Interview: dälek

I feel like at this moment, we can take you to incredible heights, but we're also capable of falling right off the edge. It seems to be apropos to the times we're living in.

Dälek have just released their new album Precipice and it is a special piece of work that perfectly captures the creeping paranoia that has engulfed the world, even more so in recent times, with that dystopian vibe that nobody does as well as dälek. Ahead of the records release, Gavin Brown caught up with MC dälek who told us all about Precipice, how it was created and the trials and tribulations they went through as well as an array of other subjects such as his Deadverse label, returning to the road and playing live, touring with Tool, hostile audiences, coming up as an artist in New Jersey and just how much hip hop means to him in a very interesting and informative conversation.

E&D: Your new album Precipice is out soon. Can you tell us how the creation of the album went and the process of starting making the album again?   

MC dälek: We actually started recording before the first pandemic. We were intending not to tour in 2020 and just start working on this record but we ended up not even really being able to work on the record once the studio shut down and everything, so went from doing that, to doing the Meditations series. Then, once the studio opened up again, I was able to link up with Manteca, and reestablish what we were working on earlier but I when I went back and listened to what we were working on. It just didn’t quite sound right to me, so I ended up kind of reworking everything and making it what you hear now.

E&D: Did you keep any ideas from before or was it all done from the start again?

MC dälek: No, I mean, there’s definitely some elements from what was there before. I feel like, what was there before, when I heard it again, it just wasn’t. I told Mike, this doesn’t sound like angry enough. It doesn’t sound sad enough. Doesn’t sound fun.

E&D: Was it a cathartic feeling when the album was finally completed?

MC dälek: Oh, yeah, absolutely, man. I mean, the album isn’t even out right now but the whole process of releasing these singles, it’s been kind of amazing, man. Just because we’ve had it under wraps since last summer. We’ve been working on it since early 2020. Even before that, there were some elements that we had worked on prior to that. It’s been a really long process, man, so it’s definitely cathartic and definitely feels good to finally have at least a couple of the songs out there existing in the real world.

E&D: What made you name the album Precipice?

MC dälek: I don’t know where my titles come from, to be honest with you, man. It just seemed to fit right for me. Not just where we are as people in general, as a country. I feel like at this moment, we can take you to incredible heights, but we’re also capable of falling right off the edge. It seems to be apropos to the times we’re living in.

E&D: You and Mike have worked together in dälek for a while now. How had your working relationship developed since you started working together?

MC dälek: That’s my brother, man. It’s crazy, when I look back to where it kind of started, he’s been my right hand man. He’s been everything in this band. He started as a driver and then a merch person, then the opening band with Desctructo Swarmbots, and we found out that he was an amazing experimental noise guitarist in his previous band after he supported dälek. We opened up a dialogue and then after that, he kind of joined us, he knows what dälek is all about and all the ins and outs and the vibe of what we’re trying to do. It’s great man, it’s dope.

E&D: Do you feel reenergised with this new material?

MC dälek: Not too many bands can step away for five years and come back. We wouldn’t be releasing this if we didn’t believe in it. I feel like like this is the best shit we’ve done. As long as we stay on that level, we gonna continue. I’m not gonna keep on doing dälek and release some bullshit, I’m not going to tarnish our name. I’m really proud of what we’re doing with Precipice and moving forward. This is by no means the last record, we’ve already started working on more shit. To me, as long as that passion and drive are there and the quality is there, I’ve no reason to step away.

E&D: Adam Jones from Tool features on the the album track ‘A Heretics Inheritance’. How did he end up playing on the track and what did he bring to it?

MC dälek: That one is funny. That track was pretty much done. I was at the studio late night, and I was just playing the rough mixes back and I kept going back to that song. It’s weird, it wasn’t that it was missing something but I knew it was missing something. When I heard it, I was like, man, I know exactly who would be perfect for this! Me and Adam have been talking about working on something together for a minute now but scheduling is crazy. I reached out to him though and I was like ‘yo, listen, I’m working on this album. I got this song. I think you’d be perfect on it’. He said, send it over and I’ll check it out. I sent him a sample and he said give me two days. I’m gonna lock myself in the studio. He sent me back this Protune session with so much material, man. It’s crazy. He said he had reworked it and he added guitar noise and as he was recording, everything fell into place like it was supposed to man. I didn’t want it to be like, Oh, here’s a dälek song with Adam Jones doing guest guitar on it, that’s too cheesy. What I love about the song is that it ends up being his sound in our universe and it doesn’t sound forced.

