It’s 5:30 am. I’m up before San Diego’s ever-shining sun (I have a 7 o’clock class to teach). I’m trying to negotiate the bodies strewn across my living room floor — in the dark. At least one has moved since lights out last night (a mere 3 hours ago).
These sleeping, dark figures scattered across my floor are Oktopus (noise, production, laptop navigation), Still (turntable destruction, attitude, Top Ramen), dälek (vocals, intimidation, spiritual leader) and Mike (merch, driving, beard). Collectively they’re known as dälek. These guys tour like the earth is on fire. They eat whatever they can scrounge from endless gigs. And right now they’re sleeping.
dälek (the group) is pure Hip-hop. Their first record Negro, Necro, Nekros was on independent rock label Gern Blandsten Records (the folks who brought you the brilliant, indie avant-garde act Rye Coalition). This put the record in an odd spot in the marketplace. There’s nothing normal about what these guys do, but it’s Hip-hop to the core. dälek’s gruff vocals grind against the gritty backdrop of scraping noise created by Oktopus and Still, the friction lending light to their dark imagery. Lyrics spit to illuminate the spirit:
Scraped knees don’t prove what you believe
Your blind faith passed to your seeds,
Killed our garden type weeds,
Turn around and blame it on Eve.
While you blame me for blemishing our family tree
I’ll uproot all of humanity.
“Negro, Necro… was recorded as kind of an experiment,” dälek explains in an earlier interview. “We had no live experience; we had no idea what we were doing… There is something amazing about that innocence. However… Looking back there is a lot about us that Negro failed to capture. Filthy Tongue… better represents our live sound, and has an air of confidence which can only come from four years of hardcore touring.”
The most innovative people in independent music are among their friends, supporters and collaborators. They’ve toured with DJ Spooky, Techno Animal (Justin Broadrick and Kevin Martin’s harsh Hip-hop outfit), Tomahawk (one of Mike Patton’s many projects, this time with guitarist Duane Denison), Isis and collaborated with the William Hooker Ensemble (the New York Jazz drummer and friends). Patton’s Ipecac label just put out their latest record, From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots.
“This album represents about four years of our work…” dälek continues. “Lyrically, I continued on a very personal level… Though abstract… Again I ask the listeners to find their own meaning in my personal madness. Musically this album is very aggressive… We expand on what we started on Negro… Perhaps a bit more focused this time around… with more of our own defined sound.”
Some of the beats on Filthy Tongue… recall Bomb Squad-era Public Enemy: booming, pummeling and raging with the screeching of the apocalypse in between. The comparisons end there though. The rest of dälek’s sound is all their own: A giant, scraping clamor that scares most Hip-hop fans. dälek tend to fair better touring with noisy, guitar-driven rock bands (and they’ve done split singles with both Kid606 and Techno Animal).
“First off, what is passed off as Hip-hop in the mainstream is a farce: That is POP music,” states a disgusted dälek. “It has its place but that’s a place that hasn’t been the breeding ground for acceptance of new forms and variations since perhaps the later Beatles stuff. The real problem lies in the underground, where there are really good groups, however, it seems the underground has just become an ‘on-deck circle’ where the less known musicians await their chance to fit molds of ‘real Hip-hop’ which are dictated by the corporate world. If your ultimate goal is to make money… Cool, I guess. But what is lost is the essence of what made Hip-hop the innovative force it was in the 80s and early 90s. Hip-hop was about taking all the sounds and ideas around you, and making them into your own. It was the angst-ridden voice of minority youth. Energy and angst-wise, it was the equivalent of the punk movement. I think we can safely say that the commercial music world killed both Hip-hop and punk. The formulaic remnants can’t afford to allow truly different music in because that would result in loss of sales.”
So, given the situation in the Hip-hop underground, given that these guys are sleeping on my floor (again) and given that in a few hours when Still wakes up, he’s going to make Top Ramen (again), what is it that drives dälek?
“I want to make music that moves me,” dälek concludes. “There are sounds and words I need to get out, that I myself need to hear. We are musicians… Music is what drives us.”
[SLAP Magazine, 2002]