A Long Time Comin'

25 June 2013 | 5:30 am | Cyclone Wehner

“I think just being around a lot of electronic music, you end up picking up what a lot of the current trends are – the new waves or whatever."

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krillex and young upstarts like Porter Robinson may generate the most hype as US EDM stars, but Robert DeLong has sprung out of nowhere with his post-moombahton hit Global Concepts – further exploring his innovative hybrid of indie and electronica on this year's debut, Just Movement. And he's not a DJ but a live muso and vocalist. Could the Seattle multi-instrumentalist be the new BT?

DeLong, oft-described as a one-man electronic band, is headed to Australia for the first time in July, performing at Splendour In The Grass, with side-shows in Melbourne and Sydney. “It should be pretty awesome,” DeLong drawls. He's already played SXSW and Coachella. At Splendour, he'll rep the electronic side along with James Blake and Flume. “I really should review the line-up!” DeLong says guiltily. “I haven't looked at it yet. I just got back from Europe, so I'm kind of putting down the roots for a second.” The former indie rock drummer's gigs involve an arsenal of hardware – and more. He deploys two computers, a keyboard, a drum kit, percussion, and repurposed video game gadgetry. Sometimes there's a guitar. And DeLong sings. He won't skimp in Australia. “I have all my electronics and everything, which we can fit in a couple of cases, and so we can bring all of that stuff – and then I end up renting the rest of my stands and drum set, et cetera.” DeLong's dynamic live paradigm is showing up others in EDM. Punters have been becoming ever more cynical about the industry's profligate acceptance of pre-programmed live (and DJ) sets. It's hard to ascertain what is really happening behind a laptop. DeLong agrees. “It's great that so much of it's [live electronic music] happening right now – and that's totally the result of technology being available to so many people and people being interested in pushing the envelope of what it means to perform electronic music. I think that there's a lot of smoke and mirrors (laughs). Who knows a lot of the times what people are doing? But, you know, that's kind of the fun of it, too. People are always gonna be sceptical about everything we do. It's all good.” 

DeLong is easygoing, laughing frequently. He frequently says “I dunno” when answering questions in a bashful, languorous way. DeLong originates from Bothell, a suburb of Seattle. It's also been home to Death Cab For Cutie guitarist Chris Walla – and American Idol contender Blake Lewis. DeLong grew up very much aware of the capital's heritage of grunge – and folk. At age ten, he'd pick up the drums, following his father. DeLong likewise learnt to play piano and guitar – and started to sing. He gigged in high school bands. Eventually, DeLong left rainy Seattle for California, studying music at the Christian Azusa Pacific University. Here, he was in the outfit The Denouement. Later, the singer-songwriter discovered EDM at a rave. It had a transformative effect. “It's funny – I have no idea who I saw at that event,” he admits. “I wasn't really aware of any DJ culture at that point in time. What really caught me was it was the kind of music that you have to experience over loud speakers with a group of people who are all doing it together. Until you experience that, you can't really understand what's so fun about it.” DeLong wasn't completely ignorant of electronic acts, having long listened to Boards Of Canada. He'd even experimented with computer music. But now DeLong attempted to bring that “dance element” and “physicality” he experienced raving into his music. The occasional drum teacher relished working on his own. His efforts culminated in Just Movement, an existential EDM album. DeLong was spotted by a tout from the indie Glassnote Records, home to Mumford & Sons, Phoenix, Childish Gambino and Aussies The Temper Trap. He signed, releasing the EP Global Concepts last year. That anthemic single, endorsed by triple j, has surpassed Gold in Australia.

DeLong's sound is a compound of contemporary EDM genres (he himself noticeably never drops the contentious yet succinct term 'EDM'). DeLong hasn't had the desire to become a superstar DJ, although he's played friends' parties. (“I'm not a great DJ.”) As such, he presumably hasn't felt the pressure to know his moombahton from his trap from his complextro – or any other 'it' genre. “I think just being around a lot of electronic music, you end up picking up what a lot of the current trends are – the new waves or whatever,” he concedes. “I love taking something from everything, if it's cool – trying messing around with it. But, generally, the things that I'm most attracted to are certain sounds and certain grooves and new ways to use synthesisers and stuff like that.”

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DeLong has lived in Los Angeles for nine years and intends to stay – not that he currently rests anywhere for long with all his tour activity. (“I'm actually home probably six days a month.”) The Seattle rock influence remains, however. “I think you hear it a lot in my vocals and songwriting,” DeLong says.

DeLong plans to release more albums. While many dance producers are opting to issue singles or EPs over LPs, DeLong feels that the format is still “relevant” to him because he's essentially a songwriter. “I imagine that I'll probably do more albums and I'll probably do more EPs – and I'll do everything.” Regardless, he acknowledges that making Just Movement was a learning curve. “I would never take that much time on an album [in future]. But, I mean, there was no impetus to finish it at the time, 'cause I didn't have a label and I had no release idea. I was just tinkering with stuff and then it slowly grew into this terrible thing! But I'd probably be a lot more efficient in the way I go about it and a little bit more goal-oriented.”

Today's EDM followers are too young have witnessed the early days of house, techno or rave. For them 'ol' skool' is The Prodigy – or Daft Punk. It's liberating for emerging producers not to be shackled by tradition, let alone deal with old snobberies. Yet as Daft Punk's retro Random Access Memories thematically underscores, that old history shouldn't be lost. DeLong gets it. “That's a really important part of anything,” he says. “Out of respect for people, especially [those] who have devoted a lot of time to that and created something, it is important to recognise their history. But I think that people should just keep making new stuff!” DeLong has also realised the significance of projecting a memorable image in the social media age – which didn't necessarily occur to the original dance stars, at least not until Daft Punk introduced their robot helmets. Indeed, while deadmau5 has that mouse head, DeLong has branded his orange 'X' insignia. He even paints it on his face. And his fans ('The Tribe of Orphans') love it. “My girlfriend painted 'X' on the side of my headphones and it just kind of turned it into what it is,” DeLong laughs again. “I never really thought about it, but it just made sense for me to have something so it's easy for people to identity with. But it is a funny thing – the whole idea of having an image or whatever... I think it's fun.”