Blending a background in experimental composition with a love for pop culture and a penchant for absurdism, Dan Deacon has gained an enthusiastic following and critical acclaim for his highly energetic performances and elaborate recordings.
Much of his best-known material, such as 2007 full-length Spiderman of the Rings, contains electronically manipulated vocals and buzzing, neon-like synth tones, and is overwhelmingly giddy and joyous. However, he has also written more nuanced, reflective pieces, such as 2012's America, and is involved with the contemporary classical world. Deacon is highly active as a soundtrack composer as well; among other films, he wrote the music for the acclaimed 2016 documentary Rat Film, which he also appeared in. An advocate of D.I.Y. culture, he is a co-founder of Wham City, a Baltimore-based collective of musicians, performance artists, comedians, and filmmakers who have organized numerous events and tours. Various Wham City members often accompany Deacon on his tours, with upwards of a dozen musicians performing his compositions. Deacon's performances place a heavy emphasis on audience participation, typically involving dance contests and comedic elements.
A native of Long Island, New York, Dan Deacon graduated from Babylon High School in 1999, where he was in a ska band called Channel 59. He then attended the Conservatory of Music at SUNY Purchase, where he studied electro-acoustic and computer music composition under Joel Thorne and Dary John Mizelle. While a student, he played tuba for folksinger Langhorne Slim as well as guitar in grindcore band Rated R, in addition to composing his own experimental electronic and chamber music pieces. Many of these were featured on his initial recordings, which were self-released as CD-Rs and distributed during concerts. These include the eclectic Meetle Mice and Silly Hat vs. Egale Hat, as well as the long-form sinewave compositions Goose on the Loose and Green Cobra Is Awesome vs. the Sun, all of which appeared in 2003. These releases received much airplay on New Jersey-based free-form radio station WFMU, and Deacon performed live on the station several times, as well as at station-sponsored events alongside artists such as People Like Us and Jason Forrest. These performances were partially documented by the 2004 release Live Recordings 2003. Other 2004 releases included the digital EP Twacky Cats (Comfort Stand Records), which included early live favorites "Ohio" and "Lion with a Shark's Head," and Porky Pig, a split album with Big City Orchestra, the Bran Flakes, and Gelbart.
In 2004, Deacon also relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, with several friends from his SUNY Purchase days, who moved into a former warehouse called the Copycat Building and founded the Wham City collective. Deacon began extensively touring across America, lugging his suitcases of junky electronic equipment on buses and playing houses and small venues in order to establish his name as a musician and performer. He often set up his equipment in the audience rather than on-stage, making crowd interaction a crucial part of his shows. Wham City began hosting an annual music and arts festival called Whartscape, which earned praise from the local press.
The experimental label Psych-O-Path Records released Deacon's 2006 EP Acorn Master, which received national college radio airplay. The EP also caught the attention of musician/filmmaker Liam Lynch (best known for cult hit MTV series The Sifl & Olly Show and punk novelty hit "United States of Whatever"), who used the EP's "Big Big Big Big Big" as part of his Lynchland video podcast series. Lynch also created an animated music video for Deacon's "Drinking Out of Cups," a spoken word piece that originally appeared on Meetle Mice. Over the years, the video became a word-of-mouth viral success, particularly when a rumor began to spread that it was a recording of someone ranting while locked in a closet and freaking out on acid, which Deacon has repeatedly denied.
In 2007, Deacon signed to the Baltimore-based label Carpark Records and released Spiderman of the Rings, which consisted of significantly more upbeat, accessible songs than the abstract compositions he had previously been known for. The album included the single "Crystal Cat," whose colorful video was also a YouTube hit, as well as the 12-minute choral composition "Wham City," which was intended as a national anthem for the collective. Spiderman proved to be Deacon's breakthrough, receiving praise from music websites such as Pitchfork. Later in the year, Deacon and frequent collaborator Jimmy Joe Roche (who directed the "Crystal Cat" video) released Ultimate Reality, a surrealist film that combined clips taken from Arnold Schwarzenegger films with kaleidoscopic effects and Deacon's ecstatic music. Carpark released Ultimate Reality on DVD and Deacon toured in support of it, screening the film while performing its score along with percussionists Jeremy Hyman (Ponytail) and Kevin O'Meara (Videohippos), both of Wham City. The collective toured the country in a converted school bus that ran on vegetable oil, and often performed in a "round robin" fashion, with each act setting up simultaneously in a circle and taking turns performing songs. In 2008, Deacon released a split 7" with frequent touring partners Future Islands. A split 12" with Adventure (Benny Boeldt) followed in early 2009.
Bromst, an ambitious, long-in-the-making song cycle that was somewhat of a return to Deacon's roots as an experimental composer, was also released in 2009. While still joyous and cheerful, the album was significantly more varied than Spiderman, and featured complex percussion arrangements as well as player-piano parts inspired by Conlon Nancarrow, one of Deacon's biggest influences. The album track "Woof Woof" was released as a single, featuring remixes by Hudson Mohawke and Luke Abbott. In 2011, Silly Hat vs. Egale Hat and Meetle Mice were issued on vinyl and cassette by Carpark. Also that year, Deacon composed the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola's thriller Twixt. By this point, Deacon had become more involved with the contemporary classical scene, having worked with So Percussion and Bang on a Can. Along with Matmos and So Percussion, Deacon performed at Carnegie Hall in March 2012 as part of a concert celebrating John Cage's 100th birthday. Also in 2012, Deacon signed to Domino and released America, which reflected his awe of the American landscape as observed during his endless cross-country touring. The 7" single Konono Ripoff No 1 was released for Record Store Day in 2013.
In 2015, Deacon released Gliss Riffer, which was recorded and produced while he was touring with Arcade Fire in 2014. The album featured fewer guest musicians than his previous full-lengths, and found Deacon emphasizing his own singing voice more. He was then unexpectedly asked to open for Miley Cyrus and the Flaming Lips on their Dead Petz tour. In 2016, Deacon appeared in and composed the score to Rat Film, a documentary about Baltimore's rat infestation directed by Theo Anthony. The soundtrack album was issued in 2017 as the first release by the Domino Soundtracks imprint. Deacon produced and co-wrote Riddles, the third album by Ed Schrader's Music Beat, which was released in March 2018. Deacon's score for Time Trial, Finlay Pretsell's documentary about cyclist David Millar, was released later in the year. In early 2019, Deacon performed a concert with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, consisting of his own pieces as well as compositions by Erik Satie and Du Yun. Mystic Familiar, his first studio album in five years, was released in 2020. ~ Paul Simpson, Rovi