DIRTY BEACHES- Workingmen’s Club, Bethnal Green. 13th May 2013.



This was a long time coming. This was much-needed; it was everything. As you know I’m a massive fan of Dirty Beaches. He manages to unleash every feeling you’ve ever had in his symphonic sounds without you even being aware you were feeling that way. There aren’t many who are this powerful but the humbling thing is, Alex doesn’t even know he’s this powerful.

As soon as Alex picks up his guitar you can see just how quickly he is transported into another world on stage. I was lucky enough to be right at the front, to witness this transformation so close was something incredibly special. It was as if he was taking you with him. For this 50 minute set it was just as if the real-world didn’t matter. Why should it ever matter anyway? We have musicians like Alex who have the gift of taking us somewhere else. Somewhere where it’s okay to harbour ugly feelings or carry an inch of self-doubt or the burning desire of lust. Everything seems alright and nothing seems important when  in this world. Live music is sometimes more powerful than the record.

Alex now plays live with Shub Roy and Bernardino Femminielli (who was also support tonight and is hand on heart, on of the most entertaining singers I’ve ever seen. This guy is a character and you need to listen to his music.) I’d never seen Alex play when he was just on his own, this was my first time and it was mind-blowing. The bond between the three musicians is beautiful. Exchanging hugs after every song was just beautiful to watch- they weren’t just three people playing music to us; they are evidently a family unit. Blistering through the new record (double LP!) Drifters/Love Is The Devil, every song played (sadly they don’t play both records in full-but imagine if they did!) something clicks inside of you. You pick up exactly how and more importantly WHY this record was made. I think everything I witnessed at this gig is going to stay with me for as long as I’m alive. Like I said already, Alex has this power that is unaware of but the beautiful thing about him is how humble he is.

When I was stood at the front, I watched him set up- which is where my photo is from, and it was done with such precision. Even before he started his show, you knew something amazing was going to happen tonight. I’ve been to a lot of gigs, and I’ve never seen anything like this before. I’ve never been to a gig where the crowd (thankfully) just shuts up and stays silent. The silence is the backbone to the awe everyone feels as they stand looking at Alex. His fist-pumps to the music resemble someone who is passionately possessed by the music. Bernardio thrashes about on keys whilst Shub looks relaxed as he hits the drum machine, alternating with the guitar. All three of them drift off into another place; but you know they are heading there together. All in their own time, but they sure as hell get there.

Live music is a healing process. Not just for those who are on stage unleashing their furies, but those who stare on in amazement. I cannot tell you what I had going on in my mind as I watched this show, mainly because I was just in awe of everything before me. Nothing mattered, maybe nothing matters now. It’s about the specific moments that make everything alright. This was one moment where everything felt alright.

At the end of each song, you could see relief on Alex’s face like every song performed was just a release for him.  Anyone who is a fan of Dirty Beaches will know just how important and possibly gruelling it was for Alex to make this double record. To see it live and to truly see how much it means to him was an absolute honour to watch. This cathartic experience is something I think anyone who was here tonight will treasure for a long time, I know I will. You see, Alex’s music goes beyond just being music to me. I didn’t really feel as if anyone else was around me at the gig. I felt like I was just stood in the doorway watching someone unleash all their pure emotions. They knew I was there, and it was as if they knew I felt exactly the same. The sheer power and devotion in Alex’s voice is insane. He can have the most ferocious voice but can break your heart in a delicate note. This happened at the end of the set where he was encouraged by us all to come on for an encore. Something which he didn’t expect, again reinforcing just how humble he is.

I’d waited years to see Alex live. Things always got in the way and it just wasn’t do-able. Having finally seen someone who I regard ever so highly as a true inspiration and probably the hardest working musician around, this gig at the Workingmen’s Club in Bethnal Green went beyond all expectations. I knew I was going to have my mind blown. I knew it was going to be like nothing else I had ever seen- I just didn’t expect the aftermath to fill me with a strange sense of hope. I like to think it is hope. It is hope of the unknown. You didn’t know what Alex was going to do next, and that is exactly why we need more musicians like this. Musicians to lure us in during their live shows in a way on record you may have missed. When I listen to his records (soundtracks included) my eyes remain closed. But live you have to keep your eyes open. You cannot tear your eyes away from the stage. I didn’t care for what anyone else was doing (although the guy next to me with curly hair was really getting into the music, he really felt it) I was just taking everything in.

