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Q&A: Lizzie Bougatsos of Gang Gang Dance

August 4, 2009

| Image by Takahiro Immamura

Listening to Gang Gang Dance often feels like drowning in a flood of mysticism: exotic instrumentation trickling down on synth flutterings and dense, bent percussion of both the electronic and organic persuasions, while frontwoman Lizzie Bougatsos lends the surrounding melee an idiosyncratic voice. At times, she’s fiercely ornamental, doling out dizzying ululations; at others, she can be unflinchingly literal. (“Afoot,” from last year’s Saint Dymphna, considered the irony of Westernized fast-food franchises opening in countries where “cows are sacred, and most people walk.”) There’s a bit of everything in the stew Bougatsos, Brian Degraw, Josh Diamond, Tim Dewit, and Jesse Lee stir: world music, freak-folk, ’80s radio pop, M.I.A. (see the Rawwar EP from 2007, specifically), fractal-driven avant, damaged art-rock, and much more.

In a July 7 e-mail interview-the day of Michael Jackson’s Los Angeles memorial service-Bougatsos answered a few questions put to her about Baltimore, Saint Dymphna, and the late, lamented King of Pop.

City Paper: Do you have any favorite Baltimore haunts, eats, or people in particular?

Lizzie Bougatsos: Well, I love that John Waters! Cookie Mueller! And I like to eat at the Golden West.

CP: You guys just got back from playing the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. How’d that go?

LB: It was pretty rad. We got the same ratings as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Grace Jones; that was quite an honor.

CP: Retina Riddim made for an arresting audio/visual marriage, linking Gang Gang Dance’s omnivorous/world-music sound with images of the world within and outside of the United States. Do you have any plans for another CD/DVD project along those lines?

LB: Yes, Brian Degraw is working on our next DVD. And we’re writing our new music as we speak. You’ll probably hear some of it live, at the show.

CP: Saint Dymphna has a more honeyed, synth-y sound than earlier Gang Gang Dance records-a gloss; the production reminds me a bit of late ’80s/early ’90s pop singles and M.I.A. What was inspiring you in the writing and recording process? Was there an overarching concept?

LB: For me, personally, I had the image of the arctic in my mind. Glaciers. And pop music. We were YouTubing Yes a capella tracks, and smooth sailers like Don Cherry.

CP: When I heard that [U.K. grime artist] Tinchy Stryder would be appearing on Saint Dymphna, I wasn’t sure what to think. But his guest rap on “Princes” fit like a glove. How did you come to work with him?

LB: Brian Degraw, Josh Diamond, and Tim Dewit had been fans for a while. He visited our studio in London when we were recording for a “Latitudes” project at Southern Studios. He also opened for us at a show in London a few years ago. He must have been 19 then? What a little prince he is!

CP: What’ve been some of the more memorable or significant experiences and revelations you’ve had while touring overseas?

LB: Well, we had an amazing show in Barcelona at Primavera. The last time at Primavera was magical, too . . . opening for the Boredoms. We led the Boadrum on Aug 8, 2008. And in a few weeks we will be playing on a boat for the solar eclipse. I don’t think anything can be greater, experience-wise, than that.

CP: I know you play as part of I.U.D., but what projects are you all involved in outside of Gang Gang Dance?

LB: Well, Brian and I make art. I currently have a show up at the Breeder Gallery in Athens, Greece.

CP: What’s the Gang Gang Dance writing process like? Do songs emerge out of extensive jam sessions?

LB: Pretty much. We play the songs over and over the parts until it becomes a song.

CP: Are/were you Michael Jackson fans? Where were you when you heard the news of his death, and what were you doing?

LB: I’ve been watching the memorial service all day. “I Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” by Stevie Wonder nearly broke my heart. [Jackson's] message was very positive for all peoples. He changed lives. I am sad to see him go, but he is forever in our hearts, isn’t he? I was running errands in the East Village when I found out. I called my boyfriend to see if he was OK. We were very touched by him and worried about Bubbles the chimp. He looks very sad in jail. Somebody, please help Bubbles!

CP: Have you ever considered covering a Michael Jackson song?

LB: No. Usher does a pretty good job, though. So does Justin Timberlake.

Gang Gang Dance plays August 5 at the Ottobar.

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