Telepathe’s Busy Gangnes on the Brooklyn band’s sound and vision.

In the flesh, Busy Gangnes and her ex-girlfriend Melissa Livaudais don’t look like hip-hop fanatics. Slim, boyishly pretty and favouring the oh-I-just-threw-this-on sweater and jeans look more associated with Sofia Coppola circa 1999 than hardcore electronica, the Brooklyn 20-somethings don’t even look like rock chicks. But they formed their current outfit Telepathe – pronounced ‘telepathy’ – from the ashes of a regular four-piece called Wikkid.

“We started Telepathe as a reaction, because we were bored,” explains Gangnes, who trained as a classical pianist. “We wanted to make some drastic changes, we wanted to make greater sonic landscapes and play around with structuring songs in a different way.” Gangnes was a punk in high school, which goes some way to explaining Telepathe’s fuck-you attitude to the music mainstream. “Looking back,” she says, “I guess I decided I wanted to start a band when I realised that people could make music and not technically know //how//! I love the idea that anyone can do it. There are no rules… it’s about creative energy. And besides, does the world really need another regular rock band?”

Lately, Telepathe (named in honour of an animal psychic the pair wrote about on an early track) have been pitched as a vital prop of the avant-garde Brooklyn scene that – since the breakout success of sound collagists TV On The Radio – has been making headlines in the music press. But Gangnes is quick to point out that the hype is just that. “We get asked about the ‘scene’ all the time,” she says. “And yeah, Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio produced our debut album, Dance Mother. But we keep getting asked to be photographed with bands we don’t even know! People think there’s this movement there; that every band knows every other band, and it’s one big cosy family. The truth is that there //are// tonnes of bands there, which is awesome. But it’s not quite the scene that people are asking us to tell them it is!”

Appropriately enough, Telepathe’s music is all about mental associations, either the ones the listener imagines or the ones Gagnes and Livaudais deliberately make themselves. It didn’t take long for them to hit their stride. “At first we wanted to use more effects and ambient sounds in our music,” continues Gangnes. “But then, slowly, after about a year of experimentation, we got into the idea of using computer programmes. We definitely wanted to make dance music, but although it’s dance music, it’s not strictly club music. I’m a dancer from a contemporary dance/choreography/performance background, so it’s dance music in a wider sense!”

To the casual ear, the band’s sound is deceptively familiar: imagine the sounds that would emerge if Pony Up joined the Human League in the studio and Timbaland fought Tackhead at gunpoint for the final mix. Gangnes has no comment to make on the subject: she’d rather be listening to rappers Three-6 Mafia than precisely defining what makes Telepathe tick. “Hip-hop is the most current pop music that we feel is the most influential,” she explains. “It’s the most futuristic music out there already. We wanted to be inspired by that, which you can probably hear in the music – with the beats, the bass and the hi-hat patterns – we use.”

An open, unpretentious woman, Gangnes prefers not to comment on the band’s sometimes “post-apocalyptic” lyrics. But she does admit that she recently spotted an unhealthy obsession with death, war and childhood. When asked to pick her favourite song from Dance Mother she becomes equally tongue-tied. “I think it’s ‘Crimes And Killings,’” she says, then pauses. “’Or Devil’s Trident.’” She pauses again. “Actually, between those two, it’s a toss-up. I really love the melodies and the beats we came up with. The lyrics are really strong and they represent us in the best possible way.” She laughs. “I guess this is how perfect music sounds to us: music that we made ourselves, in our own world.”

Photography: Andreas Laszlo Konrath
Words: Damon Wise

A full version of this article first appeared in Wonderland #16, Dec/Jan 2008/09