Formed in: 1999, Brooklyn, New York
Key Albums: God's Money (2005), Saint Dymphna (2008), Eye Contact (2011)
Gang Gang Dance are a shape-shifting, genre-defying collective from New York City whose experimental, electronic, percussion-based music has echoes of tribalism and primitivism, whilst being definably 'futurist'. Across four albums, Gang Gang Dance have fashioned a wholly unique form of forward-minded music that has no reverence to any specific era or genre.
"You’ll never catch any of us putting on a Stones record or anything like that," multi-instrumentalist Brian DeGraw once spat. "That s**t makes me sick to my stomach."
"We have a hard time with classifications because we really don't fit in anywhere," vocalist Lizzi Bougatsos told Innerview. "Our direction comes from a confusion of our eclectic musical tastes, and we consider it a positive thing."
Gang Gang Dance's beginnings are somewhat amorphous. Formed in "about 1999", initially under the swiftly-abandoned handle Death and Dying, they kicked off as a loose collective, formed around Bougatsos, a New Yorker spoken-word artist, and two former members of Washington, DC’s spastic neo-no-wavists The Cranium, Degraw and drummer Tim DeWit.
Beginning making improvised noise music at "a practice space which [they] shared with Black Dice and Animal Collective," Gang Gang Dance were an art project more than a band. Their lineup was fluid enough that their pals, guitarist Josh Diamond and vocalist Nathan Maddox, would drop in on recordings, and come on stage in live-sets. Whilst Gang Gang Dance would play shows around Brooklyn, they were never something so prosaic as a ‘band’.
"We used borrowed equipment," Bougatsos recounted, to Identity Theory, "but we were banging on anything that we could make a beat on, whether it was the floor, a chair, a garbage can, etc. Our shows when we first formed were also improvisation, 'anything goes' style. I think we hated each other as a result, but it took a lot of guts to meet up and not rehearse, then play a show."
In between these performances, their members often focused on other musical outfits: Diamond wielded his axe in psych-jammers Jackie-O Motherf***er, Bougatsos and DeGraw played in painter Rita Ackermann's black-metal project Angelblood, and DeWit did time in the backing-band of smarmy "tenor-songwriter" Cass McCombs.
The evolution of Gang Gang Dance into full-time concern occurred, strangely, with the death of Maddox, who was struck by lightning whilst standing on a New York rooftop in 2002.
"He had always wanted to be struck by lightning," DeGraw later wrote, "[and] when this particular storm rolled into the city, he made a point of going to the roof and offering himself to the sky, as he always did, and this time the sky obliged."
For the remaining quartet, the obvious way to make their one-time singer's "energy and spirit" live on was through their music. Maddox's death also instilled in the band a new desire: to make permanent the formerly intangible, and actually document what they'd been doing.
Though they'd already existed for half-a-decade, 2004 marked Gang Gang Dance's embrace of being an actual band. That year, they released their first two LPs in quick succession: Revival Of The Shittest and Gang Gang Dance. These bore the hallmarks of the outfit's improvisatory beginnings, largely consisting of free-form noise and abstract deconstructivism, with only their heavy percussive elements and Bougatsos's buried wails hinting at what was to come.
In 2005, Gang Gang Dance released the record that redefined what they stood for: God's Money. Intensely rhythmic and driven by percussion, the album's careening, tribalist songs earned comparisons to Animal Collective, and showed the scope of their influences.
"We wanted the sound to be more of bass heavy and sharp, percussion-oriented thing," DeGraw admitted to Cyclic Defrost, "like something that could fit sonically or production wise into the playlist of hip hop radio."
With its emphasis placed on songform and its dancefloor-friendly fashion, God's Money took the album took the band from their insular, improvised New York scene to a slowly-growing audience. "After God's Money came out, it was the first time we were out there in a more public manner, where people actually cared what we did," recounts Diamond.
If God's Money had provided an opportunity for Gang Gang Dance to capitalize on their new-found interest, they didn't capitalize on it. Recording their follow-up album took the band three years. Three attempts at making the album were abandoned, three different studios were used. There were "band conflicts going on that never really got resolved." DeWit decreed that he didn't want to play drums anymore. The band ran out of money, time and again, and had to break and tour to earn some cash. Each time they came back to the studio, they felt like starting over.
After releasing a live album (2005's Hillulah), a stop-gap EP (2007's Rawwar), and a DVD (2007's Retina Riddim) to fill in the gap, finally Gang Gang Dance returned, in 2008, with God's Money. Released for English electro imprint Warp, it instantly became the band's biggest record, buoyed by a collaboration with Grime MC Tinchy Stryder.
After the departure of DeWit, Gang Gang Dance signed with legendary UK label 4AD. The first fruits of that relationship came to bear in Eye Contact. Released early in 2011, the record was met with intense acclaim; internet overlords Pitchfork calling it the band's "finest, weirdest, and most uplifting statement yet."