- Dan Deacon
There's this video of Baltimore outsider electronic composer Dan Deacon performing on WSAV, Savannah, Ga.'s NBC affiliate. On a morning news program, Deacon's standing behind a table covered with keyboards, pedals and power cords, holding a microphone too close to his face, and wearing an ill-fitting T-shirt and huge sports goggles substituting as glasses. The anchor introduces Deacon, and the simple, sequenced beat drops. Deacon starts to sing like a pedophiliac cabaret performer responsible for what may be the most awkward and strangely endearing dance of all time. Here's Deacon, moving like a drunk fish used to the dark waters of extreme depths, acting as though he really needs help finding his home.
The commentator is mildly amused, and his half-hearted laugh at Deacon's performance probably spoke for most Georgians watching the program Coastal Sunrise late last year. Deacon is certainly different. While he makes pop music, it's not pure, simple or plain: Deacon melds a love of frivolous pop sugar with years of interest and experience on the fringes. As part of Baltimore's fecund Wham City collective that's produced acts such as Ecstatic Sunshine, Ponytail and WZT Hearts, those interests melted into one another. On his latest, Spiderman of the Rings—one of the year's breakthroughs in music—those interests coalesce into colorful, complicated, exuberant and involving compositions. Deacon made the record after playing these songs—like the damn-all "Woody Woodpecker" or the exuberant anthem "Wham City"— live, and on record, they're full of the sort of energy that a Deacon show—a table of electronics running on the floor as a bespectacled man dances his white ass off—represents.
"It's supposed to be a party record, for sure, but also possible for people not at a party to listen to," says Deacon. Given that context, it's a complete success. The thing about a record like Spiderman of the Rings is that its creator gets the most high-minded concepts of electronic music, experimental composition and all points in between: Deacon received degrees in electro-acoustic and computer music at Purchase College in New York, and, in conversation, he discusses avant-garde composers from Conlon Nancarrow to La Monte Young with the clarity of someone who has these discussions everyday. More importantly, he understands that Nancarrow and Young and composers of the sort made or make vital music, and it's but a right interpretation away from finding its party crowd.
"I hate it, the esotericism and elitism and over-intellectualization of the avant-garde," he says. "Folk/punk/DIY aesthetics can be extremely important in modern composition."
Dan Deacon plays Local 506 with Video Hippos, Future Islands and Adventure Saturday, May 26 at 10 p.m. Tickets are $8.