Dark Noise Rises…
Throughout the years, one would think dälek has been shrouded in mystery, but it’s not. The group, the band, has always remained an anomaly within the confines of the States, pushing the proverbial envelope. Make no mistake though, this is Hip-Hop, but for the more adventurous listener as the group has always experimented with noise to blend it into their sound. A few years ago there were rumblings of the dälek project resurfacing. Vocalist Will Brooks, the group’s namesake, and electronic wizard Alap Momin, notably known as the Oktopus, had taken an extended hiatus, but this revamped group would take on a different form altogether. The past year has come and gone as quickly as Trump entered and left office, although we’re still wrapped within the confines of a government seemingly haywire in all and every cultural aspect. It’s a government which he still runs.
2015 was the year when everyone believed Trump’s politicized antics were as comical as his announcement for candidacy. No one believed he would win as I’m sure neither did Brooks. Running on a platform backed by groups built on hate, the idea of Donald Trump as President became even more laughable although his ticket grew steam. The timing was perfect for Brooks, with a reignited fire and new individuals entering the fold, there wouldn’t be a more urgent need for the music he created with dälek. Violence, hate, and racism flooded media outlets and these are the things dälek has eschewed throughout the years. I spoke at length with Brooks who has a seemingly endless road ahead of him touring off Endangered Philosophies (Ipecac), released just a few months ago, which follows-up last year’s Asphalt For Eden (Profound Lore). We caught up with Brooks about the reanimated dälek, the new album, and the world as we know it today.
You came out with your album this year, Endangered Species and I listened to it. Last year we saw the release of Asphalt For Eden, which pretty much marked your return since 2009. Seems the timing was perfect with everything going on.
dälek: Yeah, I guess the last one was Gutter Tactics, the last full release we did.
So now this time around though you’re going at it without the Oktopus, and you’ve brought others into the fold.
dälek: It was technically before we did Asphalt. After I approached Alap, he basically said he wasn’t in the mindset to do it (again.) He could see I definitely had that focus and wanted to do it so he said, “Yo, go ahead and do this shit.” After that when I started thinking about how I wanted to do it, the major thing was that I wanted it to be dälek, I didn’t want it to be me and brand-new people. So the first thing that came to mind was DJ Rek just because I’ve known him since I was 16. He was the original DJ, and he’s the dude that showed me how to use samplers. Even though we parted ways early on in dälek, the years that passed we still remained tight, still remained peoples, and that’s my brother. When I started thinking about who I wanted to DJ, it just made complete sense to me. The years passing, and maturity and all that the fit is definitely right now. He was into it right away.
Aside from DJ Rek you also added someone else.
dälek: As far as someone to – I don’t know if you can say fill Oktopus’ shoes but – as far as getting someone to man that position, Mike Manteca is it. It’s kind of a crazy story there. He’s been with us since the Absence (200 ) days at this point. Mike basically worked his way through the ranks, and I always joke around that he’s one step away from becoming the next me. He was introduced to us by a friend of ours when we needed a tour driver. He drove for us and come to find out he’s this crazy experimental guitarist/musician in a group called Destructo Swambots.
I remember his release because he gave me a copy of that once.
dälek: We basically forced him to be our opening act on some of those tours back then. So he went from driver to opening act to playing guitar in dälek, on a couple of tours for Absence, Abandoned Language & Gutter Tactics. After dälek went on hiatus, Mike and I had worked on another project called Fill Jackson Heights. We had a working relationship and had good chemistry in the studio. Honestly, I didn’t know if he wanted to do it so I hadn’t even asked him. And then he had approached me, “Yo, you’re serious about doing this dälek shit again?” I told him, “Yeah, I’d ask you to be down but I don’t know if you want to commit to that.” He had opened up a brewery where he was brewing his own beer – shout out to Secret Engine Brewing ha – I felt he had a lot on his plate, so I didn’t know if he wanted to commit that time to it. But right away he was like, “Of course.” Originally to kind of test the waters we did a quick tour in Europe, a couple of shows in the U.S., to kind of gauge what it was like because you never know. After about 5 or 6 years I wasn’t sure if people even gave a fuck. We wanted to see how it felt on stage and how the crowd reaction was and all. I was thinking that if the crowd is filled with nothing but 40-year-old dudes I don’t really want to do this (he laughs.) There was a lot of the old heads, the original fans but the nice surprise was that there were a lot of young kids that had never seen us play live before. Male, female, completely different age background; it was cool to see. I don’t know if the times have caught up with what we were trying to do early on but it’s definitely a lot more accessible now than when we first started. It gives us a better arena to do what we want to do.
