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"I always want each record to capture who we are at that moment" - Interview with Dälek

04 de Março, 2023 EntrevistasJosé Garcia

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Dälek is an experimental hip-hop project that has been alive and kicking since the late 90's in the New York underground scene. Fronted by the one and only MC Dälek aka Will Brooks and alongside his sonic architect Mike Manteca, this is an endeavor that has always flourished beyond the hip-hop means, reaching out to audiences that prefer the obtuse and industrial landscapes of more brutalist sounding projects. Which is always the case for the duo themselves, having previously collaborated with legendary krautrock legends Faust, and a myriad of other musicians outside of hip-hop. With a body of work that can inspire change in the world, and with an approach to composition that bludgeons and condenses, the project has certainly reached their sweetspot in their most recent outpu Precipice.

Having now become quite familiar with Portugal and its underground festivals, the project returns for a mouthwatering 2022 edition of Amplifest, alongside a plentiful offering of heavy and ecclectic first weekend of the Porto festival. Time and place were perfect for a chance to meet up with the duo and talk about all the things that have broght them here, their though-process when approaching new records, Deadverse and more.

 

It’s been a while since your last show in Portugal – OUT.FEST, back in 2019. How does it feel to finally be back, especially at a festival like Amplifest?

Will Brooks: It's surreal, man. It's great! We were saying, the last time we were in Porto, we were hanging out in the park drinking a bottle of wine near a playground chillin' and I was just like "Man! This place is just wild". We just felt so good and that festival was dope – the OUT[.FEST] festival. And then obviously, you know, with everything that has transpired in the world since then... to be able to see people gathered again and to be able to play this festival is beautiful man, it's really good energy.

 

It’s been five years since your last record... well, until you released Precipice this year that is…

Mike Manteca - Damn, really?

W - Five years in between records…

M - What? Really?

W - Yeah, I think so...

M - Damn... (laughs)

 

Yeah it was a big break, but now you guys are finally back with a new one. Anyway, do you think anything changed between pre and post-pandemic Dälek, or did you guys have no problem getting back into bringing your craft to live audiences?

W - I mean, we had the hunger to get back to doing what we do, but it was interesting because we started working on Precipice pre-pandemic. I guess after Endangered Philosophies we did...

M - That EP...

W - No no, we did –

M - Anguish.

W - We did Anguish, and then we started working on Precipice

M - Yeah but we also did the EP...

W - I thought the EP was in between the... no I guess you're right! Yeah, so we had the Respect To The Authors EP. There were like a bunch of different projects that we did in between the two albums (Endangered Philosophies and Precipice), but we were constantly working on music. So the beginnings of Precipice started in that era post-Endangered Philosophies and pre-pandemic era and we had gotten pretty far. We had started with something like 50 tracks. We whittled it down, just ideas, but we whittled it down. We had it to the point where we narrowed it down to maybe 20 tracks that we had my boy Joshua Booth come in and start working on overdubs, and started bouncing stuff back and forth with the idea of starting arrangements and doing vocals. And then, the pandemic hit. And that kinda just stopped everything in its tracks. So then, two years go by, and by the time we got back to working on stuff – during the pandemic I didn't see anyone, so I did the whole Meditation series that I released on Bandcamp – but by the time we reconvened, when I started going to the studio again, we were listening to what we had and the vibe wasn't right. Like, what we had just been through and what the world was. Mike had been working on some tracks on his own, I had been working on some tracks on my own, like that Meditation series. So he came in with a couple tracks and as soon as I heard it, like just the first track, I was like "That's the opener to the album, that's the feeling we need to capture for everything". Not that we started from scratch, but we kinda broke everything back down, picked the songs that still worked, the ones that had parts we liked we rebuilt them with that intensity, that anger, that sadness, that feel. Then we removed some tracks, added new ones we had worked on during the pandemic, and then some stuff just organically happened. It came together pretty quickly man...

On the song "A Heretic's Inheritance", we had a version that we had written, and I remember one night, I was just at the studio listening to the rough mixes and I was like "Man, Adam Jones would be dope on this!". We had always talked about working on something together, so I reached out to him, and was like "Yo, I got this track for the new album. You wanna jump on this?". He was like "This doesn't count though! We still gotta work on something together!". I was like "A'ight man! I think you would sound good on this". That's my brother, man. He locked himself in the studio with the recording engineer for two days... he was like "Gimme two days!". And then he came back to me with this crazy Pro Tools session that had like mad tracks of just sounds and soundscapes, guitar distortion, synths... he told us to do whatever we wanted with it. So we took that and built what the track became, and we added that whole intro section that's basically him, and rebuilt that track to what it is now. And it worked perfectly! There actually was a guitar solo, but I ended up not using it because that wasn't really what I wanted. I didn't want just that "Oh, he is Adam Jones!", I wanted more of his sound on our universe and it just added the final touch that I wanted on the album. By the time we were done with that record I just knew that it was correct. I think it's only ten songs, but when you think about how we started with like 50 ideas and narrowed it down to 10, and at least 3 to 4 of those were done after the pandemic, so a lot of it was like new material. But it just came together the way it needed to, man. I'm very proud of that album.

 

Your work has always shown that you guys understand how to perfectly balance out its old-school hip-hop backbone with the more experimental and transfigurative soundscapes. And regardless of how dynamic your music is, you undeniably stay true to your own modus operandi. How do these formulas hold up in Dälek’s current-day work when compared to your earlier projects?

