The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Escape Velocity

Gang Gang Dance Talk Neo Primitivism, Grime and Brian Eno
Alex Denney , October 23rd, 2008 08:35

Three years and several abortive attempts in the making, Saint Dymphna emerges as the miraculously unscathed product of a fraught genesis for NYC avant-alchemists Gang Gang Dance, a group that’s long revelled in the confusion that surrounds their famously unknowable brand of incantatory electronics.

One of the few outfits able to claim direct spiritual lineage with the no-wavers that brought the Big Apple notoriety thirty years ago without harping myopically on its formal traits, it was 2005’s God’s Money which confirmed the group as masters in a tribe of one, a near-mystical and utterly bizarre blend of dub economics, ambient electronica and tribal banshee wailings.

For precisely these reasons it’s been a tricky act to follow, and with a couple of stopgap EP releases failing particularly to light up intriguing new avenues for exploration, Saint Dymphna, a record taking its name from the patron saint of incest victims and mental illness sufferers among others, proves a precocious labour of love indeed.

Especially praiseworthy in all of this is guitarist Josh Diamond, who weighs in with a glistening contribution which sparkles like silk threads artfully woven across the kind of daring compositional spaces that made God’s Money such a surprisingly coherent gambol, giving proceedings a hitherto unmatched sheen.

It's a great record, in short, and The Quietus spoke with Diamond about the pressures involved in the recording of the album and what might lay around the corner for these self-described restless souls of the luminary left:

Saint Dymphna was a long time coming – what goals did you have going into the record and do you think you ended up fulfilling them, or did you end up taking things some place else?

Josh Diamond: "It’s really difficult to say specifically if we ended up in a different place. I guess it is different, we had a number of failed attempts. It ended up being made in like a month-and-a-half out of like a three-year period. We scrapped a lot of material, but it’s hard for us in the studio, we haven’t decided yet how best to capture what we do live, there’s a certain kind of energy we try to capture from the live shows. It’s just free and open and there’s an in-the-moment energy but I dunno, you put us in a room and it takes a lot of the vibe away."

Was there a breakthrough in those last few weeks of recording?

JD: "The last push to finish we really just approached thinking we would finish something and I think with a lot of the attempts before we were just being too precious about individual bits, it takes a certain amount of acceptance to think, ‘well this is what we’ve got’ and I found that hard."

Did you feel a lot of pressure following the critical success of God’s Money?

JD: "I think the pressure from external sources factored in, yeah. I was thinking there would be these people who ended up disappointed because we didn’t make the last record again. At the beginning of the process it was very difficult. Before God’s Money no-one really gave a shit, we were in a bubble. It’s been approaching a decade that we’ve been together now, you read it different in every interview but really we started playing together around 1999 and I feel like we’re a world unto ourselves. And when it started to get out of this bubble and all of a sudden people had this interest… I’m really proud of this record that we made and out of that I think we’ve got this new momentum. We’re recording again in January at the Joshua Tree to do as much as we can, just to have the purest experience possible. In a desert there’s nothing else around, ha ha, we can focus on what we want to do. I’m really excited about the next record, we want to do that now. It’s partly a purging experience for us after the last one which we always felt rushed to finish. We overran with a lot of our studio time and there was always this pressure there, like “let’s get this fucking record finished”. We’ve a lot of beginnings of songs that we’ve been playing and I hope will change in the studio. I’m thinking I’d like to make a double record this time, I’d like to make a bigger picture."

It’s quite refreshing to hear a band coming clean about that kind of pressure in a way. Do you think the EPs you released after God’s Money (RAWWAR and DVD release Retina Riddim) were engaging with those pressures at all, and how do you think they were dealt with?

JD: "Well in an ideal world we don’t want to exist to satisfy other people’s expectations. It’s not that we want to throw people off but… With the DVD, well, Brian (DeGraw, GGD’s keyboardist) makes short films pretty consistently, so it felt pretty natural. With the EP it was maybe more of a response to what had gone before and it’s not among my favourite things that we’ve done to be honest."

Do you hear your influence much in bands coming up these days? Acts like Telepathe, or maybe Foals and These New Puritans in the UK?

JD: "It’s really hard to say. I think we’ve probably built our own thing. I feel like for years we were a band’s band, I mean purely because we didn’t have many fans but I’d have lots of people in bands telling me they liked us after shows and things like that. I think we’ve made some sort of impact on things but I don’t think we’re alone in that. But the way I’d like to have an effect on people making music would be to have them do their own thing."

In your alleged capacity as a ‘neo-tribalist’ outfit along with the likes of Animal Collective you often seem to get written about as having a kind of hippy ethic. Would you go along with that to any degree?

JD: "I think that we love each other, I try and make music with love in it and I’m into that. I like things that are outside of the margins… I feel like when people say that there’s a need for categorisation. It’s like with the tribal thing, I feel like it’s a fashion statement or something. I don’t even know what hippy means in this day and age, I mean I don’t live in a commune."

Do you feel that with the new record there’s a push towards coherency or do you not think of your music in those terms?

JD: "I think a lot of people hear this wide array of sounds but for us there’s coherency, I don’t expect everyone else to get it but when we make a record it has to feel like our music and we cover a lot of different territories."

One song on the album, ‘Vacuum’, seems to have a number of My Bloody Valentine allusions on there – was that a deliberate effect?

JD: "We like My Bloody Valentine but it wasn’t a conscious thing, that song was just something we improvised and that’s where it came from. I mean it might have filtered into our subconsciouses. They were and still are an amazing band, they made a sound that’s unmistakably theirs."

Do you feel like you’re at that point yet? How will history judge Gang Gang Dance?

JD: "Heh, I don’t know. I’d say we make our own music but we’re not done exploring yet, we’re restless spirits. Not in an egotistical way you understand…"

How about the (grime vanguardist and lyrical wunderkind) Tinchy Stryder collaboration on ‘Princes’, how did that one come about? Any more collaborations in the pipeline?

JD: "The Stryder thing was a long-time wish of ours, we’d wanted to do something for years… There are a couple of other people in that direction we talk about."

And who might they be?

JD: "Brian’s a big fan of Brian Eno. I doubt he’s aware of us, he’s too busy producing Coldplay albums now. I don’t know what he would do with us but I think he has a sound that would fit with us in some ways."

Who would you personally like to work with?

JD: "To be honest I think I’m already working with the people I’d like to in my bandmates, I know that sounds like just a sweet thing to say but it’s true. Would you like to collaborate with us?"

Certainly sir. Just tell me where to stand.

JD: "I’ll get back to you on that."

Read our review of Saint Dymphna here.