Dan Dan’s Synth-Heavy Sound is Driven By a Sense of Humanity and Humor

“It’s tough to find your place when you’re doing something different. But we make the music we want to make and don’t mind living on the fringe of a lot of genres.”

(courtesy of Dan Dan)

6. Dan Dan (35 points)

SOUNDS LIKE: The soundscape of a late-night rave on Jupiter, where the aliens go to dance away their woes.

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Four years ago, Sarah McKenna bumped into Eric Burch at vegan punk haunt Black Water Bar. McKenna had previously seen Burch work his "synth wizard magic," and insisted that together they were "Best New Band material." As it turns out, she was right.

Today, Burch and McKenna play synths together as Dan Dan, with vocalist and bassist Misty Mary and drummer Parker Hall. (Disclosure: Hall is a WW contributor.) The band, which released its debut album, 77, in April, makes ambient, dance-psych synth pop influenced by krautrock and the alien avant-pop of Stereolab. But the quartet's futuristic, synth-driven sound is powered by a distinctly human element. After all, it's named for McKenna's dad.

"We had a show before we had a name," says McKenna. "My dad was in the military and wanted us kids to seek out careers in the armed services. My sister used to call him 'Dan Dan the Military Man.' I don't know, we just kind of went with that as a temporary band moniker and it stuck."

Though its blend of psychedelia and electro-futurism has an otherworldly aura, Dan Dan is distinctly down to earth. The group's sonic effervescence belies its emotional, often dark lyrics. To hold onto humanity and avoid falling into robotics, Dan Dan has always made room for live drums.

Despite the eclecticism of Portland's music scene, Dan Dan doesn't fit neatly into any niche. "It's tough to find your place when you're doing something different," says McKenna. "But we make the music we want to make and don't mind living on the fringe of a lot of genres."

Still, Dan Dan's difficult-to-place sound has landed the band on some strange bills. That includes an opening slot for a '70s throwback band at a biker bar in Victoria, British Columbia. "It was a hilarious '80s-to-'70s time machine show," says Hall. "Afterwards, [the headlining band] made us thickly buttered toast in their living room late-night before we crashed on their floor. All of them were so good looking, they could have been co-stars in some classic Burt Reynolds movie or something, but they didn't judge our grungy Portland vibe. They even made us breakfast in the morning."

Dan Dan may have just manifested a career goal set before they released any music, but their ambition is compounded with their sense of humor. The group's near future holds hitting the road to play grooves and seek a label for the next record. For now, though, Hall predicts "many more years eating Snyder's Honey Mustard Pretzel shards in vans."

NEXT SHOW: July 25 at Mississippi Studios.

1. Help | 2. KayelaJ | 3. Karma Rivera | 4. Fountaine | 5. Plastic Cactus | 6. Dan Dan | 7. ePP | 8. Dolphin Midwives | 9/10. Shadowgraphs  | 9/10. Bocha

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