88BoaDrum on Williamsburg's Waterfront

Gang Gang Dance lead the New York half of this bi-coastal spectacle where 88 drummers played for 88 minutes.

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For those who haven't heard about the drum-crushing, mind-melting, numerology-rich premise behind 88BoaDrum presented by Nike Sportswear, here's the rumpus: Japan's avant superheroes the Boredoms throw a concert where 88 drummers unleash 88 minutes of percussive fury at 8:08 p.m. on August 8, 2008. Get it? Crazy eights. It's also the sequel to 77BoaDrum, a similar event the group organized in Brooklyn back on - yep - July 7, 2007.

This year, the Boredoms split the concert in two - a Boredoms-hosted jam in Los Angeles and a Brooklyn performance lead by local genre-mashers Gang Gang Dance. This division left some big questions for New Yorkers: Would Gang Gang Dance be able to hold it down? Why isn't everyone playing Roland 808 drum machines? Where's Andrew WK? Were we bound for disappointment?

Hardly. BoaDrum88 was one of the most other-worldly performances you could ever hope to see.

Things got underway at Williamsburg's East River State Park just as the sun drooped behind the neighboring Manhattan skyline. The drum kits, their sparkle-paint finishes twinkling like bumper cars in the twilight, were arranged in a counter-clockwise spiral that lead to a stage crowned with speakers and lights (it resembled one of those halo braces that people wear after breaking their necks - perhaps a symbolic warning to overzealous head-bangers). Around 8 p.m., the drummers ambled towards their kits and thousands of onlookers assumed an almost reverent, anticipatory silence.

At 8:08, the stage lights flickered on, the crowd let out a muted cheer and the drummers onstage started coughing up start-stop free-jazz hiccups. The percussive bursts circulated outward, each member of the spiral imitating the drummer to their left. Soon, the entire coil had come rumbling to life, the collective pops creating a violent, yet muffled chaos - like distant artillary fire or popcorn exploding behind 88 microwave doors.

Eventually the drummers veered into a plodding 1-2-3... 1-2-3...1-2-3... cadence worthy of a Viking warship. Gang Gang Dance's Brian DeGraw unleashed synth washes followed by a bassline that suggested an actual song. And that was the joy of BoaDrum88 - you could get lost in the textures and let the structure sneak up on you. One moment you're adrift in slithering cymbal sludge, the next you're nodding along to a Depeche Mode-ish disco death march, wondering "How the hell did they take it here?"

By 9 pm Gang Gang Dance had led their corps into a tune that sounded a lot like, um, Gang Gang Dance jamming with 80-odd drummers. There were dubby, elastic basslines, laser-sharp synth stabs and banshee shrieks courtesy of singer Lizzi Bougatsos. It was the most righteous groove of the night, and after riding it to the hilt, they slowly dismantled it into a minimal, whole-note trance: boom... boom... boom...

Suddenly, our surroundings became pregnant with meaning: the red safety light at the top of the Empire State Building was flashing coded messages to the dude head banging next to me. The airplanes descending into LaGuardia appeared to be carving figure-eights in the firmament.

And then, just as the beat was about to extinguish itself, the entire spiral snapped into chaos. The battalion of drummers started pummelling their kits, Gang Gang Dance summoned a holy electrical din from the heavens and the coloured strobe lights overhead flashed red!/blue!/green!/orange!/white! The drummers all flailed away and Matt Heyner of No Neck Blues band decided to kick his drums over into the grass. It felt loud enough to summon spaceships.

Would a UFO appear and take us away? And if so, could it drop us off in LA at around 8?
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