The beads of sweat were still fresh on his face as Robert DeLong strolled into the media tent at Made In America on Sunday. The 26-year-old was clutching a Bud Light, desperately trying to recharge his batteries 45 minutes after sending the crowd of tweeners into a trance-like frenzy with his pulsing dance beats and robotic hooks.
DeLong is one of the freshest faces in music, an artist who combines percussion and technology to perfection. He’s one part Calvin Harris, two parts Bill Gates.
“I came from a lot of different places,” DeLong says. “I grew up as a drummer in folk and indie bands, and that’s kind of where I started writing music; but I was always into electronic sounds and kind of a computer nerd, so it was kind of natural for me to get into producing — and then my girlfriend really got me into dance music, and that’s where everything kind of fused together.”
What DeLong is doing is changing perceptions, with his unique take on electronic music. He uses lyrics like “function could be the only truth ‘cause it’s just movement,” while incorporating Wii remotes and joysticks into his act. The computer devices aren’t just props, either: He actually uses them to control verses and volumes.
“The Wii remote controls the delay in my vocals. I can catch like a word or phrase and repeat it with a button,” he says. “If I shake it, it speeds it up, or the game pad is controlling samples; each button is a different note.”
Funny thing is, DeLong doesn’t even play video games.
“I’m not really a huge gamer. Really, it’s just I’m a nerd. I spend a lot of time alone in my room,” he says, laughing.
DeLong played a nearly hourlong set Sunday at Made In America. During that time, he sang, played the drums and controlled the beats — all in one seamless swoop. He has remixed everything from Radiohead to Selena Gomez.
Ask DeLong to describe his sound and he laughs, “Ask someday else, I’m terrible at describing it.”
It all started when his father taught him to play the guitar and piano when he was growing up outside Seattle. DeLong bounced around in a few indie bands and then decided it was time to branch off.
“People are always staring at their shoes when they’re watching an indie band, which is cool because it’s emotive music and you’re supposed to be thinking about it or something,” he says, “but I got tired of that and I wanted to do something visceral, something people could connect with in that way. The primary way we have always dealt with music, as humans, is by dancing and I wanted to capture that somehow, and hopefully it worked.”
Judging by the scene Sunday, it's working. DeLong has been booked solid working festivals, including Coachella, all summer. He released his first full-length album, "Just Movement," this past February. In the fall, he’ll hit the road again to headline his own tour. First and foremost on his agenda is accommodating fans. DeLong held a special meet-and-greet for about 200 people after his set at Made In America.
"To me, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the fans and the people so you can't be a f—ing douchebag," DeLong said. "They're the people putting it out there for you, so if it wasn't for them I wouldn't be able to play shows. As long as you don't worry about money too much, you'll be fine."
The truth behind the X
DeLong is famous for his trademark orange X logo. It adorns the T-shirt he wears and is also painted on his face during shows. Apparently, there is no hidden mystery behind it, it's just good branding.
"Oh yeah, it's a huge secret," DeLong chuckled. "Truth is, I've tried to invent stories and they're never funny, so the real truth is my girlfriend drew this on my headphones one time and then my friend is a graphic designer, so he kind of formalized it into what it is. It kind of became associated with what I do, so there it is."