Robert DeLong is Bringing Rave to the Rock Show
From avant-pop to tech-house, it's been a unique journey.
As recently as a couple years ago, Robert DeLong was the drummer of an avant-pop band named The Denouement that played moody songs with Biblical allegories and gigged the LA underground – They were a million miles from the rave, but amidst the prog-rock freakouts and violin refrains, DeLong was nurturing a relationship with dance music that's come to define a fast-ascending solo career in which he's signed to Glassnote Records and cracked both the Billboard Alternative and Dance charts within the space of a year.
"Even while I was doing The Denouement stuff, I had written most of the tunes that became my first album," DeLong tells THUMP. "And I started listening to dance music five or six years ago. As a drummer, getting into the vibe of dance music was easy, thinking about the groove and making the rhythm the central component. Those sounds immediately seeped into my songwriting. I came out of a world of making kinda sad music all the time, so I was immediately reactive to the music that was fun and energetic."
DeLong's dance origin story follows a familiar path to many in our generation. He explains, "My girlfriend took me to a rave out in Pico Rivera. I was really sick. I had this awful head cold and I really didn't wanna go. My girlfriend totally convinced me. We had just started dating, so I was easy to convince! I'd never really been to anything like that. I'd always had an aversion to house music and stuff. I didn't know what to think of it. Seeing it in that context and that there's a whole range of diversity to it, that totally opened my eyes and changed my mind about it. I went home and, that week, I started producing the infant version of what i'm doing now."
As evidenced by tracks like "Long Way Down," DeLong maintains a unique confluence of electronic and organic elements that often leaves him stuck between the rock show and the rave. "That's always been the weird challenge with me, people figuring out where to book me," he explains. "More often than not, I fit into the rock world, traditional rock nightclubs. I've done some raves and proper dance nights at clubs and those are always cool, but I find that the rock audience is more appreciative of the live performance. Most of the time, anyone who is going to a dance event isn't really there to watch the performer and interact in that way. They're there to get into the music and feel it and, in a way, don't care about how the sounds are made."
DeLong's live show is characterized by him flitting about the stage, managing the percussion, melody, and vocals all by his lonesome and somehow keeping his head straight as he fiddles with gadgets and plays the drums. The way he makes the tunes, though, is much like any dance producer. "I create my songs pretty in the box with soft synths and analogs when have access, but when I bring them to life, I try to imagine a cool way to show the sound off," he explains. "I have a giant set up with all sorts of controllers and a drum set. It's grown into this massive beast. I just added this steering wheel, one of those drive-simulator steering wheel, but I dunno if I'll tour with that. It's pretty bulky."
Before Robert takes the live-show out for another festival season, he's working on the third album of his short, but prolific career. It's set to be a departure from his prior work. "It's definitely sonically very different than the first album. It's all over the place – from housey, almost disco tunes, traditional dance formats, up to r&b slow jams with lots of pitched down vocals. I have a tune that's almost punk-rock meets drum and bass. There's a lot of dance-inspired production techniques, but the songwriting is more on the weird, pop-rock world. I hate to use the word 'pop rock,' but those words accurately reflect the aesthetic. The EP is a good transitional piece."
It's notable that "Long Way Down," the lead single from the EP, maintains the similar muted, minor-key tones that were evident in The Denouement's work. "I can't escape that. It's all over everything," DeLong explains. "As much as what I do is very different than The Denouement was, melodically, the way I sing, is super informed by what that band was."
Second photo by Leo Mascaro.