bit of positivity to the world, because it could do with it, you know? So I’m confident that we can play anywhere, in any circumstance, and really believe in what we do. Last night was a hard gig for us, but it was fun, and we’re all blessed to be able to travel around doing this. So we can play Sonar, or we can play an art gallery, and I think it’ll be equally good.”
Photography: Tore Hallas