Dan Deacon is a portly, fashion-backward electronic music producer from Baltimore. The 26-year-old achieved international popularity in '07 due to his latest, wonderfully chaotic CD, Spiderman of the Rings, and his ecstatic live show. Having maintained a fervent underground following for years, he's starting to garner appreciation by the mainstream press. His song, "Wham City," was picked by Pitchfork as one of the best songs of 2007, and his recent appearances at New York's CMJ festival were almost impossible to get into.
But despite his rising stature and a burgeoning following, he is eager to avoid at least one of the traditional trappings of fame. "I don't like/use money very much," Deacon imparts via e-mail, in the midst of a European tour. "It's an evil force. It is THE evil force. I'm trying to phase myself out of it once I clear my debt. Anyway, I used to eat food from the garbage, dumpster dive for gear, [and] not have a bed."
His response sounds totally random, but considering the source, it makes perfect sense.
Deacon is almost as well-known for the indie ethos espoused by his Baltimore-based collective, Wham City, as he is for his music. Named for the moniker Deacon gave to a dorm at Purchase College in Purchase, N.Y. (where he attended the Conservatory of Music), Wham City sprung up in Baltimore after Deacon and his friends graduated. Until the group was evicted in early '07, these art-and-mayhem-making cronies threw impromptu parties and music and theater performances that helped bring Baltimore's underground art scene to a wider audience.
"Baltimore is the beast," Deacon says, adding that "we are looking for a new hidden home to do our illegal music and art there." Though he grew up on Long Island, he now carries an air of almost New York defiance.
"When I was growing up it was easy to see how fucked New York and Long Island were," he says. "There were ads all over the place that read, 'Get out of New York before it's too late.' I think whoever made those ads were right. I'm glad I moved."
Deacon describes his music as "all your favorite bands playing inside a worm," and there's some truth to that. Spiderman of the Rings is an enchanting, fanciful indie-techno journey that feels optimistic and other-worldly. Full of bleeps and blips, big riffs and nonsense choruses, it is retro-futuristic noise pop that you can dance to. At its center is the whirling dervish "Wham City," Deacon's cathartic 12-minute masterpiece.
Deacon's goal with Spiderman was to "release an album that would best match my live performance," but even it can't match the intensity of a Deacon show.
Perhaps no record can. He draws small, hyperenthusiastic crowds wherever he goes, most of whom have either seen his show already (he tours constantly) or heard about his ability to simultaneously reimagine electronic music and get the party started. A Deacon show is an interactive experience; attendees crowd in as close to him as possible, often threatening to disrupt the music.
"I think the show is growing and getting used to larger audiences and settings," he says, but adds, "I don't think I've reached the plateau of audience size where intimacy cannot exist. I like to be in the audience. If the audience has room and we don't need to be all packed, that's fine [but] if there is no room and we need to be all crammed up, then let's cram."
His somewhat dilapidated, atypical DJ rig incorporates a plethora of gadgets and sound-modulating devices, from props such as skulls and a rig that controls the lighting around the booth, to a soundboard that includes bells and whistles such as a pitch-shift harmonizer and ring modulator. He sings and plays much of his music live on keyboards.
His current tour is in support of his Ultimate Reality DVD, produced in collaboration with visual artist, filmmaker and fellow Wham City member Jimmy Joe Roche. Deacon describes the DVD as "massively layered, altered and saturated re-contextualizations from Arnold Schwarzenegger films." He says it is best enjoyed the way he presents it on tour – on a large screen with live music. "This will most likely be the only tour of Ultimate Reality ever," he warns.
Deacon takes the visual aspects of his shows as seriously as the musical ones. A master at building on a crowd's emotion, he says his performances are a mixture of planning and improvisation, and that he only conceives the overall structure "loosely" beforehand.
"The set beats and the lyrics are clearly pre-composed but I've been doing a lot more feedback manipulation that's all improvised," he says. "The processing of voice, sine wave, and feedback is always improvised."
Deacon's ability to embrace chaos spills over into his fashion, which consists of cheap-looking, multicolored T-shirts, bandanas, ball caps, oversized glasses sometimes held together by tape, and grungy sneakers. "Sexy, full of life, terrible, sassy," and "the best," is how he describes his duds, but one could apply that description to Deacon's music itself.
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