On this past Friday morning, Milwaukee's innovation week, better known as the Flying Car event, was in full swing. During Flying Car, creative minds, businesses, and talents come together to explore solutions to global challenges and foster a culture of innovation in our city. One of these creative minds was electronic musician Robert DeLong, who took an hour out of his two-day tour stop in Milwaukee to give a room full of people an extremely insightful behind-the-scenes look at his craft.
"People don't know what to call me," Robert DeLong said of himself, "I'm not a band, I'm not a DJ, I'm just a dude…with a lot of stuff." DeLong stood behind an intricate setup of metal pipes, knobs, a drum pad, video cameras, and game controllers. DeLong, as a musician and innovator, spoke on how he is finding new ways to make his concerts as enthralling to watch as they are to listen to. "I'm trying to get away from that image that dance musicians and DJs have, of just standing onstage with a laptop in their face," he said as he walked us through his setup, "I like for the crowd to see what I'm doing when I'm performing. I want it to be visually interesting." With two GoPro cameras set up facing DeLong and his rig, the audience is able to watch on a big screen everything that he does to make music in real-time. In his younger years, he reminisced about "writing terrible songs on the acoustic guitar," before he got into the electronic/dance scene. DeLong describes the dance scene as "a communal experience," remarking on how cool it is that one kind of music can make a room full of people get on their feet and share a moment. His love of gadgets began in college, when he started using Logic and MIDI to make music with video game controllers. Now, DeLong incorporates Wii remotes, Kinect motion-sensors, joysticks, keyboards and video game controllers onstage, all of which he hacks himself. "I can move the Wii remote around to add vocal effects, like make it glitchy," he explained as he shook around the remote. He also programmed a Nintendo controller and an Atari joystick to produce certain sounds and visuals, and a drum pad to play various samples of his voice when struck. Not to mention that he also sings and plays the keyboard, drums, and guitar. "I'm kind of like a one-man band. There are a lot more moving parts than anyone really understands," he remarks, and this is what truly makes DeLong's live shows so much more than just listening to another electronic DJ. Having dedicated years of his life to inventing, programming, and perfecting the tools he uses to make music, DeLong has made his unique footprint as an artist and an innovator. What I took away from the session was a heightened appreciation for the use of technology in music, and a deep respect for musicians who are using it to enter uncharted territory in the industry.
Watch Robert DeLong in action: