I first encountered Robert DeLong through his orange duct-tape, segmented X symbol, the street-art piece that seemed suddenly everywhere this fall. Then, in December, when my power was out after the freak windstorm, I found myself at a friend’s music studio/storefront on Echo Park Ave. where DeLong was shooting a music video. Not at first realizing he was the “rockstar” in the room, I found him to be a pretty unassuming, even polite guy. But when he began the 10-15 takes of his “radio” song for the cameras, he transformed alchemically from normal human being into full-on performer. If you’ve seen this before, it’s a fascinating aspect of human behavior among musicians, performance artists, etc. Meanwhile, I was texting friends: “In Echo Park drinking, doing drugs at a music studio, somebody’s filming a video for some song hitting the airwaves, whatevs.” I was slightly exaggerating, but his song “Happy” was soon in rotation on both KROQ and KCRW, an odd couple of stations to have onboard for one’s first single, still, after hearing it that many times in a row I’d say it’s a pretty good song to have rattling around your head for a while.
Like much of DeLong’s output, “Happy” is a paradox in and of itself. This is melodic pop EDM that really makes you want to dance yet there lurks a sense of melancholy, not at the edges but deep in the bass and in lyrics like, “I see everything quite clear … I see life outside of time, but I don’t feel it.” DeLong’s version of dance music is far subtler than even your most club-hardened DJ might imagine; to say there are “multiple layers” would be an understatement comparable to saying that three or four months ago there were “a few” Republican candidates running for president. When he’s belting out the refrain “Yeah, we’re gonna die!” in “Basically, I” the music is swelling and any number of loops he’s set in motion are all coming together at one time, and everyone on the floor is dancing ecstatically, certainly not gazing down at their feet in a morose sense of apathy.
Having been at his month-long Monday night residency at Los Globos a couple times, I’d say it’s well worth the effort to catch his live act, and soon. Besides being a solid drummer playing at Modest Mouse levels of complexity, DeLong isn’t that guy sitting in the glow of his laptop. He’s the guy dancing around stage among three laptops, a couple MIDI-interfaces and drum pads, several pedals, a number of mics plugged into different inputs, a couple Wii-remote and Sega controllers, and oh yeah the full drum-kit he rocks out on. This is the music you want to hear when you hit the club, the music people 10+ years younger than me maybe haven’t heard of yet, but will be dancing to in the coming weeks and months.