I probably learnt more from this show than anything else. Put everything you have into something; that’s all you can ever do. It doesn’t matter if not everyone likes it because there will always be a handful of people who do.

DIRTY BEACHES-Drifters/Love Is The Devil.


I find it quite difficult to write about a band or singer after I’ve interviewed them; especially after I think I’ve exhausted everything I could possibly say about them. Then the sensible part of my brain kicks in and makes me realise I could quite happily go on and on about my favourite music until the end of time.

I think it is fairly obvious how much I love Dirty Beaches. His music has provided a familiar sense of tranquillity and acceptance. The acceptance comes from me; hard work I know. But it has to be done. His music is nothing short of genius. His music is nothing short of sheer perfection. Every note, every word, every little detail is just divine. I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember. His B-sides have blown my mind and his soundtracks have made me weep. So what on earth has his new two record done to me?

Drifters is the vocal album. Drifters is the one I’ll be playing when I’m wandering around with no concept of home, finding a sense of it in Alex’s music. Love Is The Devil is the one I will play when I cannot sleep. The instrumental album is the one to soothe the soul. The vocal is the one to wake it up. If you really want to shake things up, alternate the songs you listen to. One from Drifters, then one from Love Is The Devil. Or you could just listen to the records one after another to truly see where Alex is coming from.

I’ll mention Love Is The Devil first because I feel this is the one that’s going to stir up some crazy feelings for anyone that listens to it. When I heard the title track I pretty much had the same reaction that everyone else did. Yeah, this sensitive soul right here cried. I cried because you could truly feel pain in the music. Words were not needed. Sometimes words are the worst thing; they can do more harm than good. There aren’t many musicians that can make an instrumental record with so much emotion. So much intensity and a raw delight to it, yet remain so delicate. This is why I believe Alex is from another world, he must be. I know I keep saying he’s a genius but, he truly is. The way he can create so many emotions in just one song and keep it consistent all the way through just leaves you in awe. From this record, my heart firmly belongs to Alone At The Danube River. I shut my eyes as I listened to this one and I was anywhere but here. That’s the best place to be. I get a lot of escapism from Alex’s music, and as someone who cannot stand where they currently live (its okay, I’m moving to London in a few weeks, finally!) music is the truest form of escaping the mundane trials of everyday life here. His music just takes me to another place. I place I suppose I can call home. I’ve wandered around places at night on my own listening to his music, and it always feels like an outer-body experience. Love Is The Devil is more than just an instrumental record; it’s a journey deep into the soul. A journey you will not forget once you are guided through it by Alex.

Now let’s get into Drifters.

Drifters opens with the killer Night Walk. This is a song you will strut along the streets late at night to. It has this insanely 80s beat to it mixed with something sinister. Like a vengeful menace on the prowl. Something is lurking and is coming for you. A menacing vibe to sift in and out during Drifters, and for the most part you can really see why Alex has made soundtracks. Drifters feels like it would be perfectly placed in a horror or thriller film. The 10 minute Mirage Hall is my favourite from Drifters. You see, I have a huge weakness for songs that last over 5 minutes. I love music that just seems to go on forever yet still manages to fill you with excitement as you are taken on a journey through the singer/band’s mind. The last track, Landscapes In The Mist is full of ethereal moments that make you pause before you listen to Love Is The Devil. Part of you thinks, “Maybe I should play Drifters one more time.” You know you must carry on, but then you find yourself at the end of Love Is The Devil going back to Drifters and playing both records on a constant loop. This is how you know you are listening to something truly spectacular.

A lot of new music has come out this year so far, but none have offered what Alex has. He’s created a soundtrack to daily life with these two records. He’s easily made the best two records you will hear this year, you cannot deny him of that. Listening to both records, I’ve developed more respect and admiration for what Alex does. This is a person who truly has music in their blood; that they just HAVE to make music. And it is his sheer passion for music that makes you fall so easily for his music. I cannot favour one record over the other because both are so different yet equally perfect. Both records conjure up different emotions yet provide the same source of comfort. I hope a lot is written about both of these records because they are something that just cannot be ignored. What stands out in both records is the labour that has gone into making them. Anyone who is a fan of Alex knows exactly how hard he works and how much he puts into his music. I think this is something that plays a massive part in being a fan of his music. He’s constantly putting music out, but not in an overbearing way. He leaves you wanting more, and with a back catalogue that is more impressive than most- he can easily add these two records as his best work to date, as clichéd as it sounds. I hope someone who isn’t familiar with his music stumbles across Drifters/Love Is The Devil and develops a lasting obsession. I hope they listen to it and find the pieces of themselves that have been missing for some time.

