James Bentley meets dance’s latest wunderkind on the weekend of his debut London show, and discovers that despite his music radiating joy, it was born out of despair
Balloons are floating about the stage of London Fields Brewery on the night of hyped New York producer Gilligan Moss’ first ever UK show as a feverish crowd packs the room out. It’s a scenario that seems completely fitting for Moss’ infectious, uplifting electronica (“dance and/or garden disco”, as he describes it). Full of spiralling piano sequences, dotty machine beats, animated vocal samples and vivid pop melodies, his debut EP ‘Ceremonial’ is one of the most vibrant releases in recent memory. “We hope you’ve got your party shoes on,” Moss says over the mic – and it feels like a wholly appropriate statement.
Meeting over coffee the morning after his performance, it seems strange then to learn that the background to Moss’ radiant, joyful record is rather different to the environment it was born in. Having grown up in Chicago prior to New York, Gilligan Moss found himself moving down to Philadelphia in 2014 for an “intense” job as a management consultant, which is where much of his EP was written last summer. “It was very corporate – I had to wear a suit and go to business meetings and stuff. But the push and pull of being in such a rigid environment in the day actually helped to expand my creativity. I could let loose in the evenings and try to recreate the ideas that I had thought up in the day.”
This sense of duality is a recurring theme in ‘Ceremonial’ – the idea of “straddling two different worlds” is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing aspects of Moss’ work. He cites Talking Heads as a key influence, and it’s particularly evident on chugging funk-lite gem ‘It Felt Right’. Onstage Moss performs the vocals himself – but with digital effects shifting the pitch of his voice to the point where he’s barely recognisable. It’s an idea that was inspired by David Byrne, he explains. “He always seems to write from the point of view of a character – it’s not really ever him talking. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of a persona. The lyrics in that song are from the point of view of this disfigured, grotesque, Elephant Man-type character who is infatuated with someone who doesn’t share the same feelings.”
“I’m trying to be more conceptual with my music all the time,” Moss says, and it’s this depth that makes him such an illuminative artist. Seeing him play live, it’s easy to see why so many are already on board – his is a sound that’s so bright and invigorating that it would almost be rude not to lose yourself. But the focus and concentration on Moss’ face as he performs offers a truer reflection of the quality in his music. With a second EP already in motion, we can only anticipate even greater rewards.
GILLIGAN MOSS: NEED TO KNOW
BASED New York
FOR FANS OF Talking Heads, ESG
BUY IT Debut EP ‘Ceremonial’ is on iTunes now, and is also available on vinyl
BELIEVE IT OR NOT Moss credits a college teacher as one of his biggest influences. “I had a class that was taught by this crazy old professor dude who was really into avant-garde minimal stuff and experimental people like Terry Riley. Every class we’d end by turning off the lights for half an hour and putting the iTunes visualiser on, and he’d play some 20-minute drone piece to us and we’d just sit there and take it in. It completely reoriented my way of thinking.”