Buke and Gase: Refusing to stay quiet
Earlier this week in the outdoor section of Pig Beach, a BBQ spot in Astoria, Queens, friends and fans of the band Buke and Gase gathered on a chilly evening to celebrate and watch a new documentary film.
The film features live performance and interview footage with the band’s members Arone Dyer and Aaron Sanchez, captured in the empty Basilica Hudson music hall in upstate New York in November of 2020, back when live shows were at a standstill and many artists were reconsidering their life choices and asking big questions.
For Aaron Sanchez, those questions included, “Why are we killing ourselves trying to make this happen? It’s a lot of work to be in the music business. You really gotta put 200 percent in.”
And as Arone Dyer explains, even after giving it everything they had, she realized, “We need to not fool ourselves into thinking that that’s going to provide us any safe bedding. We need to make an income.”
While their income was uncertain, their contribution was secure. Buke and Gase formed in 2008 and from the very beginning their path was forged by a Do-It-Yourself spirit, a sense of experimentation and freedom. The two play self-created, one-of-a-kind instruments. For Dyer it’s the Buke, a modified baritone ukulele, outfitted with extra strings and electronics; for Sanchez it’s the Gase, a hybrid guitar and bass that extends the range of his sound, and he plays a custom-built percussion setup with his feet.
Sanchez recalls, “We started out, we were three. We had a drummer at one point. He left and then it was like, ‘oh we’re just two, but we still want to make a big noise.’ It was an exciting challenge to be the two of us and have that amount of control. Then I brought my skill sets of instrument-making into it, to whatever degree we needed it. It was very practical.”
“Form follows function with us,” says Dyer.
That form developed over the course of four full length albums, four EPs and a decade’s worth of performances, and Buke and Gase attracted what Dyer calls “a very loving and seriously deep following.”
They caught the attention of more established artists like Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Aaron Dessner of The National, Melissa Auf der Maur of The Smashing Pumpkins, and Jad Abumrad of the Radiolab radio show and podcast. Abumrad would go on to be a major champion of the band.
“We were a very desirable opening band for a long time,” says Sanchez. Earning the respect of their peers was good motivation, but keeping their chops up was a full time job.
“We were practicing everyday for years, and writing new stuff and then rehearsing stuff,” remembers Dyer.
Sanchez adds, “It’s a lot of work to maintain that performance. I don’t know how complicated it looks but we have to keep those muscles going.”
Their schedule was exhausting, it helped them to refine their sound, and also led to their unique and personal approach to composition.
“At a certain point we realized we should only be improvising when we write, and then it was just about going back and listening and kind of transcribing ourselves. It’s almost like we’re a cover band for ourselves,” says Sanchez.
In fact, it would be nearly impossible for anyone else to cover the music of Buke and Gase because they are the only people in the world who play their instruments, which is why, back at the Pig Beach in Astoria earlier this week at the screening of their new documentary, the mood was festive and also slightly bittersweet. Because while the band is continuing to record, they have significantly slowed their live activities for the foreseeable future. So if you want to see them perform, you’ll have to watch the movie.
The Buke and Gase documentary is available on Apple TV now and will be coming to more streaming services soon.