Brian Degraw, of the Brooklyn-based quartet Gang Gang Dance, doesn’t want to sit for an interview. But it’s not that reporters bother him — it’s just that he’s busy with more important things.
“I’ve been looking for a tarantula all week and I finally found a place I can get one,” Degraw said. “It’s in upstate New York and I have to find a ride up there before they close. I’m kind of racing the clock.”
The spider was to be a prop for a video Degraw was making for Panda Bear, a member of the rock band Animal Collective. He promised to call back once he was on the road, which happened sooner than expected.
Degraw’s fascination with the animal kingdom is well documented in his own band’s new film, “Retina Riddim.” Forgoing the narrative, tour diary route, the film instead favors a choppy, surreal visual exploration of Gang Gang Dance (comprised of Degraw, vocalist Liz Bougatsos, guitarist Josh Diamond and drummer Tim DeWitt) and its improvisational, percussion driven, “neo-tribalist” sound. In fact, beyond the film footage, the DVD also comes with 24 minutes of previously unreleased music, much of it recorded live, on another disc.
“People have described our sound as ‘world music,’ but I’ve always despised that term, cause it doesn’t mean anything,” Degraw said. “It’s like, ‘Here’s music that’s not white.’”
Given Degraw’s background as an accomplished visual artist exhibiting in galleries across New York despite dropping out of art school, it seems only natural that his first attempt at filmmaking eschews the traditional documentary style, opting to meld music and imagery into a fractured, disjointed visual mosaic.
“I filmed everything all the time,” explained Degraw, “I kept coming back from tour with stacks of tapes.”
The footage is a collection of three years of globetrotting and cut together in a cinematic spasm. Incorporated within the band footage is a smattering of disjointed, repetitive kaleidoscopic shots and guerilla imagery, including an actual gorilla, also designed by Degraw, adorning the DVD’s cover.
“I’ve always thought about the lines between the human and the lines between the animal world. The feeling that we all get when we play music is that we are doing something instinctive.”
Moving from regular old records into more interactive territory isn’t a surprising move from the band, however. “Gang Gang Dance has always been a very forward thinking band, “ said Jim Colvill of the Social Registry, the band’s record label. “It is a very apt and appropriate way for them to be approaching a new release.
As reflected by “Retina Riddim,” Gang Gang Dance have amassed an impressive following abroad.
“The U.S. is just inundated with so much s—t. The response here is very up and down. When we play Japan, the crowd seems super excited, like everything we do is new to them. We still get MySpace messages that say ‘Please come back, I think about the show all the time.’”
Perhaps one of the most memorable overseas performances occurred in Slovenia. “We handed out drums during the set and the audience played twice as long as we did. We eventually became the audience,” he explained with no small amount of awe, “After a while, we left the venue and went to the bar across the street, drank and listened to the audience play.”
Now that the band has amassed a considerable following, fans and critics alike are voicing their anticipation and impatience for a new studio album.
“We recorded at three different times at three different studios, and all three recordings were scrapped,” Degraw recounted. “We had studio time in little spurts and we have these little windows to make a record, but we work best when we live in the studio and write in the studio.”
The process hints at an almost obsessive tendency for perfectionism. “We want to the record to sound clean, but every time we record it ends up sounding too clean.
“My ultimate goal would be to have Brian Eno produce the record. I’m a huge fan of his older records,” mused Degraw, “I’ve had a few people tell me it’s not all that unrealistic.”
And judging by the band’s history, stranger things have happened.
“Retina Riddim” is available at Sound Fix (110 Bedford Ave., at North 11th Street in Williamsburg). $13.99. For information, visit www.thesocialregistr....