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Members include Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry. Addresses: Record company--4AD/Warner Bros. Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505.
Dead Can Dance have been included in a wide variety of musical subgenres within rock. Due to their name, image, and electronic-drum-driven ethereal sound, many defined the band as part of the dark, gothic style when they began to achieve notice in the early 1980s. Indeed, the media have called the work of Dead Can Dance everything from "world music" to "unclassifiable."
Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, the core of Dead Can Dance, have said their creations come from pure inspiration. "No two people ever make the same music naturally, not if they're really honest with their music," Perry told Ann Marie Aubin in Strobe. "What we try to do is draw very deep inside us, in regions that are normally connected with the subconscious ... a willful immersion in trance-like states and improvisation, then bring down a whole gamut of influences we don't really have conscious control over."
Perry and Gerrard met in 1980 in Melbourne, Australia. They decided to name their project Dead Can Dance after a ritual mask from New Guinea. "The mask, though once a living part of a tree, is dead," Perry explained in Time. "Nevertheless, it has, through the artistry of its maker, been imbued with a life force of its own."
After writing music together for a few years, the duo decided to move to London, where they signed a recording contract with the 4AD label. In March of 1984 Dead Can Dance released their self-titled debut. The album's cover depicted a ritual mask from New Guinea. This first LP led to their classification as a "morbid goth" band, to which the two objected strenuously.
In the fall of that year, Dead Can Dance recorded a 12-inch EP called Garden of the Arcane Delights. The duo also contributed two songs to the debut of another band, This Mortal Coil. Word began to spread about Dead Can Dance, and their next album, Spleen and Ideal, reached Number Two on the British independent charts. The guitars and gothic rock sound of their debut had transformed into a more ethereal keyboard-based style, which was further distinguished by acoustic instrumentation--cellos, timpani, and trombone.
With a full band behind them, Perry and Gerrard spent most of 1986 performing around the world. They also contributed two songs, "Frontier" and "The Protagonist," to the 4AD compilation record and video Lonely Is an Eyesore. They released their third full-length album, Within the Realm of a Dying Sun, the following year. This time, the duo placed all the songs featuring Perry's vocals on one side of the LP and those featuring Gerrard on the other. Immediately thereafter, the two artists secluded themselves in their thirteenth-floor council flat in London to record their next album, releasing The Serpent's Egg in early 1988.
Later that year, the duo wrote the score for the Agustin Villarongas film El Nino De La Luna (Moonchild). Gerrard also made her acting debut in the picture. The project launched another career for Gerrard and Perry, who would go on to write other scores for both film and theater productions.
The two journeyed into another musical realm with their next album, Aion. Rather than use contemporary instruments alone, they incorporated reproductions of instruments used to create the music of the early Renaissance, the stylistic influence of which also made its way onto the recording. Perry and Gerrard spent most of 1991 working in Ireland. Among the projects completed there was Dead Can Dance's performance of Gerrard's score for a production of Sophocles's Oedipus Rex.
In 1992 Dead Can Dance made their U.S. recording debut when the independent Rykodisc label released A Passage in Time, a compilation of songs from the duo's previous albums plus two new songs, "Bird" and "Spirit." Without the support of major-label distribution and promotion, Dead Can Dance still managed to sell 60,000 records in the U.S. by the end of the year. The duo had already formed an underground fan base in the U.S. through imports of their earlier albums.
Dead Can Dance had another LP ready for release in 1993. By then 4AD Records had signed a distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records, which inspired the band to reteam with the previously independent label. With this powerhouse behind the album, Into the Labyrinth sold more than half a million copies worldwide. The album featured a song called "How Fortunate the Man with None," in which Perry set words from Bertoldt Brecht's play Mother Courage to music. The only other time the Brecht estate had granted permission for anyone to do such a thing was in 1963.
With Into the Labyrinth, Dead Can Dance received even more exposure in the U.S. "Dead Can Dance taps the ecstatic power of Middle Eastern devotional music, Gregorian chant, and Celtic canticle to forge a mesmerizing sound that seems to transcend centuries and cultures," wrote Guy Garcia in Time. Gerrard explained the band's approach to Strobe: "Now the relationship with the work is so percussive and rhythmical and so heartbeat-connected. It's just remembering to be a child. It's going back before the things that influenced you, being able to arrive at the before state. That's what music does to people-- it takes them to a place before any of this, before the indoctrination of society over the things that happen or could have happened."
Dead Can Dance also maintained its music in the visual arena with another film. The critically acclaimed art-house picture Baraka featured the song "The Host of the Seraphim," from 1988's Serpent's Egg. Gerrard and Perry also included scenes from the film in their video for "Yulunga (Spirit Dance)," the first clip from Into the Labyrinth.
In the fall of 1993, Dead Can Dance toured for the first time in three years, selling out shows all over the world. The duo played their complex arrangements with the assistance of five additional musicians. At the end of the tour, they played two private shows at the Mayfair Theatre in Santa Monica, California. A 77-minute concert film resulted from the two performances, parts of which where interspersed with interview segments featuring Perry and Gerrard. Toward the Within was released as both a video and concert CD in October of 1994. Two-thirds of the material on the live release had never been recorded.
In late 1994, Perry and Gerrard began working on solo projects, though they had no intention of ending their relationship as Dead Can Dance. Perry told Time that Dead Can Dance made records to exorcise their demons, and that they "still have a lot of demons to exorcise."
by Sonya Shelton
Dead Can Dance's Career
Duo formed in Melbourne, Australia, 1980; signed to 4AD label; released self-titled debut album, 1984; released U.S. debut, A Passage in Time, Rykodisc, 1992; signed to 4AD/Warner Bros. and released Into the Labyrinth, 1993.
- Selective Works
- Dead Can Dance, 4AD, 1984.
- Garden of the Arcane Delights (EP), 4AD, 1984.
- Spleen and Ideal, 4AD, 1985.
- Within the Realm of a Dying Sun, 4AD, 1987.
- The Serpent's Egg, 4AD, 1988.
- Aion, 4AD, 1990.
- A Passage in Time, Rykodisc, 1992.
- Into the Labyrinth (includes "How Fortunate the Man with None), 4AD/Warner Bros., 1993.
- Toward the Within, 4AD/Warner Bros., 1994.
- Also contributed "Frontier" and "The Protagonist" to compilation Lonely Is an Eyesore, 4AD.
- The Trouser Press Record Guide, edited by Ira A. Robbins, Collier, 1992.
- Periodicals Billboard, October 9, 1993; September 17, 1994.
- Entertainment Weekly, October 15, 1993; October 28, 1994.
- New York Times, November 22, 1990; October 30, 1993.
- Rolling Stone, July 14, 1994; February 23, 1995.
- Seattle Times, February 16, 1995.
- Strobe, November/December 1993.
- Time, January 24, 1994.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from 4AD/Warner Bros. Records press materials, 1995.
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