CD by Gang Gang Dance. The Social Registry
Commenting on MTV in the early ’80s, the critic Greil Marcus famously claimed that the music video was an art form that was “born dead.” Marcus may have been a bit harsh, but the music video as we know it in pop culture is a medium that, from an artistic standpoint, has yet to really be explored for its underlying purpose: the marriage of the auditory and the visual, and the artistic effect of that marriage.
With the recent wide availability of digital video and editing tools it makes sense that new filmmakers will further explore this intersection and its creative potential. Here’s where Gang Gang Dance come in. Part of the same über-hip New York music scene that birthed bands like Animal Collective and Black Dice (the three bands all shared a practice space at one point), the band’s members also have equal footing in the visual art world, singer/percussionist/multimedia-artist Lizzi Bougatsos being the most well established of the lot.
The Retina Riddim DVD created by band member Brian DeGraw straddles the line between experimental cinema and music video. It’s essentially a collage work, both audio and video, assembled from archives of video-recorded live shows and practice sessions, mixed with found television bits and odd footage from the band’s video archives. This source material is not just haphazardly thrown together, but used as musical/visual building blocks — pieces are overlapped, looped and edited rhythmically to create music vignettes out of sounds that are tied to images, in a manner similar to the deconstructive approach used producing a complicated hip hop song. The images are not so much set to the music; they are the music, and they create a stunning, disorientating visual rhythm to fit the musical one. The finished product becomes an interaction between the auditory and visual realms of filmmaking that is not quite like anything else before it, at least on this scope and level of detail.
The key to Retina Rhythm is this confusion and disorientation of the listener/viewer through a barrage of familiar yet bizarre and often unrecognizable stimuli. This makes the band’s sound — both on this DVD and three full length albums prior — somewhat devoid of accurate musical reference points. Those that seem to fit are scattered and painfully obscure. (The only comparison that has stuck is that vocalist Bougatsos sounds something like Kate Bush.) There are flashes that suggest British post-dub producer Adrian Sherwood’s more obtuse productions, Jon Hassell’s “Fourth World” experiments or post-punk groups like The Pop Group at their most abstract.
These similarities are more likely coincidental than intentional, as Gang Gang Dance manages to birth a sound genuinely “new” without being slavishly tied to influences. Punk, dub, noise, electronic and ethnic influences are thrown into the grinder and what comes out doesn’t resemble any of it. Instead it adds up to an odd and highly off-kilter brand of highly percussive tribal futurism with a reckless abandon that is quintessentially post-punk. True to post-punk’s essence, they dismantle existing forms in order to think forward, destroying and rebuilding all at once.
Added bonus: Retina Riddim comes packaged with a CD of remixed material from the DVD. Also available from The Social Registry (www.thesocialregistry.com) — Rawwar , an EP of new Gang Gang Dance material.