Here's an interview and gig review from issue 241 of The Organ of excellent US outfit Dalek - published January 2008
It's a damp shiny
Thursday evening in
deepest Soho, and we're in search of a quiet bar to talk to powerfully
dark avant hip-hop maker DÄLEK (AKA Will Brooks), before his gig at
London’s Borderline. We finally claim an aromatic corner of Garlic and
Shotts and put a recorder on the table (thanks once more Garlic and
Shotts!) – the place is relatively quiet - still early evening and the
usual G&S debauchery hasn’t kicked in yet. We're not
going to ask any stupid stuff about Dr Who, as the name is - we
understand - a play on the word 'dialect', and pronounced that way –
well actually pronounced 'Die-a-leck', as in an alternative dialect of
hip hop - however we do later
remember the tale of how Terry Nation (the man who
made up the D word) looked up the meaning of Dalek in a Serbo-Croat
dictionary long after he had put his creations out there and was
charmed to find that it translated as "strange and distant things"
Dälek (or Will) is from Newark, New Jersey – and a very sound guy he is, one of the nicest people we've had the pleasure of interviewing in a long long time - his writing partner and sound maker, Oktopus, is back at the venue overseeing things and preparing for what was to happen later.
Dälek have rightfully gained a reputation as one of the finest alt-hip hop bands of our times. A blend of hypnotic corrosion and atmosphere that has been embraced by a whole cross section of music fans (and judging by the familiar faces in the rather packed London venue the night this interview took place, especially embraced by the enthusiastic avant/post rock community)
“An electronica-inflected sound that combines with a lyrical intelligence and no illusions about the world we live in”. The biog of their own website states that “you have a duo that embraces genres - from hip hop to jazz, from jazz to metal, from metal to punk, from punk to noisecore, from noisecore back to hip hop. Think My Valentine + Tool + early Wu Tang combined with Massive Attack and Aphex and you only begin to wrap your brain around what Dälek has unleashed”
Dälek’s first album NEGRO NECRO NEKROS was released in ’98 to overwhelming acclaim, “artfully combining elements of Faust, the rock grit of The Velvet Underground, shoegaze-like density of Ride, electronica and beats with lyrical social commentary” The second album, FROM THE FILTHY OF GODS AND GRIOTS (their first for Ipecac in 2002) “established them firmly alongside hip-hop innovators such as the Antipop Consortium and cLOUDDEAD”. 2004 and Dälek released their dense and dread-filled album ABSENCE (Ipecac), an accomplished challenging boundary pushing album that brought them deserved critical and public attention. The most recent album is 2007’s eloquent and brooding ABANDONED LANGUAGE (again on Mike Patton’s highly respected Ipecac label).
....it's controlled, pressurised anger. It's that restraint that gives the beats so much power: the holding fire, the build that reaches out and grasps the audience and makes them move....
DÄLEK @ LONDON BORDERLINE, 2008 (Organart) ORGAN: So what's going on with you right now? What’s Happening?
DÄLEK: Well we’re doing some interviews!
ORGAN: OK, besides the right here right now obvious, what’s happening?
DÄLEK: Well we haven't played the UK in forever, so we definitely wanted to come back here and play. We just did a one-off in Berlin for this theatre that was celebrating 100 years - it was us and Jon Spencer's new project, Happy Trash - so we played yesterday. It was cool, really good - a completely different crowd than what we're used to - it was cool to see people of all ages that have probably never heard us before being into it.
ORGAN: - What kind of crowd are you used to?
DÄLEK - Man, that's a good question!
ORGAN - Because you're kind of defying convention as it is...
DÄLEK - well, let me see, I'm definitely not used to... opera theatre crowds like the one in Germany yesterday If you know what I mean... By the end of it we got lots of converts, people who had never heard us before staying on for the whole set and really enjoying it... that was cool, but at the same time while we were playing there wasn't an awful lot of movement or reaction, so it was kind of hard to tell if we were striking any nerves or whatever! Apparently people were getting the vibe and getting into us so it worked out well. I guess the audience at our shows is a complete mix of people, from hip-hop fans to krautrock fans to metal kids to electronic kids... I think that all the touring we have done with all the different bands has taken pockets of all kinds of audiences.
