The last 18 months has seen rapid development and mutation of electronic-based instrumental music. Seemingly obsolete gestures have reemerged: the well-meaning tones of ambient music, the lulling repetition of Krautrock, the starry-eyed spirituality of New Age. The contemporary artists exploring this territory—examples include Emeralds, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Infinite Body—tend to describe sound as an illustrative force, a palette that reaches from saw-toothed buzzsaw to cradling gentle curves. One of the key commonalities within this genre is the tendency towards sounds that are easier to describe as colors than as notes.
Interestingly, many of the best-known artists in this scene have migrated from noise music. While this blissful haze seems a far cry from the harshness of noise, the transition does make a lot of sense. Both strains treat sound as a form to be sculpted; both tend towards non-traditional or homemade instruments; both value the force of sound; and both are most successful when listeners surrender to this force.
Based on the evidence of their first two releases,Damned Dogs stand as one of the brightest examples of this new development in electronic music. Their daring and care seems to know no bounds, and the resulting compositions wend from the weightlessness of sleep to the menace of nightmare, combining a deep respect for melody with a wordless, descriptive spirit. And although the two members of Damned Dogs have participated in noise groups in the past, they are best known together as two of the four members of pop group Swimsuit, and Thomas individually as the bandleader and songwriter of indie band Saturday Looks Good to Me.
For the music of Damned Dogs, the effect of this alternate lineage is stunning. Their songs carry all of the evocative, physical presence of their peers, however their respect for melody creates a singular, seductive form. Many of the artists making this sort of experimental electronic music tend towards the futuristic, perhaps even the dystopic, creating a sleek, barricaded sound. By contrast, Damned Dogs have lined their music with an intensely generous spirit, embracing listeners with an unlikely post-New Age, radically non-traditional, and occasionally bleak catchiness.
This generosity is more than a quality to their music, it’s part of a larger framework or philosophy guiding the duo. Damned Dogs belong to a fiercely independent and supportive community of artists, one that often recasts the familiar DIY (Do It Yourself) as DIT (Do It Together). The importance of this community to their practice resonates with every one of their gestures: from the distribution of their releases (hand-duplicated cassettes and digital downloads); to the places they perform (often benefit shows or informal gatherings); to the diversity of their taste (as evidenced by the mix they created for this show).
In advance of their performance at the New Museum, which will be their New York debut, Damned Dogs created a digital mix of some recent favorite songs:
They also took the time to answer some questions via email about their practice, their philosophy, and the openness suggested by their band name.
Damned Dogs perform Friday, February 24th at 7pm with Soft Circle at the New Museum. More information and ticket sales available via the New Museum website.
Ethan Swan: For a listener, the territory of Damned Dogs’ music explores a lot of indefinable yet recognizably extreme feelings, both positive and negative. How does it feel to play these songs?
Damned Dogs: It feels sometimes very intense and sometimes very fluid and natural. The feelings that inform the music are in a constant state of happening, so the songs are never really focused on those feelings as much as instinctively guided by them.
ES: I like the name Damned Dogs a lot but there’s a slight defensive feeling to it, an expectation of persecution. Like you’re aligning yourself with an annoyance, something to be cursed at. The songs have a similar armor of occasional harsh sounds covering the melody within. Do you feel like there’s a relationship?
DD: The name is funny because it could read either cranky like “Get those damned dogs off my lawn!” or super goth like “Dogs of humanity, damned to eternal wandering…” or what have you. In its moment of origin, it was neither one. Our friend Michelle’s dog was being really hyper and Amber looked at the pup and offhandedly said “Damned Dogs.” more lovingly than cursing. There is a harshness to the songs, but rather than an armor, we’re trying more for a destructive distillation, where it becomes clear that noise and melody should be the same thing, melting into themselves as much as possible.
ES: You both play in the intensely catchy pop band Swimsuit in addition to doing Damned Dogs. Are there lessons learned in one band that informs the other, despite the differences in aesthetic?
DD: Regardless of style, the same kind of personality tends to come out in anything one gets their hands on artistically. Swimsuit relies on more traditional rock instrumentation, but the struggle with sunny intentions and omnipresent darkness that’s there in our electronic sounds with Damned Dogs is also there in Swimsuit’s pop songs. Interestingly, there’s more improvisational elements in Swimsuit, though one might imagine it to be the other way around. On our US tour last May we opened every set with a completely improvised jam, feast or famine style. This would somehow go over way worse with the Dawgs.
ES: Damned Dogs is not the first band with a Michigan connection to play the New Museum. Past performers include Andrew W.K., High Places, Aaron Dilloway, and Deakin (with Tim DeWitt). Do you have any thoughts as to why Michigan produces so many interesting, creative musicians?
DD: This is something that has often come up, and the only answer that seems totally clear is that Michigan is a genuinely weird and amazing place, unlike any other. Like any zones that have the strange combo deal of being economically depressed, socially tumultuous and isolated geographically from other epicenters of culture, Michigan has woven its own history and grew it’s artists in a friendly but totally strange bubble. There’s a weird, slightly aggro undercurrent to even the most positive of the artists you mentioned. Some more than others, but the tone that threads them together is definitely a Michigan thing. It helps that it’s either oppressively hot or unthinkably cold most of the year, too. Lots of time inside your own head.
ES: I noticed that you play a lot of non-rock show/community-minded settings, for example Wake Up Weekend, a vegan activism/awareness conference or the Ypsilanti Flea Market. Why/how are you drawn to such places? What makes them different than bar or club shows?
DD: Put in very blunt terms; nothing ever happens at bars. Nothing ever will. This is not to say great things can’t exist and moments of joy or progress can’t come about in bars, but the bars themselves haven’t changed in centuries and are content as such. It’s depressing as hell to think that with the bar as a backdrop, your music happening there has almost nothing to do with expression, art or bringing people together, but more so getting people in the doors to buy more alcohol. Money and sedation. I guess one could argue that the same could be said about any alternate venue as an empty structure that houses whatever movement comes through it, but it’s different. Focusing on all-inclusive events and trying to do more community-growing gigs is where actual change and betterment come about for us. While there’s nothing implicitly wrong or bad with bar shows, they kind of exist in spite of the music, not because of it. And almost never is a rock club the inspiration for something amazing, usually just the reluctant setting.
Always Open :: NewMuseum.org
// From our friends at the New Museum