Down And Dirty

Zach Kelly

It's no surprise to hear that Alex Zhang Hungtai, the 30-year-old Vancouver resident better known as fractured pop artist Dirty Beaches, is a big David Lynch fan. Considering that Lynch is a master of contrast, often disrupting his seemingly antiseptic, cookie-cutter worlds by injecting antithetical, nightmare scenarios into them, it makes sense that Hungtai would feel some kind of a connection.

"Conceptually, that kind of fucked-up scariness, that harsh noise blended in with pure '50s pop, it definitely came from Lynch," he says on the phone from Los Angeles, sounding more than a little wiped out. Again, it's no wonder: Following the release of his break-through LP Badlands (which came out on March 29th in the wake of much South by Southwest-generated buzz), Hungtai is just wrapping up a month on the road supporting Dum Dum Girls.

Using 1950s croon-pop ("The music that my father loved," he explains) as a starting point and fragmenting it with noisier textures (guitar mixed with pre-programmed tracks), Hungtai has
managed to make Charlie Feathers, Elvis Presley and Suicide all talking points on the same record. "I like contradictions and I think that's the whole point of this project. It's about contradiction and balance."

Hungtai has created something that's both insular and cinematic. A shadowy tale about a traveler and his dark attraction to the road, Badlands feels fit to be letterboxed. Live, it's a stirring catharsis. "A lot of it has to do with blending fiction with your own experiences... It's a fictional character that I inject into myself, with which I douse my soul and set my heart ablaze on stage."

Hungtai doesn't expect everyone to understand. "They think I'm pretentious, that I pose too much. People think that I don't play my instrument enough. Whereas people who like it, I think they get it right away."

Dirty Beaches plays Mercury Lounge on May 12th and Glasslands on May 13th.

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