ORGAN - Bands are pigeonholed and marketed as a 'this' band or a 'that' band, whereas you're...
DÄLEK - I think that's been our blessing and our curse, all in one; I think it's what attracts a lot of people to us and I think it's what scares a lot of people about us. A lot of people don't know what to do with us, don't know how to 'market' us... which I think is fine - I think it should be easier to market a band like us because we appeal to so many different types of people
ORGAN - What would you say your very first audience was like, the rock side of things or more from the hip-hop side of life?
DÄLEK – Well we started doing shows on the indie rock circuit: our first album came out on Gem Blandsten so at the time we were touring with people like Rye Coalition, so from the beginning it's always been just a complete mix of audiences. We also did tours with people like Prince Paul and Pharcyde so there's always been this really bizarre mix but... it works!
ORGAN - Is that a deliberate intent to contradict what's going on?
DÄLEK - Not in the sense that, you know, we wake up in the morning and say, hmm, let's take the temperature of hip-hop today and do the weirdest possible thing we can do - that not why we do what we do! In all honesty it's really simple, it's just - the music that we make sounds right to us. It's not that I want all music to sound like us or that we feel other people are wrong... it's just that, for what I want to do and what we want to express, this is the way we want to do it, and that's basically what it is.
ORGAN: So what was it that started you off with this bug for making music?
DÄLEK - My cousins were DJs when I was growing up, and I started as a DJ when I was ...fourteen years old. I started doing neighbourhood parties and things like that - this was in Newark and upstate New Jersey. I didn't start as an MC - local MCs would ask me to be their DJ. So I would be in the neighbourhood hip-hop groups, and there was one group that had two DJs and two MCs; one of the MCs quit the band, and the other asked me if I'd ever thought of MC-ing. I was, like, nah, I'd never even given that a thought, and he said, well why don't you try writing some stuff and see what you come up with, and, y'know... almost fifteen years later I'm an MC...
ORGAN - So was there a love of leftfield rock always there too?
DÄLEK - You got to remember, hip-hop DJs had to be into all different kinds of music... that's why it's not that weird to me, and you know, when hip-hop started everyone was listening to everything because hip-hop didn't exist! You weren't listening to hip-hop creating hip-hop, you were listening to everything, and from all of that creating hip-hop... I guess I always kept that DJ mentality, loving to dig through crates to find new sounds, to find new things that would move the crowd initially and then I guess I just took those ideas in when I started doing my own production with Oktopus.
ORGAN - Do you think things have become more conservative recently?
DÄLEK - Yes and no - I mean, from the MC standpoint - yeah, I think so; musically I think there's a lot of interesting things going on in hip-hop - even mainstream hip-hop... (laughs apologetically) - I feel like I've said it a thousand times but I really believe it: I think Timbaland might be one of the illest producers regardless of genre - I mean, I hear him doing brand new things that haven't been done before: I mean you don't hear new things when you listen to commercial mainstream emo rock or...! You know what I mean - there's nothing brand new going on in that - that rock music is just rehashing the same shit out over and over again! Timbaland, you may not like everything he does, but I think at least he's trying new things, you know? Even 50 Cent's albums have something going on musically... Jay-Z, I think - and I keep saying this hoping that maybe he'll hear this one day - I feel that when he wants to make a great album, he can... lyrically and musically. I think the Black Album is a fabulous record, both musically and lyrically, but then, he comes out with the next album and I feel he's not even trying. He's just kind of going through the motions, y'know?
ORGAN - Seems he's got his head set on other things in terms of where he gets his creative kicks these days...
DÄLEK - Yeah... well, I'm not a multi-millionaire mogul that has ten different businesses that I gotta worry about... I don't know what that's like, so...
ORGAN - Would you like to be?
DÄLEK That rich? (genuinely has a think about it...)
ORGAN - or, your own fashion line... produce films...
DÄLEK – Aww... I don't know how to make clothing (laughs).. I don't know how to direct! I'd like to score films. I'd like to stay with what I know, and I know music...
