Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
When LCD Soundsystem did their now-infamous stretch of New York shows culminating in a farewell concert at Madison Square Garden back in spring of 2011, a curious sight struck me one night at Terminal 5. The band had finally integrated longtime studio and synthesizer secret weapon Gavin Russom into the fold after Russom had spent many years behind the curtain. And with his nipple-length hair and Gandalf beard, he was an iconic fixture both at DFA and on the Williamsburg scene for much of the early 21st century. Yet that man was nowhere to be seen, at least until I realized that the wiry, white Kangol-wearing dude behind that cockpit of analog synthesizers was in fact Russom, his trademark hirsute-ness now shorn clean.
It’s the same look Russom rocks as he ushers me into Plantain Studios in the West Village (the studio that LCD recorded their first two albums in), where his creative foil, Viva Ruiz, greets me. She’s dressed as the yin to Russom’s yang, clad in a puffy black coat with matching black Kangol on top. Together, the two comprise the head and heart of the Crystal Ark, the nine-piece act that is the latest manifold disco band to emerge from DFA, following in the label’s grand tradition of LCD and Hercules & Love Affair. This week sees the release of the group’s self-titled debut, which harkens back to 1970s polyandrous disco as well as ’90s Latin-infused house, all of it carrying an uplifting lyricism delivered both in English and Spanish. the Crystal Ark is a wondrous, celebratory experience to witness live and so we sat down with Russom and Ruiz to talk about their experimental dance troupe roots, transitioning from the end of LCD Soundsystem to the start of the Crystal Ark and how dancing in the face of the apocalypse builds community.
Gavin Russom: We met in Berlin by chance in winter of 2008. It was just a quick meeting.
Viva Ruiz: I was on tour with an acting group.
Gavin: I recognized her from NYC but wasn’t sure how. We were two similar circles that never overlapped.
Viva: I had never heard of Gavin or any of his stuff. I traveled in Latino, black, generally all-gay men circles. I go-go danced in every club in NYC; I was always dancing. And I was in the Dazzle Dancers. But we had never encountered Black Leotard Front (Russom’s own experimental dance troupe, immortalized in this track. But we weren’t in the art world, just gay bars, except for when we started collaborating with Deitch Projects ,who were doing really great crossover work with vibrant New York nightlife scenes and introducing me to the world of “gallery.”
Gavin: And then I was doing what became Black Meteoric Star (with visual artist Assume Vivid Astral Focus) at a festival in Paris and Viva’s theater group was performing at the same festival, in the same building.
Viva: So soundcheck came and I went: “There’s that guy from Berlin and he makes music, too I guess.” We knew nothing about each other. But I came back to NYC and I had just made this house track about a witch. Not witch house. So I sent it to Gavin.
Gavin: Which was right up my alley. And in getting to know each other and learning her history as a performer, I asked her to collaborate on this new project I was doing after Black Meteoric Star. I had been living in Berlin and came back to NYC to be in LCD. And when the plane landed at JFK, it felt like I was home.
Viva: I danced for a few of the Black Meteoric Star live shows in NYC but we just started collaborating on music from there.
Gavin: I had these instrumentals which would become the first few Crystal Ark singles and I could just envision Viva bringing this presence of empowered femininity and invocation on the tracks, so I asked if she wanted to sing. As I’ve gone along in making stuff, I find there are parts of the process that I really like to do by myself, but I also really like collaboration. I like a situation where I open up the space for somebody else. That’s not something I think about, but it grows in a natural way. Providing a space for feminine energy to manifest in a strong way is important to me as a straight white guy.
Viva: Thank you!
Gavin: That’s important in creative venture. Having this empowered feminine aspect of the Crystal Ark was important. I was on tour with LCD but working on my laptop to write the music for the Crystal Ark album and we stepped to another place with the lyric writing. There’s a really strong message: it got rarefied.
Viva: The first few singles had so much time around them, but the full-length was our pop record. Our references grew more lyrical.
Gavin: Working live with LCD, I remember thinking the Crystal Ark could be anything. They could be songs. I was moving from longform dance music back to songs and different ways of putting a song together. And now the band is seven musicians and two dancers.
Viva: It’s like a Voltron. There’s something about community in the lyrics and what manifest within the band. It was this crazy time period, it is a little apocalyptic in NYC right now.
Gavin: “Every man for himself” doesn’t work. And that has been the running paradigm for so many people, that a lot of people have even forgotten how to be in that community. Even for me, the Crystal Ark experience has been about re-learning about how to be part of a larger community.
The Crystal Ark’s self-titled debut is out now via DFA. Listen to an album sampler below: