Noise in the ’hood

The experimental hip-hop of Dälek
By MATTHEW GASTEIER  |  February 21, 2007

THUNDER CLOUDS: Dälek create an air of paranoia and frustration, an intellectual as well as a sonic challenge.
Listening to Dälek (pronounced DIE-a-leck) is a visceral experience for even the most prepared listener. Layers of feedback and guitar tones are packed into a wall of sound that battles with the raps of Will Brooks — a/k/a dälek. (In lowercase, he’s the duo’s MC, who also produces with partner Oktopus.) The result creates an air of paranoia and frustration, an intellectual as well as a sonic challenge. And it’s difficult to know just where to file Dälek. “We’ve been attached to every genre that has come out and gotten big and gone away,” Brooks laughs from his studio in Newark. “At one point we were attached to the trip-hop thing, the IDM thing. Now we are kind of this metal hip-hop thing. And I keep telling people, I just make hip-hop.”

In spite of Brooks’s assertions, Dälek’s new Abandoned Language, their third for Mike Patton’s Ipecac label, isn’t exactly brimming with hip-hop beats and rhymes. And Dälek, who play upstairs at the Middle East this Wednesday, garnered a good portion of their following on tours with two fellow Ipecac artists, the sludge-metal Melvins and the equally heavy Isis. They’ve also collaborated with IDM prankster Kid 606 and krautrock legends Faust. Their last album, 2004’s Absence, got compared with everything from My Bloody Valentine to the avant-metal of Sunn O))) and Wolf Eyes. There may be only a few degrees of separation between Dälek and an avant hip-hop group like Anti-Pop Consortium, but they’re still miles and miles from BET’s 106th and Park.

On the other hand, a line can be drawn from the distorted drums and siren-laced ghetto atmosphere the Bomb Squad created for Public Enemy during hip-hop’s golden era to the angry storm clouds that thunder over the tidal waves of fuzz and feedback that flood the rocky shores of Abandoned Language. And just as subversive politics were integral to Public Enemy’s mission, the issues dälek addresses in his songs are every bit as important as the sonic complexity: America’s prison system, the commodification of culture, and the whitewashing of history in the US, among others. Brooks, who is of Hispanic descent, makes an explicit statement of purpose on the 10 minute-long title track: “The weak inherit what and when is my question/I read your weak history text, they never mention/A solitary second of my people’s true intentions.”

It was on Absence that dälek came into his own as a heavyweight lyricist. But on that disc, it’s hard to hear him through the unrelenting sonic sludge. With Abandoned Language, the duo have refined their signal-to-noise ratio in a way that creates a space for dälek’s rhymes. “If we made Absence over and over again it would just kinda be boring,” he says, both excited and defensive, then adding that “more than anger, what this record has is a kind of sadness to it that I really like.”

That’s not to say he has any illusions about sparking a revolution. “I don’t know if one individual can have that much of an impact. What I do is basically tell people that the house is on fire. I don’t know how to put the fire out. I’m not a fireman. But someone has to point out that the house is on fire. There are definitely things that need to improve, and starting a dialogue is a step in the right direction.”

DÄLEK | Middle East upstairs, 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge | February 28 | 617.864.EAST

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