They hail from Brooklyn, where they shared a studio with Black Dice and Animal Collective. One of their original bandmates climbed up on a roof and was struck by lightning. And their new album, Saint Dymphna, is named after the patron saint of mental illness, epileptics, incest victims and runaways.
Plus, at this moment, Gang Gang Dance may well be the most intriguing, creative and compelling band in contemporary music.
"We've always been a love/hate kind of band," says guitarist Josh Diamond. "A lot of people really like what we do, and a lot of people just can't stand it, for whatever reason. I think we just try and make what we think is good music. And, yeah, there's always gonna be somebody that's hating on it.'
On Oct. 21, Gang Gang Dance hit the trifecta: They released their fourth album, landed a laudatory feature on the front page of the New York Times arts section, and inspired a two-day discussion on the Velvet Rope Web site entitled, "Why does the NY Times hype such TERRIBLE bands?"
The group's music is as indescribable as it is controversial. It's been compared, both favorably and unfavorably, to Chinese opera. A more logical inspiration is German experimental rock group Can, whom Diamond regards as "an important band for all of us in our individual lives." Liz Bougatsos' vocals most closely resemble Karin Dreijer Andersson from Sweden's the Knife, while the band's hypnotic synth and percussion-heavy arrangements evoke everything from trance to tribal, house to hip-hop, psych-rock to world music. There's even a track featuring London grime MC Tinchy Stryder, which, against all odds, works exceptionally well.
Through it all, the music is intricately textured, endlessly inventive and surprisingly melodic.
"We have something we like to call a 'magic layer,'" says Diamond, "and that's one of the things that has to be there for us to like the actual track we've recorded. It's like a three-dimensional quality, a subtle kind of psychedelic thing."
Diamond says he'll go so far as to record one guitar part and then a second while not listening to the first. Combining the two, he says, can result in "an accidental blend that dances between the two parts."
There's also been tragedy: Bandmate Nathan Maddox whom Diamond describes as a beautiful human being, a world traveler and the most free-spirited person he ever met climbed up on a roof and was killed by lightning at the age of 25.
"He'd talked about it before," says Diamond of the unlikely electrocution. "He was calling those energies toward him for sure. He was full of love, but he was also full of this cosmic energy. I think he was not meant to be around for very long, and I think he knew that to some degree."
After three years of touring the world and shelving two albums worth of material, the current Gang Gang Dance lineup is finally back on track.
"We've been chipping away at this record thing and failing miserably for a long time, and then finally got it together and finished it," says Diamond. "Making this record was a very maddening experience, a very hard thing to do for some reason. I think we were all losing our minds, and the music is really crazy at times. But our music is also a sanctuary to us, and hopefully to some other people."