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Listen to this exclusive Dan Deacon mix

From synth country remixes of Missy Elliott to Mindflayer's noise rock, the Wham City legend mixes up an hour of electronic surprises

Every month we ask a pioneering musician to mix together an hour of their formative electronic influences for the Synth Hero show on NTS. This month it is the turn of Dan Deacon, a Baltimore-based producer, performer and composer who has released 8 albums of innovative electronica since his 2003 debut, Meetle Mice. As well as co-founding the indie arts collective Wham City, he’s also scored a horror thriller by Francis Ford Coppola and performed at Carnegie Hall with Matmos to celebrate the 100th Birthday of John Cage. His live shows are the stuff of legend, with Deacon performing smack bang in the middle of his audiences with a table full of machines, circuit bent devices and of course, racks of synths. 

Although the last few years have seen Deacon concentrate on classical music, he has just contributed a killer new Brian Eno cover to the amazing EP, Translational Drifts: Moogfest Volume 1. It is the first in a series of free releases that feature contemporary acts reinterpreting seminal electronic music influencers that have shaped the annual Moogfest festival. Check it out here

Currently touring American in his "vantastic" school bus (which runs on vegetable oil), this Synth Hero mix showcases everythig from synth country remixes of Missy Elliot to the noise rock of Mindflayer and everything inbetween. Here, Deacon talks through each of his selections.  

‘Rocky Mountains’ by Wendy Carlos 00:00 to 02:56

Wendy Carlos, who introduced most of the world to synthesizer with her 1968 classic ‘’Switched On Bach”, is without question one of the greatest musical synthesists in the 20th century and one of the most important figures in electronic music. Her ability to take artificial sounds and sculpt them to sound both so familiar and foreign is unmatched. This, composed for ‘The Shining’, so perfectly drifts in and out from its brass ensemble sound to something totally unique to a synthesizer, giving the piece that haunting majestic sound that sets the supernatural tone for the film. 

‘Warszawa’ by David Bowie 02:27 to 08:46

The entire B-side to “Low” is an absolute masterpiece in using the studio as an instrument. The section featuring the interplay between synthesizers and wide vibrato flute always challenges my mind to imagine the composition and production process that lead to the final piece.

‘Coeur Syntheticque’ by Jean Jacques Perrey 08:40 to 09:36

There isn’t a lot of humor in electronic music and it is hard to imagine that it would have any at all without Jean Jacques Perrey. While this track doesn’t embody the sense of lightheartedness that he is known for, it is a beautiful track and I enjoy imagining him playing it in his studio back in the late 60s/early 70. Music like this is what made people in the suburbs buy console organs and little synths as both instruments and furniture instead of pianos. 

‘Rainbow Flag’ by Matmos 09:26 to 13:03

Whenever I see Drew or Martin around Baltimore I wonder what they are hearing. I wonder what their world sounds like because what they do with sounds is so unique to them. Their catalog is insanely diverse but somehow each track has their signature in the overtones. This track comes from their 2008 album “Supreme Balloon” which is made entirely with synthesizers and “no microphones were used at any point.”

‘Buckminster Fuller’ by Add N to (x) 13:01 to 16:34

I remember playing this song at a party I was DJing in college. We covered the entire apartment in white plastic that was leftover from a Gwar show that got rained out (long story). Anyway, the apartment was packed with people and every wall, hallway, the ceiling, the floor, the furniture, the windows, the doors, everything was covered in this thick white plastic. On top of that, it was raining outside, so everyone was soaked and throwing their drinks: it was chaos. But all hell broke loose when this song came on. People just started going insane and tearing the plastic down and whipping it around; the lights got smashed, and the only light was someone taking flash photograph and the images of these insane dance majors whipping around this plastic while this song blasted will forever be burned into my mind. Such a beautiful moment. 

‘Holidazzle’ by Skoal Kodiak 16:23 to 21:02

I never got to see Skoal Kodiak live and I’ll always be sad about that. Their albums are amazing but you can hear that they were a band that was meant to be heard live in a warehouse or basement with hordes of bouncing people. This is my favorite kind of live electronic music. 