ORGAN - I notice your sound gets compared a lot with the work of David Lynch -
DÄLEK - Yeah! Well we're huge fans of his work - and we'd love to work with directors of that calibre... or directors with passion, the same kind of passion that we have for music - if they have that kind of passion for film we would love to be working with people like that.
ORGAN - So it must help to be working in the environment that Ipecac give, then -
DÄLEK - No doubt!
ORGAN - I assume you get to do anything you want; you never get hassled about what you create -
DÄLEK - No, not at all - honestly, Ipecac - that's home. There never is the conversation that goes, 'maybe you shouldn't say this on that song, maybe you shouldn't sound this way for this album' ...Basically, they trust us with putting together the albums that we want to put out. Having that kind of artistic freedom, I mean - why would we ever want to go anywhere else? Although, Patton has always said, if we got the crazy advance from the major label, he would force us to go. And then after they dropped us he would just take us back...
ORGAN - Mike Patton's been around, he knows the score..
DÄLEK - Yeah, no doubt! ...Another thing, the flip side of hip-hop right now is, just 'cause it's underground doesn't mean it's good, know what I mean? There's a lot of people in hip-hop who go, fuck the mainstream, I'm underground, I'm underground - but just 'cause you’re underground and you're wearing a backpack doesn't mean that you're making better music... I still want to hear the great albums, I want to hear albums that move me. I rarely hear them but there's still some people out there that are doing it.
ORGAN - Anyone that people don't know about that you can recommend?
DÄLEK - Well, I think a lot of people know about them, but I'm a big champion of Immortal Technique. I think lyrically he's like our age's KRS-1... music-wise, I like some of it and I have some problems with some of it: I think if he got someone like Premiere behind him doing his production it would be ridiculous... that's just thinking off the top of my head - but I think his voice, his delivery and his lyrical content would be incredible over some classic beats like Premiere makes... but that's just one MC's opinion.
ORGAN - When you're listening to rock music, are you listening to it in terms of the textures, the beats that could be...
DÄLEK - Regardless of genre, I just listen to things that I like - things that move me; at the same time, yeah, I'm always trying to hear what's going on production-wise, what techniques are being used... But I think that's also a problem in music today - everything is about the gear, about what Pro-Tools system or software or whatever, or what sample you had... I don't think any of that shit matters. It's nice to have toys. At the base level I don't give a f*ck if you just grab that oil can and start beating on it - if you make something that sounds ill, that just works... that's what music's about. Music isn't about who went to the best studio or any of that. I mean, I'm not going to bullshit, I like having nice mics and nice equipment, but to augment a good song... I'm sure you know the whole thing - there's people out there that got every piece of equipment on the planet who can't put a song together.
ORGAN - You said it was a while since you were over here: how long ago was that?
DÄLEK - Two years, maybe more...
ORGAN - Is there a lot of difference in the reaction since then - in fact, what was the reaction when you first started?
DÄLEK - From when we first started? Yeah. We used to clear the room. (laughter) People used to run out screaming, 'why are you doing this?' And we thought, woo, yeah, it's out there!
ORGAN: Who were the people screaming, though - would that be the traditional hip-hop people who were a bit confused by it or the rock music fans who...
DÄLEK - It would be across the board... too noisy for traditional hip-hop kids, too hip-hop and black nationalist for the rock crowd, know what I mean (laughs)...
ORGAN - But now there's more of an acceptance of bands mixing genres, more pushing boundaries and being more experimental...
DÄLEK - Everyone feels like we don't fit into one genre - I feel like we've almost created our own little spot, where people that are into us come check us out, buy our records and that's fine! I never started making music 'cause I wanna be famous. I just make music cause this is what I do; I mean, when I'm home and I have free time, I'm working on beats, I'm writing lyrics: that's what I do. On my days of I do that for fun - that's what keeps me sane. The fact that I can make somewhat of a living out of it, that's just...a bonus - 'cause I would have been doing this anyway!
ORGAN - But would you be doing it in such an out there, daring experimental way if there wasn't a labels like Ipecac to support you?
