10.12.2009, Words by Charlie Jones

Lucky Dragons: "Everything is easy and everything is possible.”

I’ve been to Los Angeles twice now and I’m yet to properly work it out. It is inhumanly big, varying, sprawling, stretching out forever. It’s a city of smog, but there is also sunshine that breaks through, which is as good a place to start with describing LUCKY DRAGONS.

Lucky Dragons are Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara. I managed to catch up with Luke and Sarah after they played the ICA’s Calling Out Of Context festival of avant-garde music. Their approach to playing live feels as much like a Fluxus event as it does a traditional gig. As I entered the theatre of the ICA I was immediately confronted with a tiny space on the floor covered in all manner of intricate machinery and home made objects, some of them look like halved coconuts, there are two laptops, a mess of wires and absolutely no conventional instruments. The crowd are sitting cross-legged on the floor. Within moments of starting to play a modified projector is turned on and CDs are passed round to audience members to play with in the beams which splash the audience and band with rainbows of light. This is only the start of a night of audience participation in which we are all actively asked to take part in a strange tribal celebration of music. I think I actually catch a couple kissing whilst engaging in some euphoric moment of audience participation.

There aren’t really songs, only moments that lead onto other moments. It isn’t gimmicky either, it’s an integral part of how the band operate in a live environment. The band simply play, and at certain points they invite the audience to play with them, whether this is generating sounds through their bodies (see the “Make A Baby”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oqkqgq867j8 project for more of this) by holding onto what appear to be ropes and creating strange pulsating sounds, projections of flowers and buildings vibrate on the walls, almost in time with Fischbeck’s looping musical progressions and Sarah Rara’s ethereal chanting.

Starting up in 1999, Luke conceived of the band as a never-ending project that could encompass any number of different people at any different time. LD have released four records this year, and yet somehow the disparity in certain elements of their musical practice only serves to tighten it all together as a organic unit. Lucky Dragons never allow you to take song structures and rhythms for granted. The melodies (sounds might be more accurate a description of some of their work) surface, disappear and reappear, creating a utopian fantasy world that wraps itself around your brain.

Hi guys, how are you? How was the gig?

Sarah Rara: Really good thanks; the crowd were really into it, which is nice, especially as the way we make music relies as much upon the audience as ourselves.

I’m curious as to how you plan a Lucky Dragons show?

Sarah: Well we don’t have a traditional set list, so we’re much more interested in seeing where things go themselves, sort of setting them loose and seeing how the audience react and interact with them.

Do you approach a show differently when you are playing in an environment like the ICA, which is probably much better known as an art institution than a musical venue?

Sarah: I don’t think so; we’ve always found it more interesting to take the same approach to each show and then see how it translates to different environments, whether that’s playing in a church hall, a youth centre, a punk club or an art gallery. You know we have a very interactive way of making music, we like to get different responses by taking it into different situations and seeing the way audience participation changes.

You named your first record f_uxus 0.01, I’m assuming this is a reference to Fluxus.

Sarah: Yeah, that’s true.

So how much does the whole Fluxus thing influence you? Are you wary of any associations that could be made between yourself and people like Dick Higgins?

Sarah: I don’t think so, we’re really influenced by it, the whole overlapping of the visual and musical aspects of Lucky Dragons, and the whole idea about audience participation and the way they used chance and instruction to create the work. We really like the way you can start something and see how it grows and changes as the show goes on and people cooperate with us and each other in different ways.

So would you define Lucky Dragons as a musical or artistic project?

Sarah: We don’t really differentiate, there are certain aspects of both, but we’re not one or the other. I don’t have any formal musical training for example, and our concerts aren’t like normal concerts either.

Does living in Los Angeles influence the way in which you make music?

Luke Fischbeck: Where we live has always been the material from which everything we do comes from, it’s the way we introduce ourselves and the first thing we ask people when we meet them: “where are you from?” It’s the beginning of any exchange we can make. LA doesn’t make sense, it’s sprawling and shaking and rolling and falling apart and caving in on itself and bursting with life and very quiet most of the time. Some cities build up, LA builds in and out, through and on, and the more we travel in support of this place, as ambassadors or whatever, the more we realize how strange and beautiful this specific kind of growth is and how difficult it is to translate.
Are you conscious of a part you might play in a ‘scene’ or community that’s developing there at the moment?

Sarah: I think people have a really preconceived image of what Los Angeles is like, its really easy to see it as this big, fake, city, when there are lots of other things going on at the moment that are really exciting, like the Smell for instance, and the scene that’s developed around it.

Luke: Everyone is friends with everyone, life is very slow, everything is easy and everything is possible.

But do you see yourselves as being part of that whole lo-fi punk thing going on in LA at the moment?

Sarah: Well I think we share a lot of things in common; you know there is a certain ethos behind the Smell that we share and believe in too, the all ages, alcohol free thing, there is such a nice, genuine atmosphere there, its lovely to be a part of it.

You’ve been going to ten years now, do you start to look back upon you’re earlier works and reassess them?

Luke: Well we’ve been looking back and re-assessing since the beginning, it’s a huge part of how we move forward. Not having any fear of correcting mistakes and re-doing things we feel could be finished in a better way. We’ve even re-used names of things if they’re better suited to something new.

Sarah: Luke conceived of Lucky Dragons as a project that meant we could work with all these different people if he wanted too.

Luke: There was a plan from the beginning to never break-up this band, just to see what that would do, removing that drama. So we haven’t been as precious about so many things, always moving forward in a way that recycles and re-edits and tidies up.

Sarah: So I guess we don’t really reassess what we’ve done but more we try to build upon it, see how we develop our ideas and take it from there.

Luke: It’s a continual openness with things never being completely fixed or finished!

When listening to Lucky Dragons I always get a feeling that you’re trying to create a utopian vision in the music, there is a real pleasant optimism about it, which I wouldn’t call naivety but maybe it comes close to that. Would you agree?

Luke: I’m not quite sure what I am agreeing with, that our attempts are naive, or that we’re trying to create a pleasantly optimistic utopia? or both? Maybe we are, on the one hand, imagining some future possibilities, and then also drawing attention to the very temporary heterotopias of the present, places where many different ideas of what is good can co-exist and there ‘d be no need to collapse things into a single vision.

So what would the ideal future of Lucky Dragons be?

Luke: The goal remains, at least, to keep things suspended in an open constellation of possibilities for as long as possible and even when we get to that imagined future place, we’ll still feel the same way!

Lucky Dragons are currently recording.


Read David’s INTERVIEW WITH NO AGE for LA artist excellence.



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