Whilst most are set on creating a summer-vibe record, Alex keeps you in comforting darkness of the harshest of winters. The loneliness that may enrage you is slowly disappearing, because you realise that someone else gets it. Someone else is unleashing all you feel- with and without words. That is why these two records are not only extremely important but also incredible.

An Interview with DIRTY BEACHES.


To write this with the care and respect it deserves may take me some time. I have the time, too much time. I’ll try my best. I’ve wanted to speak with Alex Zhang Hungtai (Dirty Beaches) for some time now. Many times I’ve read his blog and just thought “Email him..don’t be such a coward.” A month ago I stopped being a coward and emailed him asking if he would answer some questions. I always expect the worst. But, it is obvious that Alex is a good person who loves making music. I sent him some questions and now I am going to try type this up in a way I want it. As a fan; not as a Music Journalist/Writer. Even though I am one, I don’t really like them. They write in a way I don’t like. I’m not afraid to be a fan, so I might as well write like one.

All of Alex’s work is on his bandcamp page (http://dirtybeaches.bandcamp.com/) and for any emotion you are carrying around; there is a song there that will sum it up perfectly. More than likely it will be just instrumental. Sometimes words just don’t cut it. I was really intrigued as to how he manages to convey feelings of loneliness and desolation without using lyrics; how can you put across something so frail without using your voice, can it even be done? Of course it can.


“For better or worse, I’ve developed this way of making music as the only way I know how to make music.  Instrumentals or not, it doesn’t really matter because it’s just a way of expressing how you feel.  Like picking what type of brushes to use on canvas, for example.  I am learning more techniques as we speak, and have developed some as well over the years.”


This is why it is so easy to love Alex’s music, because you know it comes from a treasured place. A place that is sacred, that not many can get into; the soul. The soul is deeper than the heart. It is easy to have a piece of music touch your heart, but when it really gets to your soul that’s it. The connection is firmly there. Irreplaceable and perfect.

Alex’s music has always sounded to me as if it was destined to be in a film. His music makes you feel as if you are on the run; escaping what has held you captive for so long. Last week I picked up a copy of the Water Park soundtrack. I’m not sure if I’ll ever take it out of the wrapper because it just looks so beautiful untouched and unopened. Or maybe I’ll just cave and listen to it later. I’ve heard the film scores he has done before, and have been left in awe of his talent. As I’ve listened to them, I was always curious as to how he went about it because music in films is all about capturing certain moments to reinforce specific things happening. I thoroughly recommend you listen to his music scores because they’re on a different level.


“I’m working with the directors research material and for me, first and foremost is to deliver the music that the director wants.  I have my instincts too, but it’s usually over a lot of detailed conversations with the director to develop the pacing, rhythm, and mood of each scene where music is required.  Sometimes they just background music, so I can write very simple non intrusive music that can be interrupted by dialogue any time.  Kind of like furniture music.  But every movie, every director is different, and it’s interesting to work with different people that intrigues you.”


His music is powerful, regardless of if it’s on his own record or if it is a soundtrack. It just touches you in a beautiful way. You can sense a lot of struggle in his music, that this is a pure way to release frustrations. Nothing ever comes easy, and you can tell Alex is one of the hardest working musicians around just by looking at his discography. We all have to struggle to get what we want, and if everything just happened instantly surely we’d never treasure certain moments or we’d just take everything for granted. Everything can be made up of false starts at times, it doesn’t work out. You stop to only start again. Usually it is the second time around that can make it all fall into the place the way it should. There is a beautiful sense of urgency in Alex’s music that makes you really believe in what he has created. You know it is everything to him, and I wanted to know what made him feel that he just HAD to make music, that nothing else would do:


“I quit music once in 2005, and worked in real estate.  After 1 year, I quit my job and moved to Montreal and started all over.  I think from that point on it was pretty serious.  I quit a proper job to go work in minimum wage shit jobs just so I could pursue this dream.  I got lucky.  But I did work really hard for 7 years.  Working countless dead end jobs, writing and playing on my spare time, playing to 5 people at some moody basement.  This is the life of a lot of musicians in North America.  I feel very blessed.  Real glad to be here.”

