Reflections on electronic dance music (EDM) reaching critical mass in the United States will feature prominently in recaps of 2012. Skrillex and Deadmau5 are already established as poster boys for a new generation of rave-happy kids sucking on pacifiers, but they’ve also opened the floodgates for like-minded individuals to grab a slice of the DayGlo pie.
Los Angeles-based Seattle transplant Robert DeLong has already gained a reputation as a player on the fringes of the EDM scene. But he may not remain there for long. He talks breathlessly of a show in Albany while speaking to me on the phone from a recent tour. “It was really cool to see thousands of people singing along to the lyrics. It was my first experience of that,” he says.
Songs like “Global Concepts” wrap a pop sensibility around house and electro rhythms, adding touches of subtlety lacking in the music of many of DeLong’s peers. His ability to seamlessly blur boundaries while working around a core EDM template could blow his potential audience wide open—something DeLong hopes to test out with the release of his debut album early next year.
EDM once seemed to be big everywhere but the United States. How did you arrive at it?
I was really into Pat Metheny and stuff like that. But then of course I got into the Seattle indie-rock scene when I was in high school. A lot of Death Cab and a lot of Modest Mouse, that kind of stuff. But all the while I was listening to ambient electronic music. I was into Boards Of Canada—that’s my favorite band. Then coming down to L.A. I started to become exposed to the EDM scene.
When you started making music, was it very different from what you’re doing now?
I suppose so, yeah. Every few years I’ve changed what kind of music I’ve been writing. But when I moved down to L.A. it was along the lines of indie-pop and indie-rock stuff that was happening in Seattle at the time. In L.A. I started listening to more electronic dance music and beats-based music. I just fused the two together, my two styles that I was into.
What do you remember about the first show you played under your own name?
I really only started doing my solo thing about two years ago. But I always wanted to do a solo electronic thing because that’s the future of music. So the first show I played was at some coffee house, and it was really weird. My computer didn’t work. It broke halfway through. It was terrible. That’s really my first show experience. But it was about two years ago that I started incorporating the dance element, and I remember the first show where it really clicked with people. A lot of people came up to me after the show and said, “That was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like that.” So it seemed like something I should do.
And now you have a fan group with its own name: Tribe Of Orphans.
Yeah, well that was born out of me having an extended group of friends. We would all go to concerts or raves or whatever. We’d all go out together and party together, and it started catching on. So they were my friends, and they started coming to my shows, and other people saw that and loved the whole vibe and experience. And they joined in and started doing their own version of it. I’ve always wanted to make a show that’s fun for everybody and has a party atmosphere, where everyone’s friendly. That’s the vibe of all my friends, and we’re trying to perpetuate that.
Are you working on an album, or is touring taking over your schedule?
We just finished up mixing a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been mastered. So we’re just waiting until early 2013 to put that thing out. And the lead single will be out before then. Then I’ll be full time on tour in 2013.
Will the album be similar to the songs you’ve released already?
I don’t know if you’ve heard “Global Concepts,” “Happy,” those tunes? Those songs will be on the album. We will remix them. It’s a bunch of songs I’ve written over the last four years. It ends up being 12 tracks. It’s dance, but some of them are a little more on the folk edge and some of them straight house. It’s a cross section. It’s indie pop in the sense that it’s song-based and melodic.
What were you listening to while you were making the album?
A lot of things. I was listening to the EDM stuff that’s happening right now. To be honest, my biggest influence in all this stuff is going out. Since I moved to L.A. I’ve been going out as often as I can to electronic concerts. I’m trying to figure out how to re-appropriate that vibe into the hybrid thing that I’m doing. It’s nothing specific. It’s always just trying to find that moment that you can steal.
How long did it take you to finish the album?
It’s gone through so many different evolutions. A lot of these songs I wrote four years ago, and my writing process involves recording as well. So it’s just layers and layers and layers of new recording on top of new recording. But it’s the same base song. Really though this last six months was when we dialed everything in and threw everything together and made it a cohesive thing.
Why do you think EDM has blown up so big recently?
Music was traditionally dance music, at least initially. Recently it was sort of inevitable that electronic music would overtake everything at some point, just because of the way technology is moving and people always looking for the next thing. And when there’s a bad economy, people want to have a party. There are a lot of different factors to it. I’ve been looking forward to the moment when electronic music is the primary thing. It’s fun to be a part of it.
Do you see yourself as a part of it though? Your music obviously has a lot of other elements pulled from far beyond the EDM scene.
It’s a different take on that thing. It’s definitely a part of it. But the thing that I’m really interested in is taking these ideas, these genres that exist in people’s minds that are very specific, especially in the EDM world where everything is so fragmented that way, and being able to exploit those for whatever the coolest properties are. And hopefully make something new out of it.
This article originally appeared in the CMJ 2012 festival guide.