Dan Deacon On Politics And Pandas
The outspoken Baltimorean talks to us about everything from Obama to conspiracy theories to cannibalism.
Dan Deacon’s not your average musician. While fellow EDM artists (*cringe at the acronym*) are now elevated to God-like status and spend their sets spraying the crowd with Moët from their MPC ivory tower, Deacon's intimate live shows – shows that see him setting up shop in the middle of the crowd – have earned him a formidable reputation.
And he's not just bucking the trend with his music, being one of the handful of artists openly supporting the Occupy movement AND seriously knowing his political shit. So I decided to test his mettle and grill him about everything from the apocalypse to the presidential elections.
Noisey: There’s a lot of things you don’t like about America, but what’s your favorite thing?
Dan Deacon: The land itself is really beautiful and there are many aspects of the country that are unique to it because of its size and its bordering of two very different oceans. It has insanely different climates and landscapes and geographies that are just mesmerizing.
Is there any particular landscape you like the most?
The desert. There are few places more psychedelic than the desert at night; it’s a beautiful place. I love it.
Moving on seamlessly, what do you make of the electronic music landscape right now? A few years ago you said acceptance of electronic music, like rap, will grow with time and that finally seems to have happened?
Well, it’s not how I envisioned, but I hope, within 10 years, we stop calling it electronic music; it would be like if we still called rock n roll "guitar music". It’s exciting to see that it’s happening, but the music coming out is another pop music genre, made purely for escapism. It seems to propagate a lifestyle of wealth worship and wealth fetish, which I think is kind of gross.
Materialism is one of the worst afflictions of humanity.
Right, and since music speaks so vividly to youth culture, it just propagates that mindset very quickly: success means having many possessions, being as rich as possible, and disrespecting as many people as you can. I think, looking back just 10 years ago, you could hear a marked difference between what was indie/underground/alternative and what was mainstream, and now the division isn’t as clear. It's not the mainstream mimicking the underground, it’s the underground mimicking the mainstream.
Why do you think that is?
I think people want to get rich and be the next huge thing. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. I'd be a liar if I said I don’t want to be more successful, but success shouldn’t come at the cost of artistic ambition. I think we’re in a very interesting time and music is going to become very, very weird soon, because kids are soon going to start railing so hard against the mainstream that it’s going to be amazing. As technology grows, I can only imagine the insane new equivalent of what punk will be 10 years from now – an actual "fuck this" attitude towards what music is today. That can only happen when the pendulum swings so far towards the pristine, perfect pop that we’re slowly starting to get.
Agreed. You've also mentioned before that you used to be very apathetic and you embraced the end of the world and stuff – was there any definitive moment that changed your attitude?
No, I think it was very gradual. I think the largest influence would’ve been Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road, and realizing that the end of the world wouldn’t be this reset button or shower for the earth, it would be a horrible, horrible period; a return to a dark age with massive amounts of pain. It wouldn’t be an apocalypse for mankind, it would be an apocalypse for humanity—humanity would be lost. Humans would survive, but they’d be devoid of humanity and imagining that world is horrifying.
And it’s not like if the end of the world occurred all of a sudden it'd be like, "And now here we are, this beautiful utopia, this harmony with nature". It would be like "Oh my god, I hope I don’t get eaten, I hope that these people don’t eat me, I hope I don’t have to eat people."
Would you eat people if you were put in that situation?
Noooo, I don’t think I’d—just no, actually. It’s kind of like saying "if you were to get a million dollars to eat a pound of shit, would you eat it?" y’know what I mean? I’ve never seen a pound of shit and I’ve never had a million dollars, so I can’t really say.
I’d definitely eat people given the chance.
I'm glad there’s an ocean between where we live.
People and panda are the two things I really want to eat.
There’s just something so exotic and taboo about it
Would you mix ‘em up? Make a little panda-person burger?
That’s a good idea.
Have you ever eaten any of your own skin?
I had a huge callus once and I cut it off and I, uh, heated it with a lighter. I was vegan at the time and I really wanted some, I just really wanted a bite of it and it was really tasty.
You’re the guy that wants to eat panda.
What did callus taste like?
Everything tastes like chicken.
