Popular modern music has been having a bit of a downfall lately. From The Futureheads to the Arctic Monkeys, there is an excess of bands that picked up the recent issue of Rolling Stone, heard The Fall for the first time and consequently have started playing music that sounds like “just another post-punk band.” Fortunately, once in a blue moon, there are groups that go beyond this banal brand of Xerox-machine music and permanently carve their own message in music history. One such group is Gang Gang Dance.
“[Modern music is] relying more on a vibe rather than going through the motions,” says Brian DeGraw, keyboardist for Gang Gang Dance. DeGraw had met Tim DeWitt, guitarist for Gang Gang Dance, after both had moved to DC around ’93, intrigued by the infamous local music scene and their sheer desire to make music. DeWitt was then working at Tower Records and DeGraw was stealing from them. DeGraw and DeWitt formed their first project together, Cranium, and moved to New York. Shortly thereafter, the band dissolved but not before meeting Liz Bougatsos, whose then-band Russia had recently gigged with Cranium. They rounded out their quartet by recruiting Josh Diamond, who ended up in Harmony Korine’s shit-folk ensemble Ssab Songs, who DeGraw and DeWitt played improv shows with, just having fun. They officially adopted the moniker Gang Gang Dance after playing their first show on Halloween sometime in 2001.
Interestingly, they had a fifth member, Nathan Maddox, but he died in between the recording of their first and second albums (Gang Gang Dance and God’s Money) after being struck by lightening. While DeGraw could be seen as the defacto leader in the group, he contends that this is not the case, and if anything, their deceased fifth member leads the group. “As far as we are concerned, it is all about everyone being completely individual in the band. There is no real group decision ever really being made about how the band is supposed to sound,” contends DeGraw.
Gang Gang Dance’s musical sensibility focuses more on creating emotion rather than a stable catalog. The traditional music press has tried to pigeonhole the band’s sound as “neo-primal” or “neo-tribal” in light of their effort. But what do those terms mean besides a banal categorization of sound so that people who don’t read Vice Magazine can digest what is really going on. “I don’t know what [neo-primal/neo-tribal] means. Spiritual, definitely. Ceremonial, sure. That’s what it is to me … it is not anything other than that to me. It’s been so long, bands trying to be bands, there is no spirituality in that; it’s trying too hard,” DeGraw muses. At any rate, their sound is a ritualistic crock pot of fused rhythm, cacophonic guitar loops and counter-pitched keyboards all underscored by psychedelic vocals. In other words, it’s what would happen if Fela Kuti and Cateano Veloso got in a fight and Eric Dolphy was refereeing it.