Musician of the month – Dead Can Dance


As most first year students I started the subject western music to 1600 last week. The subject being about music of the middle ages and renaissance, with its Gregorian choir music and strange sounding instruments, brought me to my topic for this month’s musician; Dead Can Dance! My mother introduced me to Dead Can Dance. She was an original goth (back then this was called new wave) during the 80s and 90s and Dead Can Dance’s gothic eery style fit right in with her. She and my father raised me right so I grew up listening to The Cure, Bauhaus, Type O Negative but also Dead Can Dance which might have been my first experience with medieval inspired music. 

Dead Can Dance is a duo from Melbourne, Australia, consisting of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry. They formed the band in 1981 and released their first album in 1984, the self-titled Dead Can Dance, this name comes from bringing something left in the past (dead) to life (or to dance). The band continued to steadily release albums until 1998 when they disbanded. Fortunately they came together again in 2005 for two more albums and tours all across the world. In 1991, the alternative rock band released an album heavily inspired by medieval chant, Latin hymns, troubadour and trouvere music and other courtly songs. This album, appropriately called A Passage in Time, I would say is the most interesting listen if you want to explore medieval inspired music. It’s also a great option if you want to gain some affinity with medieval music because you study it this year and just can’t be bothered to listen to anymore viderunt omnes, like me. 

Their genre can best be described as neoclassical darkwave. Originating in the 80s, this genre combines the neoclassical element of putting music from the past in a modern perspective with the dark and gothic mood of darkwave. However, this term does not fully cover the essence of Dead Can Dance’s music. In other albums lots of elements of African, middle eastern, European folk music and much more music styles can be heard. More mainstream music genres also have a place in Dead Can Dance’s discography, art rock and new wave is very prevalent in their earlier work and orchestral instruments are just throughout all of their albums. A great beginners listen I would say is their 1987 album Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun, which is much more approachable for maybe a mysterious late night bike ride. 

Overall I find Dead Can Dance one of the more interesting artists and a great choice if you want to expand your musical horizons. Even if none of the genres I cited mean anything to you, the combination of all of them is worth a listen so I hope I convinced you! And if you ever get the chance to see one of their concerts, please go. Even if the music is not your thing, go just for the experience.