Dirty Beaches

By
Photography Katja Rahlwes

Published June 26, 2013

ABOVE: DIRTY BEACHES IN PARIS, MARCH 2013. TANK TOP: DAMIR DOMA. PANTS: GIVENCHY BY RICCARDO TISCI. GROOMING PRODUCTS: BUMBLE AND BUMBLE, INCLUDING STYLING CREME. STYLING: MANUEL ESTEVEZ. GROOMING: OLIVIER DE VRIENDT/ARTLIST. PHOTO ASSISTANT: VIRGILE BIECHY.

Dirty Beaches’ Alex Zhang Hungtai has spent most of his 32 years in motion. Currently based in Berlin, Hungtai was born in Taiwan and grew up mostly in Hawaii, where he was kicked out of his first band, a heavy-metal outfit, for “not being masculine enough—I didn’t have enough chest hair.” At 19, though, he discovered existentialism: “I came to terms with my shitty thoughts and identity issues I was trying to erase,” he says. “I was so happy when I realized I wasn’t a nut.” After having moved to Montreal at 25, Hungtai recorded Dirty Beaches’ 2011 breakthrough, Badlands, conjuring a greaser-crooner character, his rockabilly baritone and the album’s reverby guitars both feeling hauntingly out of time and place—as Hungtai himself did, too, as he toured the globe. “I’ve written my life into my music,” he explains. “On my first record, the first song is called ‘See the World.’ I got caught up in moving on without taking time to stop and contemplate. You withdraw from your body, and when you look up, you see a labyrinth of shit.”

Indeed, Dirty Beaches’ ambitious new double album, Drifters/Love Is the Devil (Zoo Music), stylishly reflects the dislocation of the road more traveled, hovering on the edge of dread. Underscored by primitive electronics and hazy loops, it makes a conscious break with Badlands’ leather-jacketed brand of retro-cool. “The last album was meticulously put together, with a lot of research,” he says. “I was trying to create a fictional character from the 1950s. My new album, however, isn’t conceptual-it bleeds out, like a story.”

The oblique confessionals and elegiac atmosphere belie a certain cinematic grandeur—unsurprising considering Dirty Beaches’ auteurist inspirations. “Wong Kar-Wai has influenced me to the core,” Hungtai explains. “He always captures the poetic side of something, even if it doesn’t exist.” Hungtai was also especially thrilled to find out that David Lynch was a fan. “David invited me to his Hollywood Hills studio, which was fucking great,” Hungtai says. “We talked about coffee and family. We also played his club in Paris, Silencio, which was crazy. An old French man with clear gray eyes picked us up at the train and said, ‘Mr. Dirty Beaches, we’ve been expecting you!’ “

DIRTY BEACHES IS PLAYING TOMORROW, JUNE 28, AT GLASSLANDS IN BROOKLYN.