I remember when I first heard Dirty Beaches. I honestly had no idea what I was listening to. I didn’t know if it was one person or a full band. I didn’t know, part of me at the time didn’t want to know because I created an image in my mind of what it was. I think part of me knew it was one person. I have a thing for duos and solo artists that have a “do or die” feel about their music. You just know that they work harder than most (that’s not a knock to bands at all.) It is like they have something more to prove. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But when it is just one of you on stage, you are a lot more vulnerable because you have no back up if it goes wrong. Same goes with duos, if one slips- you both fall. Yet you still carry each other. Anyone who knows me knows that The Kills are my favourite duo, and if they added more members it just wouldn’t sound or look right. It is quite voyeuristic in a way because the chemistry they have is just so rare. The same goes with powerful solo artists like Alex. He is pouring it all out, and we just take it all in. So why did he decide to go it alone?


“I moved to Montreal and posted “bass player, drummer wanted” ads for months, went to numerous meet ups with strangers and nothing ever came out of it.  Out of frustration, I did everything on my own.  My background is playing bass or guitar in the back of numerous bands, metal, noise, improv, indie rock what have you.  I always like being in the back of the band just playing a guitar.  But I didn’t find anyone that I connected with.” 


You cannot force a connection, and life is too short to make compromises. A strong DIY work ethic may take longer to achieve what you want, but the end result is always worth more because you know you worked yourself to the ground to get it. The more you see and the more you expose yourself to; it just causes you to gain inspiration and to grow. When you listen to Alex’s work, you really get a sense of this. He has travelled and has lived everywhere from Montreal to his current location, Berlin. At the start of this year he toured Australia and Asia for the first time. Cultural diversity makes the world a better place. Although I love books, seeing things with your own eyes is a lot more powerful than reading about it. To experience it all for yourself can do so much for a person, only a fool would turn their nose up at us all being different and making our own contributions to society. No matter how big or small.  As I read Alex’s answers to my questions, this was the one that really meant a lot. I’m trying to figure out why, but I suppose if I keep going over it the answer will just miss me. I asked him what stand-out moments there were on this tour:


“It’s mostly non music related, like swimming in the pacific ocean again was a huge thing for me as I was raised near the ocean in Honolulu.  It made me realize how much I miss swimming in ocean water.  Other things were food, predominantly food, and bizarre adventures like going to hang out with lady boys in Bangkok.  That was rad.  They were super cool.  People in Thailand taught me a lot of things, as they are very peaceful culturally, and there’s no bullshit stereotypes of masculinity or femininity.  The body and the mind seems to be separate over there.  Trans gender people and homosexuality is not a taboo at all over there.  It was cool to see and experience that.”


If we lived in a world where we all accepted each other, it’d make life a lot easier for most of us. But alas, that won’t happen. Not in my lifetime. I live in hope but you know. To be in such a peaceful environment like Thailand and to swim in the ocean- these are moments that will stay with a person forever. You have to travel around to find a place that you belong in. I remember a few weeks ago I was wandering around Oxford Street in London on my own. I think at one point I took a wrong turn and got lost. So I went in the first bookshop I found and spent an hour in there. No one knew who I was and no one wanted anything from me. I was just another person. It’s alright to spend time on your own to just be. To just be at peace and to just do what you want. It is important for people to spend time alone and to not talk. Silence is beautiful. Getting lost in a place is wonderful. You turn corners and you have no idea what is there; going into the unknown can be scary but it is also one of the best things you can do. Alex has lived everywhere. Places where he knows no one, places where he knows someone. Is it hard for him to find a place to settle? Does he want to? Why should any of us settle somewhere? I’ve never called a place “home.” I don’t know if I ever will. Some places you feel a connection to, other places can be quite soulless. You create your own state of mind and what it is to “belong.”


“Everyone has their own unique path, there’s definitely some places that made it harder for me to adjust to based on the language/culture barrier, but after a while, you get used to everything.  I’m pretty open to new things.  New food, new culture, new clothes, I don’t really care.  I prefer to blend in with the crowd.” 