E&D: How was the experience of recording the Meditations releases and what has the reaction to them been like?

MC dälek: That was just a really dope experience, because it just happened so organically. Everything just happened at that right time. When I started it, I was actually DJing online. I’ve been doing that for years. Then one night, instead of DJing, I’d set up a little studio in my office space, and I started to make beats to see what I could do and people were like, where can I buy that? I was like but it? I just made it! It coincided with the Bandcamp Friday thing so I put them out on that and during that time, I wasn’t doing much so Meditations, it gave me focus for the month and let me continue. It gave me time to flesh things out. I was making stuff and whatever was ready by the end of t month, that was the album, artwork and all. I was doing everything within that timeframe. What it really allowed us to do was go write about things that were happening at that moment which I have net done a lot of times for dälek because it usually takes us a year or two to finish a record. It put us in a completely current vibe that carried over to what we did with Precipice because when we went back to work on the Precipice songs, we ended up adding a bunch of stuff that has been written during the pandemic. I wrote all the lyrics before they got scrapped and then wrote to the new stuff. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to do that series and that it had an influence in what the next album became.

 

E&D: Would you still like to do more of the Meditations series in the future, especially since things have changed and opened up a bit more before it may change again?

MC dälek: Yes, that’d be something I would consider continuing. Again, like you said, everything keeps changing. I don’t know what it’s gonna be like next year. We’d like to get back on the road,we have some European and UK dates coming up but even with those man, I’d like to say that they’re 100% but the way the world is going, Nothing’s 100% I mean, if it’s not a pandemic, it’s a fucking war, man, I feel like no one in this world is catching any breaks but I’m hopeful that we’re able to get back on the road and that if we get back on the road, I don’t know how much time I have to do Meditations releases but that’s definitely something that I want to keep in my back pocket and revisit. There’s so much stuff in those releases that because I was releasing them so frequently, and so quickly, I even forgot about it, Recently, I went back and played some of them, all the way through and it was pleasantly surprising for me, there’s random joints that I didn’t even remember. It definitely perfectly captures a strange, strange time!

E&D: What are your plans for your Deadverse label for the rest of the year?

MC Ddlek: The latest thing that we released was the Mars Kumari album. I’m working on a Dev One album, that I’m producing along with my boy Complex, we’re doing the beats, and it’s just on the lyrics. There’s no timeframe for release on that yet but that’s definitely in the works. The other one, which will partially be a Deadverse release one way or the other. What I’ve been trying to work on is, aside from Adam Jones playing guitar. It’s rare that there’s guest appearances on dälek records proper. I’ve never had another emcee on a dälek record proper, so I started thinking about the idea of all the MCs that I would like to work with. I’ve tentatively put together, something like 16 tracks, and I have a list of names of MCs that I want to work with. I’ve already put the feelers out to some and gotten positive responses. The two that I can say already that I have recorded is one I did with Dev One that didn’t sound like iconAclass so I was in a conundrum about what to do with the track as I don’t have guest on dälek records so maybe I’ll just do an album that just has guests and to put them all on that, so there’s one with me and Dev. Then the other one is me Moor Mother, which she just sent back, and that shit is ridiculous. Having those two already, and then having the list I made and the responses that I got from them, thus far, it’s been positive. I haven’t asked everyone I want to ask yet but I’m hoping that everyone comes through with ideas and let’s the other artists use the songs for whatever they want to use them for. I want to collect all of them onto one album and tentatively that’s gonna be called dälek and friends.

E&D: That sounds awesome! Deadverse has released material from artists as diverse as ODDATEEE to Jett Brando. Was the label roster always intended to be such a broad collection of artists?

MC dälek: Yeah, I mean, when I started Deadverse, I tried to model it after Ipecac, and basically what I wanted to do is, obviously on a much smaller level, but I wanted to help out artists that I believed in the way Mike helped me out. There’s so much good music out there but it’s about having that network and having people that have your back. To whatever small degree I was able to help people, all the artists that I’ve put out like Oddateee, Jett Brando, Dilemma, John Morrison, that’s what I was trying to do. I do what I can, Deadverse is like my pockets basically and there’s not that much in my pocket. I do what I can and I keep it 100, the artists own the masters and I’m not trying to make money off of it. I’m just trying to recoup my costs and trying to get this great music out there. That’s always been the aim of Deadverse and I hope to continue doing that man. The Mars Kumari record, that was a dope story, because she basically contacted me through Instagram and sent me a link and I was like, wow, this stuff is really, really good. I just started chatting around, letting people know that stuff existed. She constantly messaged me and was like, Yo, do you ever think about putting putting my record out on your label? I was like, that’s a little forward but okay! I listened to the full album that she had ready and was like yeah, absolutely. My only stipulation was that she let me mix one of the songs, because I just heard it a little different than the way she had it.

