Dan Deacon explains secrets to crowd-moving jams

Dan Deacon explains secrets to crowd-moving jams

Famous for his live shows, Dan Deacon chats about how and why his music has the ability to get any crowd moving, even us super-shy Hongkongers


Dan Deacon performs during Moogfest, a music festival in the United States.
Dan Deacon performs during Moogfest, a music festival in the United States.
Photo: NTY

Dressed quirkily in bright yellow socks and a stripy cap, electronic musician and composer Dan Deacon sits comfortably on a sofa backstage at Clockenflap. It's his second time in Hong Kong and he still finds it overwhelming.

"It's a completely other world here," remarks the 33-year-old American. "Just the architecture, and the level of lights, the vast scope of it, it's a surreal place." What's also surreal, is how he manages to get the timid Hong Kong crowd to party like it's 1999.

Deacon makes electronic music that's quite unlike the EDM we're used to hearing. "It's more rooted in the same way people would dance to music in the '50s," he explains. Having grown up listening to Devo and Talking Heads, Deacon's style is heavily influenced by early rock and roll and the experimental club scene of the '80s.

His music is all about contrasts. Intense drum beats quickly turn into intricate melodies. These fade into a hazy bridge before building up to a finale of breakneck dance beats. He also sings, manipulating his voice as he does so, and adds synthesised speech with a vocoder.

In the tent where he performed, the stage was noticeably empty. Deacon likes to perform at ground level with his controllers on a low table surrounded by the audience. He gives specific instructions to a volunteer to run around in a circle, asking him to invite someone else to join him for every lap he completes. Each person who joins in can invite another person. Deacon strikes up the music, and soon the entire audience is running and dancing around in circles.

This interactive form of performance evolved from a power blackout during one of his earlier gigs. "I was just stalling, waiting for the power to turn back on, and I came up with all these rules for a dance contest just trying to keep the vibe going."

With the audience continuing the show, Deacon realised that they had become the performers. "It was a really nice shift in my way of seeing how a performance could go."

He began incorporating this concept into his creative works. The music video for True Thrush was an experiment where two people had to act out a scene after watching it once. Their version was then watched by two other people, who performed it based on what they remembered.

"It's seeing how people interpret something, and then seeing how other people re-interpret that," says Deacon.

While he composes his music with a computer, and describes himself as the "lead singer and keyboard player of a band that is on the computer", he keeps away from that machine during live performances, preferring to use Midi controllers and oscillators.

"When people see a computer they assume anything can happen," says Deacon. "It's in the physical world where the magic can exist because it still has limitations."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Music to bust a move to


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