I learnt a lot more about Alex just by asking him the questions I wanted to ask. Interviews can be boring and you can ask the same thing over and over. I love music, and I just wanted to know more about how he makes music and the places he has been to. There are some musicians that you can instantly tell are so passionate about what they do, and that is what draws you to them. When I look at the music that I own, every band/singer is someone who is truly passionate about what they do. That’s how it should be. If you’re not going to give it your all and do it with heart; then don’t bother. The last thing I asked Alex was about how he writes lyrics. Writing words down..the words that you feel at that moment are extremely personal and there comes a time where they are no longer private (this is why I never show anyone my lyrics/poems ha!) but if your livelihood is making music, you have to cast that fear aside and just expose yourself. I could quite happily listen to Alex make an album filled with his voice as I could just sit and listen to his instrumental compositions. Both are equally as beautiful, and filled with pure and raw emotion. You can just tell he has worked insanely hard to get it right. I love his lyrics because they are not filled with pretentious imagery or what have you. You don’t ever need to go over the top to make your point.


“I actually really loathe writing lyrics.  Partly because I suck.  Partly is also because it’s not really pure.  I think music is pure in a way that it kind of just comes out of you.  But the process of writing lyrics is a chore to me.  I go with simple rhythms and try to stick to the impression of the mood of the music when it was first conceived, then try to find the words that match the music.  I’m not a poet so it doesn’t come naturally to me.  A lot of it is me sitting there for hours working my brain to death just to squeeze a few words out of it.  Kind of like constipation, I guess.”


He doesn’t suck at writing lyrics, far from it. But like I said above, whether its instrumental or he uses words- he still manages to convey so much emotion. Alex was actually one of the very few musicians I heard that I loved based on just hearing an instrumental. I love words, but sometimes a piece of music can sum it all up much better. A key change can cover you in goose bumps more than a catchy hook.

In a few weeks Alex is releasing two records via Zoo Music. Drifters/Love Is The Devil. One is instrumental, the other is vocal. In January, the song Love Is The Devil was uploaded. I remember sitting and playing it over and over. Just through headphones. Nothing else could hold my attention. I just had to listen to it and over and over. I heard sadness and I heard hope in the music. It’s a song that will leave you with a lump in your throat because of how gorgeous it is. Without words we can say so much. When I listened to it (and it still has the same grip over me) I knew that these two records Alex is about to put out would be something truly special. I’ve listened to his music when I’ve been at a bad place and when I’ve been content. I wandered through a city and I’ve stared out to the sea as I’ve listened to his music. I’ve rested my head against the windows of a train as I’m transported from one place to another. I’ve said I’ve never felt at home anywhere, truth is..I found my home in music. In his music and a select few. We all have our own battles and fears to conquer, but music like this makes you feel less alone.

I just want to thank Alex for taking the time out to answer my questions. You’re a rare talent, and I honestly cannot thank you enough for this xx

DIRTY BEACHES-Love Is The Devil.


Anyone who has listened to Dirty Beaches knows just how much of a genius this man is. He has the ability to send you way back in time and show you a taste of the future with his music. His music is like poetry for the soul. A form of escapism whilst still being in the midst of a dark reality. In short, he makes you feel part of something no one else dares to take you.

He’s just put a track from his new record up on YouTube. It’s instrumental and it will break your heart. I’ve not had my heart-broken in a long long time, but listening to the sheer sadness in this song; I feel as if I just have. He’s proven that you do not need words to convey one of the worst feelings anyone can ever feel. With heartbreak comes loneliness. With loneliness comes regret, followed by whatever you feel you can handle. This gorgeously vulnerable track has made me even more excited for his new record (he’s got two coming out on Zoo Music so it’s obvious they’re going to be the best records you’ll hear this year.)

Love Is The Devil is for those looking for hope and it is for those who need an equal balance of good/bad feelings in their lives. The sadness immediately hits you. This song would be perfect for a black and white silent film. Alex aka Dirty Beaches is one of the few musicians I hope one day I get to meet and interview because the way his mind works, and the music he makes just leaves me in awe. Complete awe. This Christmas just gone, my uncle and I had an in-depth discussion about Alex’s music, and we both agreed this has never been done before. I doubt it ever will. I struggle to accept that anyone couldn’t hear the beauty in his work. It’s gentle and passionate; especially Love Is The Devil. Everyone should know that Lord Knows Best is one of the greatest love songs of our time. True Blue is a woeful ode to love. Badlands is a record you need in your life. As are his upcoming releases, and previous.

But for now, shut your eyes. Think of something or someone you miss, and take in this beautiful track.