In 1989 Brendan Perry, half of Dead Can Dance, was asked in an interview if they could translate their music into the top ten, day-radio style music that was popular at the time. “I think it’s impossible,” he said, “because the main form of translation is the music industry, it’s their decision, not ours, we’re not going to change our music in order to appear more marketable.”
“The problem is with the music industry, I think it’s very safe, it is formularized to a certain type of music and I think it’s obvious when you play the same piece of music perhaps seven times a day on the radio over a period of two weeks, people are going to hum and sing it and buy it for their family.”
In 2013 it’s just as true but what has changed in the years since, is that Dead Can Dance have managed to reach the larger audiences that they couldn’t in the 80’s. It speaks partly to their progress, but also to the ‘music industry’ Perry refers to which has become a more global entity.
The duo originating in Australia are back after a 16 year hiatus, reuniting for 2012 release Anastasis. They have now followed up with a live album In Concert, which features mostly tracks from Anastasis, with an amalgamation of tracks from across their vast discography spanning some 29 years thrown in. It came out April 22nd this year, to coincide with their continued Anastasis world tour.
“Children of the Sun,” leads off with church synths and a marching beat, picking up when the Middle Eastern strings are added. It’s a safe doorway to the rest of the album.
“We are the children of the sun/our journey has just begun,” sings Perry in his calm deep voice.
“Anabasis,” features a sneaky sounding sample that catches, and it’s the first time we hear the tones of Lisa Gerrard. Her notes and trills sound Middle Eastern, but at the same time it’s her own unique sound. It’s the spine chilling sound you hear in Gladiator, when Russell Crowe trails his hand through the wheat. She wasn’t idle in the 16 years away from the band, scoring films and releasing solo work.
“Rakim”, which originally appeared on the Toward the Within live album, brings Perry’s chanting back, with a matching riff on what sounds like a mandolin, tuned to that Middle Eastern scale, after some nice echoes from Gerrard the lyrics are flipped and Perry sings the best English lyrics of the release:
‘Favored son/turn in the garden.
Shades of one/sins forgotten.’
It’s hard to put a stamp on DCD’s style, because as Lisa commented in a recent interview, they have influences from all over the place, but that doesn’t necessarily define the group.
“It’s not necessarily music that inspires you, it’s story-telling and poetry and visual things,” she says.
“It’s not so much from listening, I know there are influences in the work that have obviously come through because of our traditional backgrounds being half Irish Anglo-saxon, also with influences from the areas we lived in, Greek, Turkish, Italian, Troubadour, occidental orthodox, also orthodox music, secular music, quire music, we’ve grown up in that culture, and also Brendan had a very strong connection in the post-punk era with people like Joy Division.”
Earlier in their discography, when they sounded post-punk with tribal influences (on their self-titled debut album), it was more natural, as it stands now they sound more exposed particularly in English. It can get tiring, I find the fact that they chant in a made-up language disingenuous and some of the lyrics suffer from a lack of sharpness. I know that it’s about music traversing language, which is their goal, but while it’s often powerful, other times it feels like they’re hiding behind something.
Having said all that, I certainly don’t hate this album, I think it’s fresh, and I like the beauty and mysteriousness at its core. It transitions well from song to song and it’s a release that you can listen to in its entirety. It’s a live celebration of a band that has been breaking boundaries since the 80’s.
Punch Magazine interview posted on YouTube 2013
Vara TV show Kippeval interview aired 1989 posted on YouTube 2011