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Gang Gang Dance - Retina Riddim

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Artist: Gang Gang Dance

Album: Retina Riddim

Label: The Social Registry

Review date: Jul. 5, 2007

For over seven years, Gang Gang Dance has always concentrated more on what being a band means rather than on actually being one. The vocals always sound vague and pseudo-foreign; rhythms are chopped up, looped and spit out one after the other; melodies flutter in and out of their collaged mixes. But there is always this sense that the traditional roles – lead vocals, a rhythm guitar, a low end and a beat – still exist. Their music throws up conceptual knots more than it goes for the throbbing, fist-pumping release, but to date their interrogation of the band idea has produced intriguing results. So it comes as no surprise that they would put together a visual work that takes its cue from the behind-the-scenes-look genre of band films, with lots of performance and tour footage and set pieces of the band members painted up and goofing for the camera. If ever a band’s music could be illuminated by a visual representation, it is Gang Gang Dance’s. What they’ve made is not just an experimental film, but a visual analogue of the band’s music.

This two-disc package consists of a 20-minute EP of new music and a 30-minute DVD put together by band member Brian DeGraw. If some of the passages on either disc ring familiar, it is because DeGraw has recycled parts of the band’s catalogue while cobbling together the new pieces. Previous listeners of this Brooklyn four-piece’s music will recognize most of the gestures on both the EP and DVD soundtrack: severely edited clips looped and stuttered within an inch of recognition, essentially breakbeat science via an alternate route, transforming the drumbreaks into sonic-breaks – any sound will do, be it field recordings, sub-bass, cracking snare hits, mutilated guitar figures, or snatches of synth melodies. All of these ideas get lined up into lots of individual cells, and within those cells progression and peaking happens, but the net effect is that of the collage, with connections suggested but never explored, and flatness, rather than dynamic contrast, being the rule.

Unfortunately, the images they put together only reinforce this flatness. The majority of shots are the of the band members themselves, interspersed with shots of religious idols, apes and nature scenes. Behind this postmodern jig of sound and image, GGD is looking to build up tension between the visual and audio, between deconstruction and assembly. The reality, though, is more like a funny car with its engine block dropped and disassembled, its numerous parts laid out in precise order, each one ready for tinkering. Some gearheads might find it interesting, but in the end, most of us want to see the sucker on the track, gunning for the finish line. Meanwhile, GGD are busy back in pit row, staring at what they’ve done, and still trying to put the damn thing together.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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