Dirty Beaches released a number of EPs and instrumental-focused albums on cassette-only labels, before releasing the full-lengthBadlands in March 2011. Badlands was subsequently nominated as a long listed nominee for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize. Dirty Beaches has also released singles including “True Blue”/”Sweet 17,” “Lord Knows Best” and “Lone Runner,” as well as videos, many of them directed by Zhang himself. Zhang has also recorded several original film soundtracks, such as for the documentary Water Park, by Evan Prosofsky.
Dirty Beaches began as a one-man band, sometimes employing sampling, inspired by Zhang’s longtime love of hip hop. In addition to his own years moving between countries and on the road touring, films are one of Zhang’s influences, particularly those by Wong Kar-wai. Zhang said Wong’s movies are “usually about the passage of time, and how in relation it distorts your relationship with everything else in life. The central Dirty Beaches character is a product of those experiences. Of someone traveling long distances in search of something, in exile, misplaced, with no home to return to.” Zhang has lived in Taipei, Queens, Etobicoke, Honolulu, San Francisco, Shanghai, Vancouver, Montreal, Berlin and Lisbon among other cities.