Dan Deacon Builds an Army

A joyful, pulverizing one-man band makes 15 new friends

Jovial Baltimore titan Dan Deacon has made his name with a glowing green skull, a ratty Fred Flintstone T-shirt, and a joyous one-man electronic arsenal combining pulverizing volume, deft rhythmic complexity, and childlike elation—like Steve Reich scoring Looney Toons. His daffy and thunderous 2007 breakthrough, the great-for-parties/terrible-for-hangovers Spiderman of the Rings, is a trip, but his one-man-band live shows are truly unforgettable, sort of a mass orgy of amped-up frivolity, goosed on by strobe lights, pounding beats, goofy between-song banter that often lasts longer than the songs themselves, and various other distractions (dance contests, etc.), all led by Dan from his spot on the venue's floor, right in the middle of the action.

He's decided to mix it up: This week, the Purchase College Conservatory of Music grad will debut his new 16-man live ensemble in Brooklyn, featuring myriad Baltimore peeps, along with folks from NYC experimental powerhouse So Percussion. ("I also made a tent," the release adds.) They'll focus on tracks from his new record, Bromst (due this March), a slightly sweeter, calmer, more thoughtful affair—still great at parties, much better for hangovers. Dan got on the horn in the midst of frantic rehearsals last week to talk it over—here are some excerpts.

So what inspired you to put together this, like, orchestra?

Dan Deacon: A self-portrait
Dan Deacon
Dan Deacon: A self-portrait

It's sort of how I always used to do things, a few years ago, when I was back at Purchase. Before I became . . . I guess what drove me to become a solo act was working with an ensemble there. But it was a very different structure back then: I was writing more free-improvisation or structured-improvisation, text-based pieces, radical notation not as rhythmically focused as it is now. When I got out of school, I moved to Baltimore. I didn't really know any performers, and it was a lot easier to tour as a solo artist and focus on electronic music, and that's sort of what I did, I guess, for a few years. Around the time I was writing Spiderman of the Rings, I started writing Bromst, which is the next record. I didn't want it to be another just exclusively electronic album—I wanted it to have predominantly live percussion. I wanted it to be sort of like what I used to do, mixed with what I was doing at the time. And here we are.

It's just fun to play music with people. It's sort of why I make the live show the way it is, with the audience participation. Because for the past couple years, I've been playing along with backing tracks and playing on top of those. It's not as freeing. When you're playing with actual people, it's very much a human experience.

So you've been rehearsing—what's that process been like? How long have you been preparing?

I guess we've been rehearsing the drums for two or three weeks now—and the synths, maybe two weeks, a week and a half. Been doing sectionals, just getting the percussionists together or just the skinned drums. The mallet percussion is performed separately, since that's So Percussion and they live in New York.

Oh, I'm just getting this insane ringing in my right ear, like knock me down. Gonna try and yawn and get—there we go. Probably getting tinnitus.

I'm a little—I mean, it's gonna be the first time we're ever performing it in front of people. Which is a pretty daunting experience, 'cause I think it's gonna be kind of a big show. It's our band's first show, and bands' first shows aren't really known for their, like . . .



What's interesting about that is most major tours tend to start in what they perceive as a second-rate city, so they'll be at full power when they get to New York, or get to Chicago. But you're starting in New York City.

And it's not even like it's a tour—this is the only show. It's not even like we're warmin' up! It's just let's get hot! It is a little stressful. I kind of like throwing myself into these crash-and-burn, sword-of-glory-type situations.

Is that part of the fun, the possibility that it could just be catastrophic?

Of course. If everything were predictable and easy, it wouldn't be fun.

Well, I've played Bromst a bunch of times, and it's great—it's really beautiful. It's like an ambient record that's been sped up, and is skipping.

Thank you. Cool. Then it worked.

Was your approach to it different from Spiderman, and the other stuff that you've done?

Yeah. Very much so. When I was writing Spiderman, I wanted it to be very much a pop, party sort of dance record, but not like traditional dance music. And with Bromst, I wanted to get the audience to move at the same level, but for it not to be dance music—for it to be music that you sort of writhed . . you could still dance to it, but not party music. Still music that you would celebrate to and have a good time to, but something with more of a soul to it, more of like a backing, where the pieces grew and built up to something, but not in that Godspeed You! Black Emperor build sort of way. Something that was still very focused on rhythm and percussion and a building of a potential energy that would break into a kinetic energy, but with just a different sort of mindset than Spiderman of the Rings.

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