I remember when I first started noticing a new breed of indie/arty bands in the early aughts, the ones that combined Craigslist-score Casios and glockenspiels with communal values, a local-ethos socialism. They loved their kitsch, camp and real sugar; they also evinced more than a passing familiarity with the music of Steve Reich, Morton Subotnick and Arvo Pärt. Dan Deacon, baby.
The Long Island-born, Purchase-trained, Baltimore-based composer and electro-auteur didn’t invent the genre or the phenomenon, of course. This scene was one of those synchronous, youth-culture awakenings born of multiple social pressures and releases, much less celebrated and commodified than your parents’ shopworn counter-culture narrative but if anything more extreme (and capable) in its do-it-yourself idealism and its disaffection with the moment in national culture. Your niece slept on Dan Deacon’s couch when her Minimalist punk accordion band played a Wham City basement event in Baltimore. His vegetable-powered conversion bus parked in front of her house on the back end of the gig swap.
They were model citizens of a new model. They did a lot to save local music for me, and they’re all approaching or past 30 now. Dan Deacon is one of the breakout anti-stars of a movement that rejects stardom insofar as it can be bothered to address the issue at all. He has driven/ridden that underground, tech-enabled networking momentum (as well as his own insatiable creative hungers – and his bus) into dual careers as Dan Deacon the playful, high-tech/lo-fi interactive electro-comedy solo act and Dan Deacon the serious experimental composer whose name is not-unheard-of in the halls of EMPAC and Carnegie.
His concert-music creds are no real incongruity, and they are exemplary of the mixed academy and street pedigree of this whole scene. Deacon studied in the conservatory at Purchase, ending up in its Masters program in Computer Music. He is thus often (mis)described as classically trained, a stupid and cheap modifier often used to confer seriousness and high intentions on an artist’s choice to be silly – or to rock. “Classically trained” is a magic hall pass, suggesting, to those who are not classically trained, a total mastery of music as well as an accredited discernment. The “classically trained” artist could have done literally anything, but chose to do this.
Deacon’s this begins with 2003’s Meetle Mice, a skittish collection of lo-fi wheeze, some young-ninja sound design and pattern studies and an awful lot of what happens when mics are turned on in rooms full of playful young adults who may or may not be high. I tried to listen to the whole thing beginning to end; it was trying. It is nearly as incoherent as this article. But it is also rich and studded with “Aha!” moments of portent.
Situated there in the middle of Deacon’s first assay is what would become his unlikely hit single: “Drinking out of Cups,” a three-minute absurdist monologue that might have passed with a few chuckles into the same obscurity as your own stoned basement tapes had it not been turned into a YouTube animation by Liam Lynch (https://bit.ly/1OtCmGt, featuring another talking gecko) and assigned a fabricated backstory in which some dude taking acid for the first time was recorded talking to himself in a closet: not true, but 19 million YouTube views later…
Starting with 2007’s pivotal Spiderman of the Rings, Deacon begins to discover the fulcrum of his silliness and his art: a focused, sound-centered, groovy Minimalism that gets better and better on Bromst (2009) and, as he moves from Carpark records to the indie giant Domino Recording Co., on 2012’s amazing electro travelogue America and 2015’s Gliss Riffer, his poppiest-sounding work to date. But rest assured that on Gliss Riffer’s dense and three-dimensional tracks, many with guest vocalists, one still hears the gritty Casiotones and the rooms full of jubilant friends, of which Dan Deacon has about 19 million.
Output Agency presents Dan Deacon at BSP in Kingston on Friday, December 4 at 9 p.m. Opening is the amazing Brooklyn art-rock band Landlady, fronted by indie-rock ace sideman Adam Schatz (Man Man, Vampire Weekend). Tickets cost $15 in advance and $18 at the door. Advance tickets are available at Outdated and Rocket Number Nine in Kingston, Jack’s Rhythms in New Paltz, Darkside Records in Poughkeepsie and the Woodstock Music Shop. BSP is located at 323 Wall Street in Kingston. For more information, visit https://www.bspkingston.com.
Dan Deacon with Landlady, Friday, December 4, 9 p.m., $15/$18, BSP, 323 Wall Street, Kingston; https://www.bspkingston.com.