Dan Deacon: “Snookered”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/04-Snookered.mp3|titles=Dan Deacon: “Snookered”]
Minutes into my interview with Dan Deacon, he interrupts himself mid-sentence, sighing, “Oh, man. I sound like a real nerd. I’m usually not such an in-my-head dork.” I laugh and call him Poindexter, suggesting that he push the glasses back up on the bridge of his nose. After giving me his best stab at a Professor Frink laugh from The Simpsons, we giggle for a few moments. After speaking with Deacon for only a few short minutes, I already feel a weird kinship with him.
Through his sense of humor, independent spirit, and brainy inventiveness, Deacon has quietly kick-started an under-the-radar movement of underground dance, with his revisionist rebel spirit recalling the nights of early ’90s warehouse raves. Playing on the floor, surrounded by his flock, Deacon produces an evangelical mania during his live shows. For the past decade, Baltimore’s pied piper of electro-spazz has been infiltrating music festivals, warehouses, back alleys, and basements all over the world. Traveling modestly, even by coach bus at times, armed with a laptop and Casio keyboard, Deacon proudly lets his flag fly, inviting anyone with a pulse to shed inhibitions and just dance.
Building on the good will and praise won with his 2007 release, Spiderman of the Rings, Deacon is back with Bromst, a frenetic magnum opus offering his warped twist on world, ambient, and electronic noise pop. Though it may seem like a departure from previous work, much of the laptop schizophrenia has been toned down in favor of live instrumentation.
Bromst showcases Deacon’s graduate studies as a composer, giving the party crowd an excellent soundtrack while providing the intellectuals with dense, layered mania.
“I wanted to write a record where you would listen to the whole thing, start over, and it would sound different with each spin,” says Deacon from his Baltimore home.
“It has a very different feel, but it’s a sound that I’ve been trying to get at for a long time. The record is about cycles and change, and I hope that it’s a reflection of myself getting older, more mature, and wiser. I’ve been working on it for so long, and it’s been through so many different phases. I started writing it around the same time as Spiderman of the Rings, but I knew from the start that I wanted it to be a little less dance-based and built more around intensity. I wanted it to still have that same level of density, where instead of just being a wash of sound, it’s like you’re staring at an intricately woven afghan, where there are so many aspects to it, but it’s one fixed thing. That’s what I was going for. Where the last record was really focused on individual timbres and sounds, Bromst is based more around the instrumentation as a whole, and the melodies are insanely interwoven.”
“I always wanted to be a composer. I think that the only thing preventing me from that was my love affair with standing in front of a crowd and composing these dance-music pieces…Providing a good time has always been the main intention of what I do.”
Before his adventure began, Deacon attended a small state art school in New York, studying composition and production. After relocating to Baltimore, where he helped to found the Wham City art collective, the Long Island native soon found himself working on electro-acoustic compositions, slowly gaining the confidence to step in front of a crowd. “When I started playing out, I never thought that I would be a solo electronic musician,” Deacon says.
“That was never the goal or a thought that I had. When I went to school, I was studying composition, and I always wanted to be a composer. I think that the only thing preventing me from that was my love affair with standing in front of a crowd and composing these dance-music pieces. I have always liked having fun and dancing at shows, so providing a good time has always been the main intention of what I do.
“It seems crazy, but I guess six years ago, a lot of people didn’t really dance at shows, and it was sort of a really radical idea for me to get up and be dancing as hard as I could, even if no one else was. Seeing me dancing encouraged people to cut loose; they would see me and think, ‘Oh, this is what this music is supposed to do.’ In the early days, no one knew how to book me. So I took whatever gigs I could, and I would be playing on the same bill with harsh noise bands, drone acts, or even opening up for a play, so it was definitely a very different context than the normal dance thing. I remember playing for a packed basement and thinking, ‘Wow, people are coming to the show to dance. This is actually working!’ I had to start redeveloping the set for people who were coming to the show to dance, and now it’s at a point where people are coming to do more than dance. It’s always nice to change things up and to flip people’s expectations.”
It takes courage to do Deacon’s thing, and the bearded, paunchy, and bespectacled artist has been winning over hostile crowds since high school. “I’ve always been a dick-head,” Deacon laughs.
“I’ve always had a loud mouth and always liked attention. I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind, and I learned a lot by being in the high-school and college student governments and realizing how politics is an everyday affair. I was able to work my way into cliques and groups and make myself heard. I enjoy working and talking in large groups. That’s how I feel most comfortable, and I think that reflects within the show. I was definitely one of the nerds, though. I wasn’t one of the cool kids. But in every group or school, there’s always a couple of nerds who can pull it off, and I feel that right around the time that I was in ninth or tenth grade, I could do that. Before that, I was a nonhuman to most of the other students.”
Building on his dynamic live show, Deacon toured this spring behind Bromst as a group collective, assembling a cast of musicians to bring the complexities of Bromst to the public. “The live show will be a full ensemble, and there won’t be any backing tracks,” Deacon says.
“It’ll be multiple drummers and four people playing the electronics and synths. I think that it’ll be a lot of fun. Hopefully, it’ll affect the audience interaction in a positive way. It’ll definitely change the way that the show works. I won’t be playing on the floor anymore, because it just won’t work in this new context. It used to be that the audience would look at itself and create its own feedback, and I’d still like that to occur. It’ll be an interesting transitional period. I think that 2009 will be a real year of discovery for me as an artist, when hopefully I’ll come closer to figuring out where I want to go as a person and a musician.”
At the moment, the 27-year-old Deacon is in a very good place, with buzz building and the venues getting bigger.
“I’d like to keep writing music and have the ability to share it with people, and also to be able to relax and spend time with my family and friends,” he says. “I know that sounds like dopey bullshit, but I’ve never been very obsessed with money. At the moment, I’m very happy with the way that things are. I never thought that this many people would be into my music, and I never thought that I’d be doing interviews and leaving the country to go on tour, especially to somewhere like South America. That just blows my mind, and it feels really good. But if it all went away, I would still go back to playing to 10 people in a basement and be happy. I can say that now, but I might end up being a bitter fuck.”