From there we released the single “Masked Laughter (Nothing’s Left)” and the timing kind of worked out right. Profound Lore had contacted us and wanted to do something. They had caught wind that we had started doing shit again. Originally that was going to be an E.P. Ipecac’s roster was full so there wasn’t a chance for us to put out anything on the label that year. It kind of just worked out for us to work with Profound Lore and the E.P. bloomed into an album. Being in the studio joints just started naturally coming so we released Asphalt For Eden. We started touring and from there, we had already had plans for more joints for another album. I really wasn’t anticipating it being done as quickly as it was, but I guess like you were saying about the timing, it just kind of seemed urgent.
The majority of dälek albums were released on Ipecac.
dälek: Before I even had anything for Endangered Philosophies I sent that joint “Molten” (deadverse) that we released a single to (Mike) Patton and he was like “I’m putting out your next record right?” I laughed and told him no doubt. He told me to call them up to set up the schedule. What I love about Ipecac is that they didn’t have to hear anything else, they just wanted to know what we needed and when it was done, ha. When it was done, my man Mark from Ipecac was the first to hear the album and then I sent it over to the rest of them. After a week later, I hadn’t heard anything back from Patton and I began thinking maybe he wasn’t feeling the record and, so I texted him to see what was good. I asked him if wasn’t what he was expecting, and he asked, “Oh, the record’s done?” I’m like, dude, do you even own this label? So I had to send it directly to him and he gave me feedback through text as he listened to it. He was feeling. I’ve made it my mission to make sure whatever I’m working on at the time is my favorite shit and what I’m really concentration on and I have to say, I’m happy with where I’m at with this joint. I’m never 100% happy, and obviously, I feel there are things that can be better, but I’ll just save that for the next one.
With Endangered Philosophies, dälek goes in hard on 2017 American culture.
dälek: This record was tough man, but it says a lot of things I wanted to say but not in such an overt/obvious way. I just felt like making a record that says, “Fuck Trump” is just too easy. That’s not really what I’m interested in. I don’t want to date the record – I want it to be about right now – but I want it to be timeless as well. That was the mission, to figure out how to do that. We were trying to capture what’s going on right now but it’s weird, Endangered Philosophies is about everything that’s going on in the world but it’s also introspective. It’s very inside-my-own-head and who we are as musicians, but it’s dealing with a lot of external issues. It’s an interesting dichotomy between the two.
From the get-go, lyrically you’re direct and to the point. On “Echoes Of” it opens with “Respond to pressure / Viewed by most as lesser / Don’t come with fake tears / When you choose to play aggressor.” The way I view it, it’s as if there’s a line that people don’t want to cross. It’s difficult not to say. You have middle-class white Americans that say “Things aren’t so bad,” or “You just need to comply and there wouldn’t be so many problems.”
dälek: Or “Why are you so angry?”
Exactly. I had this conversation with a friend regarding a video of someone who was killed. His reaction, “Well he should have just complied.” You can tell that to Philandro Castle. He complied, he was killed. On that same song, you reference King, X, and Evers, modern day martyrs. It seems things have come full circle from where this country was at a time. The difference here is situations seem to happen in lower-income neighborhoods and not in middle-class neighborhoods.
dälek: I feel the more experience I’ve gained, that whole adage that things are cyclical is so very true. I think it holds true for a lot of things in life. You see patterns, you see things happening over and over again. You may think there’s progression, and there is progression in certain ways, but there’s also this underlying current that seems to just ebb and flow. We always end up back in these spots where it’s like, “We’re here again, we’re doing this again?” Police shootings, Police killings, and police brutality is such a hot topic right now but, that’s nothing new. Growing up, we all knew about that. I’ve never in my life felt comfortable around police. Ever. I always feel like something bad could happen. Even if I’m 100% not dirty and I’m completely complying, like you said, it doesn’t matter. Shit could still go wrong. Those situations in our communities have always been prevalent and it’s always been known. I guess the silver lining in all of this is with social media, in this Orwellian world we’re living in, people that were never exposed to those situations are now seeing that “oh wow, that shit’s real.” Even if they’re still trying to deny it and even if they’re still trying to placate us with compliance, at least they’re seeing it instead of thinking that’s not real. At least now there’s the beginning of a conversation because the images are right there and there’s no way to deny that now…even though there are still those that try to deny it. Baby steps I suppose.
