The New Deal
For people who are interested in this style of music but might not go see a DJ, the fact that we use instruments helps them to understand the energy exchange that takes place.
story by Jessica E. Lee
Perhaps it’s their blurring of genre lines – or their uncanny ability to energize a crowd. Perhaps it’s the undeniably catchy hooks that weave their way in and out of every show. Whatever the reason, the New Deal has established itself over the past six years as a reliable provider of tight, danceable improvisation that defies traditional labels – and, perhaps for that very reason, as a versatile touring act as well. “We’ve toured with everyone from Herbie Hancock to the Roots to Moby,” drummer Darren Shearer told Chicago Innerview. And, judging by the average crowd at their shows, it seems they’ve picked up some fans at every stop along the way.
Comprised of Shearer, bassist Dan Kurtz, and keyboardist Jamie Shields, the New Deal has amassed a fanbase which, much like their music, draws from many different musical backgrounds: a veritable melting pot. With a live show that focuses on improvisational jams and a setlist that varies from night to night, their performance aesthetic is similar to that of a jamband (and so attracts a number of jamband fans), though actually it more closely resembles the jazz model – improvising around musical themes and recurring riffs rather than lengthier, more structured compositions. Their bouncy electronic style appeals to a certain type of fan; their use of live instruments in creating it might intrigue an entirely different demographic. Shearer noted, “For people who are interested in this style of music but might not go see a DJ, the fact that we use instruments helps them to understand the energy exchange that takes place.”
Their promotional materials proclaim their style as “live progressive breakbeat house.” It’s hard to argue with that description. “Progressive” even has multiple applications here: their innovation as musicians, their patient and repetition-heavy jam style, and the continual development and refinement of their sound. For most of last year, however, the “live” part did not so much apply. In November 2003, the band announced to its fans that they would take a break from touring in 2004. After finishing up a New Year’s run with the Disco Biscuits, the New Deal didn’t play again until September, with a sole exception for a hometown set at the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival in July. The band members each used their time apart to focus on their personal lives and to pursue their individual interests.
After nearly nine months on break, the New Deal regrouped in the fall of 2004, playing a few scattered dates around the Northeastern U.S. and in Toronto, culminating with a New Year’s Eve show in Troy, N.Y. Plans for the next few months include dates on the West Coast and around Canada, and a compilation of live tracks from the fall 2004 tour is in the works, tentatively scheduled for release in late spring or early summer this year. New Deal plans on limited touring in key U.S. and Canadian markets this year, and also hopes to bring their unique sound to new far-flung lands. “We’ve been trying to get our butts over to Europe pretty much since the beginning,” Shearer said. In addition to Europe, the band hopes to tour in Japan and South America in the not-too-distant future.
It makes sense for a band like the New Deal to branch outside of North American markets. Unlike in the U.S., where it has yet to be proven as much more than another underground subculture occasionally co-opted by the mainstream in passing fads, the electronic music scene is much better established elsewhere in the world, especially in Europe, where electronic and dance music have a particularly broad appeal. The New Deal is in a prime position to break into the international music scene; at this point, it’s just a matter of actually doing it. As Shearer said, “Getting over there is the biggest feat.”
The New Deal :: Logan Square Auditorium :: March 18.