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“Hybrids, hybrids, hybrids”: spectral troubadour Dirty Beaches talks Retromania and Andy Stott

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  • published
    29 Mar 2013
  • words by
    Joseph Morpurgo
  • photographed by
    Daniel Bond
  • tags
    Dirty Beaches
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Alex Zhang Hungtai – aka Dirty Beaches - has always been footloose.

Over his thirty-odd years, Hungtai has variously laid down roots in Taipei, Toronto, Montreal, Honolulu, and New York. His music is similarly peripatetic – happy to dart between genre, and always just out of reach. Hungtai’s musical activity extends back to the turn of the ’00s: a stint hollering in a metal band, a pair of shoegaze-leaning albums for Fixture, sporadic singles for low-key labels (including 2010′s ‘True Blue 7″). His breakthrough, though, arrived with Badlands, a loop-based collection of phantasmagoric doo-wop, schlocky rockabilly and deep-fried dub. Zhang’s vocals – part Roy Orbison croon, part Lux Interior histrionics – came over like a wail from the other side of the River Styx. It was one of 2011′s darkest and strangest records, and one that continues to bear bruised fruit.

After a series of short-form experiments and OST commissions, Hungtai’s follow-up to Badlands is about to arrive on Zoo Music. Drifters/Love Is The Devil is that great pop feat/folly, the double album, and it’s a very different brute to its predecessor. If Badlands saw Hungtai in a looping state of mind, Drifers shows him cutting loose, experimenting with ESG-style funk, shoegaze, pressure-cooked techno and EBM. Love Is The Devil, meanwhile, is a largely instrumental collection of drone and ambient, pitched somewhere between Angelo Badalamenti and Forest Swords. Considered as a single unit, Drifers/Love Is The Devil is Hungtai’s opus – ambitious, long and calibrated to spook.

With a new album and a UK tour on the horizon in the coming months, FACT caught up with Hungtai at his current base in Berlin. On the agenda? Andy Stott, Retromania and why you should think twice before writing a concept album.

 

“I was told recently, not only by my family but also from a lot of my friends, “all your music is very depressing. We’re worried about you, are you ever happy?”

 

Talk us through the decision to release the album in two parts. 

“The initial decision came from the label. When they found out I was working on two separate records. they asked me to put it into one because economically it’s more viable. It’s cheaper, and they won’t compete with each other. So right off the bat I started changing and formatting the album – I mean, I was writing them both at the same time.”

Was there any crossover between the two in terms of tracklisting, or were they very much two discrete projects you had on the go at the same time?

Love Is The Devil was really personal for me and I wanted to keep it separate. If people are curious about how I feel, what I’m going through in my personal life, they can check out that instrumental album. The other album was all focused on the surface world, our lives as musicians in general – living in and out of hotel rooms, working and travelling non-stop.”

I think that really comes across on Drifters in particular. Badlands seemed really interested in repetition and obsession, whereas this record seemed a lot more disorientated and varied. Is that a reflection of the fact you were travelling so much when you made it?

“With Badlands…it’s interesting that you brought that up, because I think subconsciously, throughout my entire adult life and childhood even, my life has been on a loop, in a way – leaving, and relocating, and readjusting, over and over. I think that went into the music. This new record is kind of an exacerbated version of that, because I’m leaving something on a day-to-day basis. We’re literally in different cities, different countries in a matter days. Even where I’m living now, we only find apartments for a few months at a time. We only live out of a suitcase – I have a suitcase full of pedals, my guitar and one week’s worth of clothing.” [laughs]

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