On the record, you also address certain situations, like on “Weapons” where you say, “Reality warped / you can lose breath over untaxed Newports.” Ha, that’s obvious and we know what happened! And then you’re even being self-reflective on “Mistaken Identity” and then with lyrics like, “Melanin equated enemy / threatened with felonies / these memories create first melodies” on “The Son Of Immigrants.”
dälek: That verse is actually a situation that happened to my father when I was a little kid. Cops ran up on him, made him lay on the ground, splayed out, guns drawn on him, and then a call came on the radio that it wasn’t him. Then it was like, “Ok, it’s not him. Get the fuck out of here. Spic.” How the fuck is that even called for? No apology, nothing. Those are some of my earliest memories. What I was trying to convey in that verse how do you expect to gain respect from a community when that’s how you’re treating our people? That’s not a good look, it’s not a way to communicate and a way to create bridges.
Musically, this new dälek sounds like dälek. I hear things on the disillusion of certain music, well, that’s my interpretation of part of it.
dälek: There are elements of some of that in there but it gets a little deeper than that. But again, there’s definitely a couple of joints on this album that are pretty straightforward lyrically on there, and then there are others that are a little more obscure by design. People can interpret them on their own. I’d rather people get their own meaning out of my songs than force-feeding them messages. I feel both lyrically and sonically I wanted to do something new. I definitely wanted it to be a dälek record, and the core is dälek, but there’s definitely styles lyrically and sounds in songs and production, and what we’re doing sonically, although it sounds like dälek, there’s new shit that’s going on which hasn’t been incorporated before. I’ve always strived to do that with dälek. When it was me and Oktopus, and now me and Manteca, that’s kind of been the ethos of the band. I never really want to get comfortable with what I’m doing. I know a lot of people like the Absence record and I get a lot of “Why don’t you do another Absence?” but I already did Absence, it’s there. If you want to hear that record, it exists. Play it a million times on Spotify, maybe I’ll get like $3 in 5 years.
I wanted to hit on topics that were on my mind but I also wanted to hit sonically things that have been influencing me and how I’ve been evolving. In my opinion, you can’t continue to make the same music as you evolve as a person. Your music has to evolve with you. The biggest compliment someone can give me is that my records don’t sound like the records that I made when I was 22. Otherwise, the last 20 years would have been a waste if I haven’t grown and I haven’t discovered new things, new ways of doing and saying things. I think you hit on it when you say the album is heavy. It’s definitely heavy but in a different way. It’s not Absence heavy and it’s not even Abandoned Language, one of the more prettier albums which is so lush. This one is something else. It definitely has that warmth of Abandoned Language but it has the heaviness of Absence. Personally, what I really like about the record is how slow it is. It’s definitely the slowest record I’ve made but it doesn’t feel slow, it feels right. The BPM’s are slow on some songs but the feel of it and the flow makes it the way it should sound. The whole process in the studio was a trip working on this record. A lot of loss sleepless nights but well worth it.
Where your previous albums I would take them in as a whole, on this new album while I’m still going to focus on the backdrop, the lyricism is what takes precedence for me here.
dälek: I appreciate that. I’ll be honest, I’ve heard comments over the years, “The music’s great but he really can’t rap, he’s not really an emcee,” and being a kid from Newark I take offense to that shit. I wanted to make sure to let motherfuckers know, yeah, I can spit. Don’t get it twisted, I like noisy shit but I know what I’m doing here.
I totally get that. Then you can also say, “And I can fucking spit in Spanish if you need to hear that!”
dälek: Ha, I rarely drop a few Spanish words here and there. I get that question a lot too, and I wouldn’t rule it off the table but I feel because I was born here I have a stronger control over the English language. I speak Spanish but I don’t have the same vocabulary and depth that I have in English. I’d probably feel handcuffed if I tried. I wouldn’t be getting things across the way I would in English.
I get it, it’s not like Calle 13.
dälek: No doubt. When that shit’s done right, it sounds ill.
Let’s close this out with IconAclass. After dälek went on hiatus you began writing/recording/ touring on your own under this moniker, which is more of a Boom Bap. What’s going on with that now?
dälek: I definitely want to do more stuff. I did the cassette Changing Culture With Revolvers. I would like to release it on vinyl and do more shows since now it’s me and Dev-One. We have a lot of dälek touring coming up this year. Maybe in between albums. Even if we can do local shows I’d be happy with that. I love playing those joints. I’m not saying that project is done because I think we have a lot more we can do with that. But right now, the consultation is in dälek for the time being, touring and working on a new album.