E&D: You’re back in the UK very soon on your. Are you looking forward to that?

MC dälek: Absolutely. Last year the only show we did was the Cold Waves festival in the US and that was the first show in two years. We had a few other shows lined up and then we ended up having to cancel them because of COVID, so that’s really been the only time I’ve been on stage and in more than two years man and that festival was fucking cathartic and it might have been a little too early to do it because everyone in the club was rocking masks. You had to rock masks backstage and it was definitely stressful, It wasn’t fun in that sense, but the hour I was on stage was perfect. It was everything I ever wanted. I want to get back onstage, play the old stuff, play the new stuff and we got some shows lined up with with Holy Scum. I just can’t wait to have those nights again man, those absurd music connections that don’t make sense but do make sense when you’re interacting with the crowd, that’s what my music is all about. The live music has that element to it. It’s so special because you get to exchange the energy you have with the audience and there’s really nothing like that in the world. In all honesty, it really it’s a drug, you get used to that and you crave that shit man, you crave that interaction. Having being away from it was long as we’ve been, it’s been hard. As much as I love being in the studio and I love composing music. You also love that immediate response from people about your music so I’m hoping I’m hoping to get back to it.

E&D: How was the experience of touring with Tool, obviously you’re friends with Adam Jones but how did dälek go down with a crowd like Tools?

MC dälek: It was dope man. It was definitely amazing being able to witness basically a different universe of touring. Dälek is not an arena band! I have no problems with me saying that, I knew that when I started the band, that’s not what we are. That’s not what we’re intended to be but the fact that they brought us out, and we were able to see how that whole world operates. We were able to bring our heavy ass noise to that world for a stretch, that was an honour. Their crew was so professional, and so welcoming, and they really took care of us and taught us a lot. Adam brought us out and we were on his tour bus for the tour. He took care of us man, it was dope. We got to come out on stage with them and we would collaborate on some improv pieces between their songs. It was a trip and we’ve played big festivals and stuff like that so it wasn’t a crowd size that was anything different. We’ve played to big audiences before like that but there’s something about playing arenas, it’s just different. I think it’s just the way that there’s people all around you, on three sides. There’s something about that sound and the energy inside the building that’s different than and Tool shows in general man, it’s a fucking experience, seeing how they push it on, was really eye opening. As far as the visuals, the sonics, the lighting, the whole experience is what makes that show so dope. We would definitely take notes, like, Yo, what, what can we take away from this? The ironic thing about it was that when they asked us to do that, we were already technically on hiatus, it was me and Oktopus so we didn’t take full advantage of that opportunity. We played those shows and it was amazing but then we went home and dälek was done for five years so we didn’t really capitalise on playing those shows. We did it because have respect for them and i t was something that we wanted to experience. Honestly,I’m glad we did it, just because of the friendships that came out of it, and the experiences that came out of it. We played the best shows we could play and half the audience liked it and half the audience hated us. You can’t ask anything better than that. Considering that the Melvins and Fantômas had shit thrown at them. Nobody threw anything at us. I’ve always said my music isn’t for everyone and I’d rather have people feel strongly about us one way or the other, rather than just kind of be like, oh, yeah, they’re just ok.

E&D: That leads me on to the next question. What’s the most hostile audience that dälek have ever played in front of and how did you win them over?

