Meet Dan Deacon, the Musician With a Genre-Defying Sound That Has Critics Buzzing

When Dan Deacon plays the piano, he doesn't use his fingers.

That's because Deacon's piano is connected to a soundboard where he can overlay notes with electronic sounds, hitting buttons and turning knobs to make music. The 34-year-old Baltimore-based musician does this with all of his instruments, a technique that produces complex sounds full of texture and rhythm.

"I think about this a lot when I watch people who play guitar and sing, where the music isn't about texture," Deacon told the Boston Globe. "My music has a different focus — it's about the texture of sound."

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What separates Deacon from everyone else is his genre-defying sound, and it's why he's making such bigs waves. He doesn't quite fit into the EDM genre, as his music isn't upbeat or techno enough for that, but he isn't really a pop hit either. Deacon exists between the genres, where he combines overlaid sound, texture, rhythm and voice to create something truly unique in the music world. Of his latest album, A.V. Club writes, "It's not a pop album, and it's not an art-damaged experiment; it's the sound of Dan Deacon finding himself."

Released in February, Gliss Riffer is a testament to that originality. Created while on tour with Arcade Fire in 2014, Deacon composed and performed all of the music on his latest album solo.

"I was mixing and arranging in the green room before sound check and each night back at the hotel," Deacon told Domino Records. "On days off, I'd find a studio to track vocals or mix. When a studio couldn't be found, I dismantled a hotel bathroom, sealing the vents with towels and using all the bedding to turn it into a control room."

Deacon is currently on tour for his latest album, and shows run through October. Beyond his individualized electronic style, he is well-known for his interactive live shows. At an NPR Tiny Desk concert in February, Deacon quickly turned a room full of listeners into a dance party. After covering one of his performance at the Windjammer Festival in Baltimore, Vice's Josh Sisk wrote, "Dan Deacon shows are beautiful, orchestrated chaos. I've never seen anyone work a crowd the way he can."

Deacon subscribes to the philosophy that the audience is the center of the show. From raging concerts to more intimate sets, he works to keep attendees involved in the music the entire time.

"Everyone in the audience is part of the performance," Deacon told AXS. "In my mind, the audience is the most important part of the performance. Their reaction is what a show is gauged by."

For most of his career, he performed from the ground floor with the audience instead of on a stage. In shows for his ongoing tour, he's changing it around. Deacon is now playing from the stage to the audience, but with some new technology added on to keep it inclusive for his fans.

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Patrick McMinn, Deacon's technical director, has incorporated projection mapping into the performance, a tool that lets him project video on anything in the show. He also added a new software to control the lights that lets him "play the lights like an instrument," according to the Boston Globe.

McMinn and Deacon's crew created a dynamic show to match the tone of Deacon's latest album. Overall, the project is much happier in tone than some of his previous work, and he recognizes the change. 

"Lyrically and musically, it's me trying to relax," Deacon told Consequence of Sound. "I wanted to make Gliss Riffer about me trying to confront my own anxieties or insecurities and the stresses in my life. In saying that, I also wanted the record to be fun. I wanted to figure out why music is making fun of me."

Deacon's rare style on and off the stage keeps fans coming back. With Gliss Riffer and the albums before it, he continues to push the envelope, challenging what can be done with electronic sound.

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