The Dean Rodney Singers universe is a strange and addictive place where disabled and non-disabled musicians and dancers collaborate in an environment brimming with digital colour. This imaginary world is a little like stepping into a Japanese computer game, with a soundtrack around you that’s part 80s anime jingle, part hyper breakbeat, part psychedelic funk.
The exceptionally talented Dean Rodney, who is autistic, began making music when he was 14, sitting in his living room and experimenting with sound effects and drum loops on a computer. His first performances were at school on the invitation of his head teacher – who, he says, joined in on a white guitar. Things went further when he hooked up with Heart n Soul, a creative-arts company in Deptford that works with people with learning disabilities. They did a workshop at Rodney’s school in 2002 and he’s been working with them ever since.
The concept for the Dean Rodney Singers was inspired by a dream Rodney had when he was 18 – and which he didn’t stop talking about until it became a reality. “It was quite realistic. I went to this performance and there were 72 band members playing. I asked, ‘What’s the name of your band?’ and they said ‘DRS’. I said, ‘What does that mean?’, and they said, ‘We don’t know.’ I said, ‘Dean Rodney Singers?’ and they said, ‘That’s a good idea, but who’s Dean?’ I said, ‘That’s me, I’m Dean’.”
Rodney sourced 72 performers and musicians from seven countries via Skype, creating collaborative audiovisual pieces via SoundCloud, YouTube and Vimeo in an extended form of creative conversation. The results, however, are nothing like the worthy blandness of many international music projects. This is a strange, bleepy place filled with imagination – an entire world of Rodney’s invention. “There are seven different dimensions: Dimension Domino; Dimension D-Tron; the Cookhouse Dimension; the Evidence Dimension Krypton; the Split Dimension; the Land of the Golden Duke; and Dimension Phantasmagoria,” Rodney explains. “Each dimension has different characters and different songs.” He introduces these dimensions, each of which has its own personality. For the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, he created an installation in which people could step into a space that made the project 3D – complete with dancing machines, computer games and a “Dean J” spot.
There’s a hyper-tech vibe to the project that reflects Rodney’s love of all things Japanese, while his musical influences range from J-pop and Daft Punk to Tupac and Biggie Smalls. Rodney’s wardrobe choices are equally as important – he had a suit made specifically for green-screen effects and created a t-shirt with a QPR code that links to the DRS website.
The Dean Rodney Singers have performed around the world – New York, Ireland, Turkey. Next up is an intriguing digital performance with happenings and installations around London throughout September. He’s also working on his own band, The Fish Police, whose debut album’s mind-bending psych tunes are reflected in its title, The Marzipan Transformations. Expect exciting things – Dean Rodney has more imagination and creative freedom in his little toe than most artists have in their whole bodies.
September 13, The Dean Rodney Singers Supershow, Southbank Centre, London. The Marzipan Transformations is out in October.