Eating dead skin aside, we’re in a really fucked up situation right now with the world; morally bankrupt consumerism, bloated capitalism—is humanity beyond salvation?
Has it ever not been? It’s really easy to critique the time that we’re in, but I do feel like progress is made daily and there’s also steps backward being taken. Since I never lived in the 1800s or the 1950s or the ancient times it’s hard to really say. We only really have a glimpse of history. A thousand years from now, they’ll only have a page written about now if documentation of time still exists, but no, I don’t think it’s beyond repair. It’s like building a boat that’s constantly sinking and trying to fix it as someone else is setting it on fire. I don’t know, but it’s an exciting time to be alive. Then again, I can’t really think of a time when it was like "Oh God…the 1100’s are so god damn boring… just a peasant in Rome doin’ ma thing...."
But I’m sure every generation goes "ugh". I grew up Catholic, and when you stop being Catholic and look back on it, it’s like, wow, one of the largest religions in the whole world just wants the end of the planet to occur. That’s all they want. They just want this dude to come back and kill the earth. Just kill everyone else, maybe even me, then there’ll be paradise. I just think that’s a crazy way to think and I don’t know much about Judaism, Islam or anything else, but when I think about Christianity and especially Catholicism, it’s like "of course Americans are crazy, they all want the world to end!" Maybe I’m all wrong, but if the world’s going to end, I at least want to be there for it. I don’t want to be watching it on TV in purgatory, thinking "Oh that would’ve been cool, could’ve gone out that way instead of just slowly eating too much sugar to death."
That's not a bad death either. Back to more apathy, you played the May Day show supporting the Occupy movement. Do you think they have any chance of achieving their goals, or will widespread apathy cripple it?
I think both of those things can and probably will occur. The way that I think about a protest movement like Occupy is that no one is going to protest on behalf of you. No one’s going to change their life for you. The only way for you to have an impact on this system is to change your role within it and that’s largely the theme of the new record, which is about me realizing that if I’m not into the concept of the culture of the United States at the moment, what is my role within it? How can I complain about fracking and also complain that my apartment's cold? How can I complain that we use too much oil then drive and fly all over the earth? What is my role within this system and how can I personally change my lifestyle so I don’t contribute to the system I would like to see eradicated? How can I stop propagating an idea that I am against?
So, in the Coke-Pepsi election show that is the US presidency, who is the lesser evil?
Obama is the lesser evil. But it’s sort of like, would you rather I stab you with a sword or shoot you with a gun? Obama’s the sword. Romney’s the gun. A real big gun where the bullets are covered in shit, so they’re going to infect you. While I do hope of those two, Obama wins, I would rather people vote for Daffy Duck. It’s important to represent your demographic, rather than vote for someone out of the hope that the less shitty person will win. That’s the whole fucknarian opera of it all. I kind of like how the Taliban and Al Qaeda always endorse the worse candidate because they’re like, "they’ll just speed up the process of making it suckier and suckier!" It’s kind of an awesome style. If you’re not going to throw out the garbage till it’s heaping over the top, you might as well fucking fill the fucker right up rather than be like, "oooh throw a little bit out a time!"
While we’re talking about personal responsibility, you’ve criticized U2 for selling themselves as this politically and socially conscious band and yet they’re into flying around in private jets...
I’m pretty bummed that U2 is the most “political” mainstream band. It’s just a bummer. Either they’re completely delusional or just obsessed with marketing. You can’t have 200 semis and private jets and be like, "Oh, we’ll play to some trees and make it better!" Like, get real man, get REAL. You have to realize you're contributing to what you’re pretending to protest against.
I think about how I live in an industry that’s completely unnecessary. It doesn’t contribute to anyone’s direct survival, do you know what I mean? If you look at it from an animalistic perspective, I do think that entertainment is important and one of the things that makes our species unique is that it has culture and we create art and we take things that are natural to us and we augment them to us in ways that only humans do. I can’t remember what the fuck I was talking about…
[PR: We kind of need to cut you off; do you want to do one more?]
ERM, who’s got the best beard in music?
I don’t know. You're closing with a banger! Oh, Dan Higgs, the singer of Lung Fish, he’s got the best beard.
No Dan, you do, and don’t ever forget that.