The New Deal: Live Progressive Body Moving
What the hell is “live progressive breakbeat house”? Toronto’s the New Deal wants to show you. Formed in 1999, the New Deal, keyboardist Jaime Shields, bassist Dan Kurtz and drummer Darren Shearer, have toured relentlessly supporting their three independent releases, 1999’s full length “This is Live”, and their two live EP’s. By choosing to take their shows from the raves and clubs to the bars and theatres, the New Deal has exposed their music to a legion of new fans. Their success and substantial fan following has resulted in their signing to Jive Electro, the electronic music division of monolith Jive, the largest independent label and home to candy-pop heavyweights N’Sync, the Backstreet Boys and Brittany Spears.
However, the New Deal’s sound remains somewhat of an enigma, melding the tight house beats and rapidly shifting tempos of electronic music with live instrumentation and marathon improvisations. "Live progressive breakbeat house is more about borrowing the sound and philosophy behind repetitive [electronic] music,” says bassist Dan Kurtz, "but we don't sound exactly like an electronic band, it's real instruments. I guess that's where the word 'live' takes on its second significance."
While the New Deal’s sound may borrow heavily from electronic music, each member’s diverse musical influences make their compositions stand out. "I try to come from electronic music and play that live, Jamie brings in a more vast, melodic sound.” says drummer Darren Shearer, “We have a lot more melody in our music because we don't stay in same loop for ten minutes." The result of their differing musical influences is a unique sound that never comes off as contrived or artificial. "We never sat down and said, 'let's try and imitate house electronic music with live instruments', it was 'let's just play what we like to play and see what comes out',” comments keyboardist Jamie Shields. “I don't listen to a lot of electronic music and, as a result of that lack of knowledge, I don't base it on anything electronic, I just base it on things I listen to." "The nice thing about what we do," says Shearer, "is that it's really hard to fake it. It's hard to go out and say, 'Fuck, house music is really big right now, so we have to play house music. I want to play polka, but I have to play house music." "It's impossible to second-guess what kind of music people want to listen to. We sort of do what we like to do and we have since the beginning and hope other people like it", says Shields.
The New Deal’s ability to incorporate much of the sensibilities of electronic music into their sound has helped set the band apart from the jamband crowd. However, the restrictions of having only keyboards, bass and drums with which to emulate that electronic sound provides the band with a unique inspiration, and results in some creative compositions. "One of the ways we differ from the electronic side is that there are guys who can probably program something very similar to what we play live," says Kurtz, "they have a huge palette of sounds. You can use a vocal sample here, a guitar riff here; you can get horns, strings, whatever. But we have a finite number of sounds because we have a finite number of hands. The arrangements end up depending a lot more on spontaneous creativity it's always this shape shifting thing."
This creativity and shape shifting is built around a style of song writing designed specifically for the live performance. Shields says, “We have ten or twelve musical themes that we’ll sort of move to in a set. They give us a little break. That is one of the few things that is played the same every night.” Kurtz adds, “Some of the changes [between songs] are really just for the show. We’ll set it up before the show, using bars or by a look we give each other. There’s got to be something to identify a songwe are conscious of not playing the same tempo for 45 minutes or not playing the same key for 45 minutes. Jamie is really good at whipping up little heads so when they come back five minutes later, people are into it. And that’s sort of the opening and closing to the song’.”
The New Deal’s ability to quickly and seamlessly switch from one theme to another make their live shows all the more intriguing. "I may play a certain rhythm or Dan may play a certain rhythm and the next time it comes around, Darren is on it. Or Darren may play a certain rhythm or next time, we'll be on it," says Shields. "What everyone commits to on the first beat of the first bar is something everyone else in the band can rely on", adds Kurtz. "We know it’s going to come around next time. It feels rock solid every time. The audience can perceive that.” However, massive tempo changes and wild solos aren’t what make the New Deal’s brand of improvisation work. "Restraint is key,” says Shields. "If there's an element of our improvisation, it's restraint. Just lay back."
However, despite their improvisational prowess, the New Deal is reluctant to pat themselves on the back. “It's funny, calling ourselves 'improvised' it takes a lot of work for us to say we're improvised. All though our music is improvised, it's also very methodical,” says Shearer. The goal of a New Deal improvisation isn’t to create the ultimate jam, but to keep the crowd moving and keep things fresh. “There’s a lot more drama and dynamics about a song or a set that takes you on a ride, especially on the dance floor It allows us to create actual songs on stage, not necessarily 'go with the vibe and see what happens',” comments Shearer. “We record our shows every night and there are tapers at every show, so the shows go around everywhere. If we sound the same every night people will know. If we sound the same every night it's worse then a band that plays the same songs every night, cause we’re expected now to change things up."
Like their music, the New Deal's fans transcend definition. “It's been really great getting jamband crowds to come see us, and it's been great to get electronic music crowds to come and see us too. Live music, jazz…whatever, it doesn't matter,” says Shearer. “My mom wouldn't listen Armand Amar or Paul Oakenfold, she wouldn't be down with that, but she likes the New Deal. We opened for St. Germain, an amazing French house DJ/producer, and had an amazing response from that kind of crowd. Then we played Berkfest and jamband type shows with bands like String Cheese Incident and Strangefolk, and it goes over well there too. That speaks to me that the music is its own thing.”
So what’s next for the New Deal? The challenge of transforming their 20-minute dance floor anthems into 4-minute compositions for their upcoming Jive Electra debut. Even though they are producing their first album for a major label, the New Deal has no plans of changing their approach to music. Darren Shearer says, “I’m much more concerned with developed the live presence of the New Deal but I know the bigger it gets, the more energy it will create, and that’s that the number one thing for me. A lot of bands will play live to sell the album. We’re the opposite. A single is a commercial to introduce people to what we do.” So how will they be they create the “ride” and dynamics of their improvisational live sets in the studio? “Our insurance policy against a sterile, characterless, pathetic version of the New Deal is this huge crate of live tapes we can base our record on, whether we actually use those tracks in their entirety or take snippets of them and build a song around it. We’re best when it’s sink or swim in front of a live audience, they push us harder then sitting in any studio, that’s where our best ideas come from.”, responds Kurtz. For the definitive answer, fans will just have to stay tuned.