Robert DeLong is changing the paradigm for performing electronic dance music. In a world where superstar DJs perform from behind a booth (unless you’re the stage-diving, cake-wielding Steve Aoki), it’s supremely refreshing to encounter DeLong, a one-man dance party who performs his music live with a setup of up to 20 instruments ranging from drums and guitar, to a hacked Wii remote and flight simulator joystick mapped to midi controllers and gyros which control voice distortions. Ahead of his performance at the Getty’s “Off the 405” series tomorrow, we speak to Robert about science and what it takes to put on such intricate and hyperactive performances.
LAC: You’re originally from Seattle but are now based in LA. How would you compare the music scenes in both cities? What about electronic music in particular?
RD: Definitely. I left Seattle when I was 18, about 9 years ago. I kind of grew up in the indie scene there. In junior high and early high school, I was kind of in the pop/punk/ hardcore scene still. I’m not real familiar with the Seattle electronic scene and certainly wasn’t back then. Going back there, I’ve played 3-4 times in the last 6 months. It’s definitely growing, but it’s not like it is here on the West Coast in LA and SF, which are, you know, kind of hubs for dance music. Seattle definitely has a lot of niche electronic stuff going on and the dance scene is growing. It’s interesting seeing people in Seattle, they respond differently to dance music than they do here. A lot more crossed arms (laughs) but I think people enjoy it.
LAC: How did you get into electronic music? Were you ever a “raver”?
RD: Well, I was always listening to heavily-electronic influenced stuff like Boards of Canada and trip-hoppy type of stuff. When I came here [to California] it really was the first time I’d gone to an electronic event. I’d always heard house and trance but I’d never experienced it in a live setting. It’s a communal event more than anything, and seeing that is kind of what got me into it. Of course shortly after that, the wave of dubstep hit LA and a lot of people who weren’t into electronic music kind of understood it more because of that. I was never really a “raver” but a lot of my friends went to events. So I went to raves and stuff. Well, I guess I did get “dressed up” a couple times (laughs)
LAC: You have a really interesting setup. What’s the highest # of instruments you’ve ever had on stage with you? I’m sure it varies from show to show.
RD: What you saw at Coachella is pretty typical; it’s pretty much the same setup all the time. Sometimes I’ll have guitar on stage for longer sets and different pieces of percussion. As time goes on, it’s always growing a little here and there, I imagine it’ll grow more.
LAC: I think I noticed a Wii Controller on stage. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you’ve integrated non-traditional tools into your set up?
RD: Yeah, I have a joystick like from flight simulator. I have a Wii remote and a gamepad and software that converts it to midi. The Wii is hooked up to Bluetooth so I can just wave it around it has a gyro in it and I can control the delay in my vocal. I have this toy that these guys in SF make that’s called a Midi Fighter, that you can wave left and right. I didn’t use it much at Coachella but I use it more for my longer sets.
LAC: What’s next on your list of technological “hacks”? Do you have plans to add other non-traditional things to your arsenal?
RD: The next step for me, I kind of want to get people to help me design custom controllers designed for a very specific purpose in my set. But right now what I’m working on, I’m touring a lot, so we’re kind of redesigning the computer aspect of my rig. So I should have new laptops on stage. It’s kind of nerdy and technical.
LAC: Let’s circle back to Coachella. What was it like to play there?
RD: It was fun! Although, I’d kind of come off of playing a lot of festivals, and of course when I heard, I was freaking out, you know, Coachella’s such a milestone. But it kind of was like any other festival, except very hot. It was super fun, and it was super cool to see the tent packed so early in the day.
LAC: I actually think I spotted you inside the Yuma. Did you go exploring much at Coachella? Who were some of your favorite acts? Best memories?
RD: I got to explore a bit more the 2nd weekend. I spent some time in the Yuma and that was definitely fun. It was fantastic. Tame Impala was great, and I caught a bit of James Blake, he was really good. I’ve seen him a few times before. There were some others that really stood out to me, but my memory’s a little fuzzy.
LAC: Did you see any acts during the windstorm?
RD: I think I was doing interviews and stuff. The windstorm–that was madness. We actually ended up driving back a little bit early because I had to fly up the next day. That was pretty brutal. God, the roads were like zero visibility.
LAC: You were into science growing up. Are you still into science? What gets you geeking out nowadays?
RD: As a kid my dad would read me National Geographic as my bedtime story. I was always into Popular Science. I always figured I’d go into physics or music. I chose music… I’m probably dumber for it, but, you know, it’s more fun. Now I pretty much just read Popular Science, blogs and watch TED Talks. I just kind of go on the internet… I don’t keep up too much but I read an article a day.
LAC: Your show was like a non-stop dance party. How do you keep from passing out during your performances? Do you work out to build stamina or does the Adrenaline keep you going?
RD: I practice a lot. If I can do that set three times in a day, then I can definitely do it once. I do a lot of running. It’s really important to stay in shape if you’re doing that much jumping around. But yeah, the adrenaline can definitely make you feel like a bit of a machine and then afterwards you’re really tired.
LAC: What’s next? Any big festivals/shows this summer?
RD: I’m playing the Getty this Saturday and I’ve got a bunch of festivals. I just did Governor’s Ball in New York; that was really great. It was madness with all the mud! I have a few other big US festivals then I’m off to Australia and off to Europe for a while.
See Robert DeLong perform live tomorrow evening at 6pm at the Getty for their “Off the 405” series. This is a free concert series, so arrive early to ensure space.