Gang Gang Dance – ULU, London – 23 November 2011

Written for The Music Fix.

Gang Gang Dance must be among the hardest acts for record shop owners to categorise. The New York experimentalists assimilate fragments of disparate musical cultures – drones, rhythms and melodies – into their work so effectively that their music takes on an alien spirit. This year’s album Eye Contact seamlessly mixes their most focused compositions yet with abstract interludes in such a way that the whole album runs as a single composition.

Being based on those songs, the live show might be expected to match the album in structure – you almost wish for it to unfold like a DJ set – but at ULU the tracks are separated and refreshingly redeveloped. Songs’ component elements are broken down and reconstructed to shift the music’s emphasis to a less formal, more animal place. That’s not to say that the set isn’t a bit esoteric. Psychedelic visuals, including a projected “positive energy” symbol, make for a free-spirited spectacle.

On record, their most distinctive aspect is Lizzi Bougatsos’ voice – often impenetrable, it’s where the ‘alien’ tag is most strongly reinforced. During the more melodic passages, especially in ‘Chinese High’, her dreamy rendering of abstract lyrics channels Liz Fraser on Cocteau Twins’ Treasure. Between songs, vocal effects make her banter sound in octaves or pulsate in phases, as if sent from the great beyond. Although her vocal quirks are just as evident live, it’s the shift of emphasis to the rhythmic parts of the music that provides the set’s best feature: the overwhelming sense of communality between the band and the crowd.

During ‘Adult Goth’, the bass is turned right up and two sets of drums almost overpower the synths at the heart of the studio track. Bougatsos thumps out visceral beats on the bongos, while those musicians not shackled to their instruments move as loosely as the immersed crowd. A well-placed segue into a new, Eastern-influenced song introduces hypnotic loops of beats and samples.

‘Mindkilla’ is remade in similar fashion. With light footed rhythms taking centre stage, its glitchy dance coda is infectious. It takes an instinctive musical awareness reinvent songs as freely as they do on stage. Gang Gang Dance’s biggest achievement is to do so without losing the spirit of the songs people have come to hear.

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