People bag on DJ and electronic music culture. Some harsher music fans and armchair critics can’t accept the fact that it does take some talent to make music from pre-existing melodies using turntables, CDJs and a mixer – without a little practice, you’ve got sounds reminiscent of shoes in a dryer.
But can you bag on electronic music when the music – be it techno, house, drum and bass, drone-womp or any other subcategory of electronic music – is not being made with CDJs, a mixer and premade music but being made with actual instruments? That’s the deal with The New Deal, the Canadian instrumental trio who make music ripe for a packed dance floor in a sweaty club, and they make that music the old-fashioned way: with instruments.
The New Deal will play The Animas City Theatre on Tuesday.
The band formed 20 years ago in Toronto, their first set being a low-key jam that ultimately was recorded and released as their first record. It was a sound stylistically related to the music of club culture, of which the band had a keen interest.
“We started at a time where house music was beginning to be everywhere, and we really loved it for all the reasons that people love house music,” said bass player Dan Kurtz. “We didn’t make an agreement on it, but we all individually were really curious about how we could play this music on the instruments that we have, because you can’t program a bass guitar, you can’t program a real drum set, but you can emulate the machines that were made to emulate people. The DJ philosophy came that if we never stop, if we just morph from one idea to the other, then we can keep the party going. Luckily, we all grew up in a time where we all played rock ’n’ roll and funk and jazz and all that kind of stuff, so collectively, we have a pretty big palette of styles to choose from, so it allows us to basically play with the crowd. From a player’s perspective, it’s a dream job – you get to do whatever you want, if it’s right.”
Capable of thumping out driving rhythms that stop on a dime and turn into something lush and atmospheric, they have a jam-band approach. Improvisation plays a heavy role in what they do, as songs can stretch out beyond the 10-minute mark; experimentation is all part of the nature.
“This is the jazz-band approach. We take heads that we’ve written – they might be 30-seconds long, they might be a minute long – and what they are is a jumping-off point for what would be 30 seconds of an idea and it could be played in any number of different styles or tempos or whatever, and then we’re off for 20 minutes riffing off the mood,” Kurtz said. “If you came to see two, one-hour sets of The New Deal, and you listened to our whole catalog, you’d recognize three minutes of the music. But you’d also know that it would only sound like The New Deal.”
The music, whether it be made by a single DJ or a power trio, isn’t worth heckling. No music is. The electronic music/jam scene is a positive culture loaded with interesting characters who are out to enjoy the music and have a little fun. The experimenting nature adds to the joy, as the musicians always seem to be on the quest for something new.
“It’s very positive, it’s very upbeat,” Kurtz said. “I myself, I look forward to New Deal shows because they remind how great it is to let your imagination run with music and to experience how joyful that can be. And a really good show for us is when that reflects in the audience as well.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.