DÄLEK - We were lucky to find a home like Ipecac ...definitely lucky 'cause we've always had a mentality of 'f*ck the world' anyway, so it's lucky for us that we've found a home where we could release this stuff and actually somewhat pay our bills. We'd probably be grinding it out working nine-to-fives and still putting out the albums that we really believed in... I don't think we know how to make music any other way that the way we make it. I don't think if, y'know, Def Jam showed up and said 'I need you to make me a record that sounds like whoever's on the radio' - I don't know if we could! I could try it (laughs) but I know that at some point it would always be too f*cked for anyone to really think of it as mainstream! And... I'm fine with that! I think that there's a lot of musicians in the underground that are bitter that they can't be mainstream. There's a lot of people in the deck circle, hoping that some major label's gonna pick them up and they're gonna be rich, and they're gonna have all the cars they want and all the ho's and all the gold.. and that to me is just ridiculous... You got to know why you make the music you make... you've got to know your trajectory and what you're doing with your life! Like I said, I don't do this to be famous, I don't do this because I wanted to have a number one hit song. I just do this because this is what lets me be a normal... somewhat normal, even-keeled person in my regular life. And I'm having an incredible time playing in front of people... I never thought that would ever happen...
ORGAN - It must be good travelling round the world, I mean you’re half way around the world sitting here in London talking about your music because people like us want to know...
DÄLEK - At the end of the day - if it ended tomorrow, well, we've had a ridiculously amazing run, we've traveled the world, we've played music to people, gotten to meet people, make friends all over the world that I never would have met before in my life... When I was a little kid, man, New York and New Jersey were the only states that I knew! I hadn't even gone anywhere else in America, let alone anywhere else in the world... just from that aspect, I think it's amazing that you can do that, just with music, you know? It's cool!
And suddenly it was time for one amazing gig...
Dälek gives his/their sonic menace a direction - Will Brooks (aka dälek) and co-producer Oktopus (Alap Momin), I’ve never worked out if he’s Dälek or they both are (yeah, I know, should have asked him!). He's angry - it's controlled, pressurised anger. It's that restraint that gives the beats so much power: the holding fire, the build that reaches out and grasps the audience and makes them move. First things first though Dälek are directly preceded by Destructo Swarmbots – tonight Destructo are a duo (sometimes there’s three or more of them, sometimes there isn’t), kind of slightly awkward looking menacing long-haired man in the dark-light, bent over guitar, looking like he should be in Neurosis or Godflesh some such band, man hunched over keyboards and things on the other side of the stage, together they’re firing up a sonic mountain of refined restrained left-field ambient texture and restrained considered mood-building sonic instrumental brooding. A swirling churning morass of treacle-thick ambient guitar atmosphere - and then, almost unnoticed, the two turn in to four and seamlessly, magically, there they are – Dälek on stage with their pure alchemy and their rhyming questioning blasphemy. Tonight Dälek will be a four-sided collaboration, half of them will be Destructo Swarmbots (they’ve collaborated before on vinyl) – and with no real hint that is was about to happen, we’re off and flying (and almost in slow motion) with those dark menacing hypnotic textures – we’re all swaying, we feel like we’re all walking on the spot with the isolated stares on a million excited eyes – it feels like we’re one whole body, an army rather than audience, everything is locked on, everything is right. Slowly moving to the industrio-ambient brooding and the unyielding avant noise – supple, adaptable, flowing arithmetic, the Oktopus wall of sound is the prefect canvas for Dälek’s rhymes and words, for the relentless phrasing. A dark and malevolent, textured seam – expansive filmoid hip-hop that’s right out there on the very edge - beats-based experimentalism and with what seems like effortless ease they embrace us completely with the sound and then almost suffocate us, in just the way they’ve declared they want to, with those caustic lines. This should be really intimidating – it isn’t, its a warm powerful eerie embrace, a seductive hypnotic sound, an awesome inviting wall of dark ambient noise and rolling words, this is up a whole other level – tonight is something very special indeed – Tonight Dälek ignited some kind of magic, we feel privileged to have been here... Tonight was one of those nights.
Explore more Dälek here – www.deadverse.com or www.myspace.com/dalek