It comes as a bit a of surprise to hear Dan Deacon talk negatively about technology — considering he's a master of electronic music. But maybe it shouldn't be. Much of Deacon's shows are about human interaction. He will sometimes conduct dance contests or entice the crowd to become more of the show.
"I think people want a unique experience," says Deacon in a phone call from his home in Baltimore. "I think we live in a time of such manufactured culture. Everything is homogenized. So much of it is seen in duplication. Having an experience that exists exclusively to them and exclusively to their reality is important and it resonates and it is something unique to them. That's important."
Deacon's new album, "America," builds with drama and purpose. The suite "USA," which is in four sections, seems more like a modern classical piece than electronic dance music.
"I feel like the electronic music I make is made more in the approach of rock music ... Talking Heads, David Bowie ..." says Deacon. "I feel like that's more of its roots than Chemical Brothers or Aphex Twin. I'm sure their music would speak to me now, but when my musical ideas were forming those artists didn't really speak to me."
He says having audiences become part of the show developed out of necessity. One night the power went out in a club where he was performing.
"I didn't want to lose the energy, so I had the audience create a clearing in the center and randomly asked someone to stand in the center and lead a dance contest. Then the power still didn't come on so I came up with convoluted rules and then it worked and the power came back on at the right moment. The whole focal point in the room had moved to the center and people started looking at each other more rather than just looking in the direction where the performance was."
Perhaps, he says, that's why some audiences think of him as a DJ, rather than someone relying on original music. He wants the audience to dance and focus less on him and more on the other people in the room.
He says his performance at Moogfest in 2010 was a good example of having that work.
"Nine times out of 10 at a festival it's like: 'I'm on acid and I don't really know what you're talking about because your reality is incomprehensible to mine!'"
Even though the club is very small, he says, Knoxville's Pilot Light is one of his favorite venues.
"It's a whole universe to itself. It's like how 'Seinfeld's' apartment was just as much a character in the show as anybody or 'Pee-Wee's Playhouse' where the chairs would talk or the map would talk. I feel like when everybody leaves the Pilot Light the bar is talking to the weird speakers or the folding chairs!"
Deacon says the process for making "America" was a gradual one that just seemed to get bigger and more purposeful as he worked on it.
It eventually evolved into what he felt was a musical road trip across the United States. One of the surprising inspirations was Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road."
"It had a profound impact on the shaping of my mind over the past three years. It's a great telling of the future. Hopefully, one that's not the case. But I think the message that you get from that book is the importance of living communally. I don't think people can live and survive mentally or physically as individuals, and more and more we're living that way. I read an article that said 28 percent of the population lives alone."
Electronic social networking, he says, is part of the problem.
"It's the nonverbal or written language context that I think is very important, and I'm worried about that drifting away from that interaction because of technology.
"The people who survive in 'The Road,' both the good and the bad survive because of banding together. I went back and immediately read it again. To me, it was a story of enduring hope even in the ultimate pit of despair you had to carry the fire."
(Dan Deacon performs at the Pilot Light on Thursday, Sept. 6, in a show that starts at 10 p.m. and features Chester Endersby, Gwanzda, Height With Friends and Adam Resnick. Admission is $12.)
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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