‘This Is Missy Country’ by Dsico 21:00 to 22:54

I have no idea how I first came across this but I’m really happy that I did. Not much more to say about it other than I love Missy Elliot and the juxtaposition of her voice/lyrics against this absurd synth country beat is just really nice.

‘Seabird’ by Black Dice 22:54 to 29:31

This is another piece where I can’t envision the creation process. What I love most about Black Dice is how its this really fluid sounding ensemble of really beautiful nonsense sounds that turn into these perfect piles of sounds that just keep tumbling and turning. 

‘Take Your Shoes Off’ by Mindflayer 29:29 to 31:44

Electronics paired with live drum kit is easily my favorite pairing of instruments. Its a nearly unstoppable combination. I saw Mindflayer at my college in 2003 and it was such a physically powerful show. The blaring synths pouring out of the tower of speakers battling against the drums was magical and really opened up my mind to what a sheer force amplitude can be. 

‘Caribbean Blue’ by Enya 31:38 to 35:32

My people focus on the voice for Enya but the production of the instrumental sounds is so perfect. New Age music as a whole often gets overlooked as part of the family of electronic music. The blending of her voice layers over the synthesizers is so seamless. I love to hear the individual layers of her work or read the studio notes on how this album was produced. Its hard to imagine that at a time this was totally new and very little other music sounded like it.

‘Booji Boy’s Funeral’ by Devo 35:29 to 39:28

Devo has been one of my favorite bands since I first heard them in high school and remains one of my favorite bands to this day. That said, I wish so badly that they had more tracks like this in their catalog. I love imagining the first time it was all put together and arranged. How fun it must have been to setup that pulse and riff on top of it. Thats my favorite part about making synth music, just the endless amount of timbral options and where they can take you.

‘Kyema’ by Eliane Radigue  38:43 to 43:04

This is a short excerpt from Eliane Radigue’s masterpiece for the Arp 2500 synthesizer ‘Trilogie De La Mort.’ The 3 hour mediative drone is ever-changing but travels like the weather; such subtle changes that only great lengths of time can show the shifts. I feel like if more people were introduced to music like this as children we’d be a way more peaceful bunch. 

‘Europa Endlos’ by Kraftwerk 41:27 to 51:04

The late ‘70s were the changing face of music, exposing the early seeds of what the 21st century would be shaped by. In the way that ‘In C’ by Terry Riley and ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ by Steve Reich established a new direction in the classical world, ‘Trans-Europe Express’ by Kraftwerk reinforced the changing landscape for what pop music was: what sounds were new and what sounds were old. I’ll always be happy to hear that floating ostinato synth line that starts off this classic and runs throughout. It’s just the perfect song.

‘Booty Whop’ by Big Freedia 50:54 to  52:25

Regional-specific music producers often stand out to me as the most experimental in their production and sounds because they are working within a preset framework and, in doing so, need to create new ways to work within the confines of that particular genre. It is what allows the unique sound to grow into something totally its own. 

‘Prospectors Arrive’ by Jonny Greenwood 52:25 to 56:54

Greenwood’s score for ‘There Will Be Blood’ is easily one of my favorite pieces of music and, in my mind, perhaps the greatest piece of music from the 2000s. This piece heavily features the ondes martenot, a very early electronic instrument that gives the ensemble that especially longing and sober sound. It merges so well with the acoustic instruments; it’s subtle variations in pitch, wavering on top of itself, sound like a futures hindsight warning you of the mistake you’re about to embark upon.

‘Raga Todi’ by Charanjit Singh 56:52 to 01:01:51

I was working at a record store in Baltimore called the True Vine when this album was reissued. I remember listening to it all the way through several times during multiple shifts. The drum machines, layers of synths and the performances are just so perfect. To think this record was originally panned and forgotten for so long is both tragic and inspiring. I love thinking that are endless classics still hidden, waiting to be discovered by new ears to herald them as masterpieces that they are.