Gang Gang of Four


Left: Ash L'Ange. Middle: Brian DeGraw. Right: Lizzi Bougatsos and Tim DeWitt.

Gang Gang Dance, a percussive quartet featuring young old-hand musicians (from avant-metal bands Cranium and Angel Blood) and young old-hand artists (from the stables of Kenny Schachter, American Fine Arts, and Rivington Arms), has been together more than five years but is at a peak right now with its tribal, screechy kind of energetic funk. The band’s London debut took place in the basement of a pub at 2am on the Saturday night of last October’s Frieze Art Fair. I was drunk, and the night stays with me as a jumbled dream of transatlantic assimilation. Band members Lizzi Bougatsos, Brian DeGraw, Tim DeWitt, and Josh Diamond waited as long as possible before beginning their set; a dozen New York dealers blocked the bar; Ryan McGinley zipped around; Dan Colen towered above the crowd; and Oliver Payne and Brian DeGraw warmed everyone up by playing anthemic major-key house music to a crowd willing to sweat and smile, in a London pub, long past last call (11:00). A complete community of creative New Yorkers—at their most cheerful and familial—partied in an environment far removed from their own. Gang Gang Dance was the perfect soundtrack.

The milieu had changed somewhat for their second act in the capital last week. For one thing the engagements were ostensibly more chic: They played the Vincent Gallo-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival at Camber Sands resort; occupied a support slot for revived No-Waver James Chance at the Garage in Highbury; and headlined at the Spitz, a tony Brick Lane venue with a capacity of about 300. For another an audible buzz surrounded the Spitz show and record-company suits were milling around in mufti—none too slimy, but nevertheless present. The place began filling up and some brittle girls appeared, hovering diaphanously on the arms of unearthly As Four-ish dudes, who were faintly European and palpably unburdened by gainful employment. The nymph aristocrat look may be old in New York, but it’s newly (and lamentably) arrived in London. Fergus Purcell, the beloved and prolific young designer, artist, and king of homemade tattoos, stood patiently and without pretension at the side of the stage. Young gallerist Ash L’Ange, co-owner of the Herald Street gallery with former Sadie Coles HQ man Nicky Verber, had slipped away from the ICA. The winner of the Beck’s Futures Prize (Christina Mackie) had just been announced there, and L’Ange chose a loud and anonymous evening with Gang Gang Dance over a drunken whirl with Samantha Morton on the Mall, despite the fact that he represents Mackie. Gang Gang Dance once again tore the house down and bashed my brain to pieces.

Left: Nick Forgacs. Right: The scene at Boogaloo.

Twenty-four hours later I took a corner seat in the Boogaloo, a cozy rock ’n’ roll pub with an OK jukebox near Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate, North London, to see a panel discussion on the post-punk years 1978-84. It was a release party for Rip It Up and Start Again, music critic Simon Reynolds’s doorstopper history of the era. Much like Sweet Soul Music, Peter Guralnick’s history of rhythm and blues, Rip It Up is a dazzling, rich, definitive work, and I am certain that it will serve as both encyclopedia and bible on the subject for many years to come. Reynolds captained the shambolic proceedings as if we were sitting over pints in the boozer, which of course we were, but a coherent and powerful political theme gathered steam as the panelists warmed to the rapt, mostly middle-age audience. “When I came to London, I wasn’t interested in music,” said Gina Birch of the Raincoats. “I only cared about Conceptual art. The first thing that inspired me was [Anthony Howell’s] Ting Theatre of Mistakes. They did these performances outside the Serpentine Gallery . . . Someone made a mistake. The next person copied the mistake, and on it went. It wasn’t about slickness then. We enjoyed seeing the way things were made.”

“The problem with technology,” opined Gang of Four’s Jon King, “is that we correct ourselves as soon as we fuck up. We’re aiming for perfection.” Referring to the fact that any sound or spirit can be effortlessly reconstituted to tap in to the contemporary pop audience, Reynolds added, “It’s very easy to make a cool record today. It’s not easy to build an entire popular culture that can replace the one you’re being given.” But for now it is easy—at least at a Gang Gang Dance gig—to tell the difference between those who want a glassy, wiped-clean shine to their daily doings and those who believe in the wild mess generated by the search for a new, needed, form of expression.