Dan Deacon: bargain-bin beats
Fame caught unassuming buteccentric Dan Deacon by surprise
Sacramento, CA 95814
Twenty-eight-year-old abstract/electronica artist Dan Deacon usually performs with audiences that inundate his setup of a table of gadgets and devices. And he prefers being on the floor instead of onstage, snowed in by a crowd. Much of Deacon’s live performance is interactive, and his reputation has earned him a strong following nationwide. On October 17, he will be one of the main draws at Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco, a two-day festival featuring big-name acts like MGMT, the Flaming Lips, Passion Pit and Beirut. The following day, he’ll cross the Bay Bridge and play Sacramento.
“I used to not really be into [festivals],” explained Deacon, who’s on the road but made time for a phoner with SN&R.
Treasure Island will be different than Deacon’s typical live show. “Normally, when I play solo, I play with the audience in the crowd; with [Treasure Island], I will be on the stage with the performers,” he says. But Deacon revels in the challenge of reaching an audience that may have never even heard of him or his music before. “They’re being brought [to the island] and they have a lot of choices; it’s all about finding ways to engage people who aren’t used to seeing your kind of show, just finding a way make it work in that sort of venue with a complete lack of intimacy.”
If you’ve never heard Deacon’s work, you’ll need to prepare yourself. His sound is organic, which is unusual for an entirely electronic act. The songs are not structured, yet there’s a viable pop vibe to everything he creates. He layers samples in complex and sometimes nauseatingly beautiful ways, which creates textures with a sense of orchestration. But when his music blasts as noises and beats, he still finds peaceful harmony. Conversely, very simplistic tracks still fill all the empty spaces, creating more with less.
Deacon says it’s all about “finding ways to squeeze [sounds] together and fill as much of the frequency spectrum as possible while still maintaining clarity between the voices, and trying to get a sense of distortion and saturation while still being clear and coherent.”
The artist has quite the résumé. He played tuba for Langhorne Slim; fronted a ska band in the ’90s; and attended classes at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College in New York with Regina Spektor, where he completed his graduate studies in electro-acoustic and computer music composition. He began putting out music as a solo artist in 2003 with Meetle Mice and Silly Hat vs. Egale Hat, which were distributed as burned CDRs.
His latest album, Bromst, released in March, was recorded at SnowGhost, a studio tucked away in the mountain resort town of Whitefish, Mont. Pitchfork gave the album an 8.5.
Deacon’s beginnings were humble. He had to get fairly creative early on with finding equipment to make music. “I’m a bargain-bin kind of guy,” Deacon admits. “When I first started getting into music, I was dirt broke and mainly Dumpster dove a lot of my equipment.
“The first oscillators that I found were all Dumpster surplus from a psychology department at a college. I sort of got into the mindset that I wanted to do it as cheap as possible.”
Recently, Deacon has been getting the attention of the national media. He had his work featured on National Public Radio, and both Spin magazine and The New York Times did online articles. It’s all a little strange to the somewhat shy Deacon.
“I get recognized at the airport sometimes. I think that’s the most surreal place to get recognized,” says Deacon, who’s now known for his eccentric fashion. “I feel like a lot of people are already staring at me being like, ‘Oh great, I’m going to have to sit next to that fucking slob,’ and then when someone comes over and asks for an autograph, those people look at me like, ‘Who the fuck is that?’
“That’s my favorite part. … I look more like a homeless person,” says Deacon, laughing.