MC dälek: Most hostile? That’s a tough question because when we first started, we used to clear out homes. We were playing halls and basements so there weren’t that many people to begin with, and we still cleared out the room! If there was thirty people, by the time the second song, it’d be like five left! Heres the thing though, it was never about winning anyone over for me, to me it was always about finding our tribe so if those five people that stayed during those first shows, they’ve been to every show, since and it’s always kind of been like that. If we play a Tool show, half the audience despises us but that other half that’s into us, once they discover us, they’ll stick around, they’re part of the tribe. To me, it’s about collecting the people that belong. It’s not about converting people, because you’re gonna spend your entire life trying to trying to do that. I’m not here to placate anyone and I’m not here to make anyone happy but when people connect with what I’m doing, that’s what musics about man. I remember we played we played in Detroit with DJ Spooky and a dude ran up on stage and tried to grab the mic from me. I just held on to the mic. We were kind of wrestling back and forth with it. I just kept going with the verse that I was in. The DJ at the time still hits his cuts and when he’s done with the cuts, he jumps over the turntables and jumps on the dudes back. I pick up the mic and hit him with the bottom of the mic stand and all of a sudden two security teams jump up, grab the dude and drag him off stage. Now I’m thinking, we’re in Detroit. I don’t know who he was here with either, this is gonna be bad, so in my mind, I was like, this might be the last time we ever play. We just played the best show we could play and then at the end of the show, I thought, I could either go hide, or I could find out what was going to happen. Instead of walking back towards the backstage, I just hopped off the stage into the crowd and just walked through the crowds because I figured, if somethings gonna happen, I’d rather it happen now. Luckily everybody was cool. It was just that one dude that apparently was having an issue. It was funny as hell, man. We’re at St. Andrews Hall. I walked downstairs and I’m sitting there just catching my breath having a drink now by myself, and some other dude comes up on me, this big motherfucker and he’s like yo, are you the dude who was up there rhyming? I was like, oh no here we go! I said yeah and he just said, you did your thing man, don’t let anybody grab your mic! Dude was cool as hell and I gave a sigh of relief! I think that’s as hostile as it’s ever gotten really. Usually the crowds are dope, man. There’s always people that don’t like wheat we do, that’s nothing!

E&D: How was it coming up as an MC in New Jersey?

MC dälek: I came up in Newark, New Jersey. My cousins were DJs when I was growing up, I was a little kid and always hanging out with them so I came up as hip hop came up. They introduced me to Treacherous Three, Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, all that. I came up with that era of hip hop and then got into my own era, Boogie Down Productions, Run DMC of course, everyone was into that stuff back then. Got into Public Enemy, EPMD later, Rakim, all that. I ended up becoming a DJ first and then kinda fell into becoming an MC by accident really. When I was early in high school, I was a DJ for a local crew, they had two DJs and two MCs and one of the MCs dropped out, so the remaining MC said you got a dope voice, you should try rhyming and it never really interested me. As much as I loved hip hop, I just really lived DJing but I started writing rhymes, and the early rhymes were terrible, but something clicked and I realised that’s what I wanted to do and I wanted to get into production too. I met DJ rEK around that time, he’s the one that’s bowed me how to use samplers and how to produce. He was the DJ and producer of one of my early groups and when I started dälek, I brought him back as the live DJ. Hip hop is my culture, man. It’s what I am, it’s what I breathe. I always find it funny when people try and tell me that what I’m doing isn’t hip hop m, like who the fuck are you to tell what my culture is?! That shit doesn’t even register with me, I know where I’m from, I know what I am, I know what I do. To me, hip hop was always about being original and coming up with your own style. When I was coming up, the worst thing you could be was a biter, you weren’t trying to sound like anybody else. The way we do dälek, that’s our style. I look back on it now and I’ve been doing this twenty plus years and I remember people saying that hip hop wasn’t music and it want going to last. I look round now and hip hop has influenced everything all around the world, all forms of art, commerce, to the point it makes me nauseous sometimes but I also love that about hip hop, it’s the ultimate fuck you to the world, now everything I’m the world is influenced by us.

E&D: Who have been the most influential artists when it comes to being an MC and a lyricist?

MC dälek: Lyrically, I think KRS One would be my number one influence. Chuck D to a degree, Rakim to a degree. Then there was that whole next generation like Nas, GZA, Raekwon, Mobb Deep, Smiff & Wesson. There’s that whole era and the whole D.I.T.C crew. It’s that hip hop that I drew influence from but if I had to pick one MC, it would be KRS One.

E&D: When it comes to presence and how you perform onstage, is KRS a big influence?

MC dälek: Oh absolutely! We got to play two shows where we opened up for him and it was just phenomenal to watch him work. He’s a master, it was amazing. I’ve definitely patterned what I do from watching him. When he’s onstage, it’s him there’s not a million people onstage, no hype men. It’s his voice and breath control. The way he can rock the stage for an hour, two hours, that’s what I model myself after. I take pride in that and that’s what I look up to. To me, that’s being an MC, being up there, spitting, for an hour, that’s real to me, man.

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