W - I think our sound just in general has matured. As musicians we've grown. As a lyricist I've grown. I always want each record to capture who we are at that moment. When we first started, I used to be really concerned about making the most perfect record we could and I would obsess over every little detail. I still obsess over shit, but not nearly in the same way ‘cause I've realized that, when I listened back to our catalog, all those records are great because they capture who I was at that moment. But when I listen to like Negro Necro Nekros for example... I recorded that record when I was in my twenties. I'm 47 years old now. If I was still making lyrics that sounded exactly the same or if I was still working in the same way, I'd kinda feel like I've cheated myself, 'cause I would hope that I keep growing and learning and figuring out new ways to do stuff. There's always this core to what Dälek is that’s familiar, but we keep exploring and pushing in new directions and try to see how we can develop it into something else.

I do feel that, with Precipe specifically, we're finally coming into... the way it sounds in my head is the way the albums are starting to sound when we release them, which is frightening, because for the longest time we couldn't achieve it. Part of it was equipment, maybe we didn't have the right equipment or the technology wasn't there yet... there's been so many advancements in different things, different kinds of plugins and all types of gear that we didn't have back then. So, it's like a mixture of the gear that we have now, the advancements in technology, and also just our knowledge of how to mix our own music that has gotten the records to a point where I'm finally like – I won't say happy, but content with what I'm achieving. I still want to improve it, but the vocals are finally sitting where I've always wanted them to sit. I mean, he (Mike) basically had to threaten me to get it where we got it (laughs)... He was like "if you don't turn that vocal up I'ma stab you". You know, he was right. It sits perfectly now. We still have this wall of sound, this thumping bass and beats, but the lyrics just kinda sit in its own little world. It's dope man. The depth of the mixes is what I'm really most happy with right now.


Dälek at Amplifest 2022

 

https://dalek.bandcamp.com/album/precipice

 

I wanted to ask you about Deadverse. With well over a decade of activity in the industry, and with a very recent addition to the roster (Mars Kumari), can you tell us anything about future plans and hopes for your record label?

W - Honestly, Deadverse as a record label started just because of the way record labels have helped me out through my career. The way Mike Patton helped me, the way Ipecac helped me, you know what I mean? I always said to myself that if I'm ever in a position to do that for other artists, I'm gonna do that. I ain't got pockets like Mike Patton, but I do what I can. What I'm doing with the label right now is basically the mini cassette releases and then the digital too – I split the profits on the cassettes, so I'm making my money back from manufacturing them and I make a little bit of bread off that. But the digital, I tell the artists, “I don't want any money from the digital, that's for y'all”. It tends to work out well. The same way I own my masters with Ipecac, they own their masters. I'm not trying to jerk an artist, I'm trying to help people out. Really, it's just about.

I try to tell them I don't really have much of a label, it's basically me just trying to tell people "Yo, check this shit out. I dig this." So really, it's just stuff that I like. Mars Kumari was really interesting ‘cause she reached out to me and played me some stuff. I thought it was dope, and then, you know, that was very forward, she was like "So you think Deadverse will put this out?". I wasn't even thinking about that at the time, but I was like "A'ight, let's do it!". That's how it came about. I love that record. I think it's really dope. I ended up mastering it and I mixed one of the songs, but everything is her top to bottom, and I think it's a gorgeous, gorgeous album. There's no real plan with my label, it's not like I have it planned out for five years... it's more like whenever someone approaches me with something, I'm like "Yeah aight cool let's do it". So, we'll see what comes next.

One of the things that may or may not end up on the label: I never really had any guest vocalists on Dälek records... I do have a couple songs right now that are Dälek songs but they have guest MCs. So it started me thinking maybe do a record where it's me and another MC on every song. So far, I have a track with Moor Mother and another with Dev One but that's a Dälek song, not IconAclass. I've reached out to my wishlist of MCs and so far, all the responses have been positive, so that might be something I might try to put out at some point… tentatively called "Dälek and Friends" [laughs] but that probably won't be the title. But that's the idea....

 

Any particular artists you’re looking forward to catching this weekend?

M - Amenra Acoustic –

W - Amenra Acoustic was incredible, I really really loved that...

M - That was awesome. But the rest of the artists, we don't get to see, 'cause we're going home tomorrow [laughs]. We'd love to see The Bug, Sumac, Cave In, Godspeed...

W - Yeah, next week has an insane line-up man! I would love to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Bug, Sumac, Aaron Turner. I think the problem is that Aaron Turner and The Bug both have in their contracts that they won't let Dälek play the same day (Mike laughs in the background) that we play...

M - That's what they've actually said to us. When we played with them, that's what they said (laughs)...

W - That's in the contract. It makes me sad, 'cause I consider them friends but what are you gonna do? The bright side's that this is why Amplifest had to do a whole 'nother week. They wanted us to play but we weren't allowed to play on the Aaron Turner night [both laugh]. None of that's true, but it's true... We're gonna start internet beef with Aaron Turner…

 

Just to wrap things up, what have you been listening to lately?

W - Hector Lavoe.

M - Yeah, we were just listening to Hector Lavoe... Also Billy Woods.

W - Yeah. I mean, everything coming out of Backwoodz Studioz right now is fuckin' ridiculous. The Armand Hammer stuff, all of that. Fatboi Sharif, that's another MC that's doing ridiculous work.

M - I'm trying to think. I've been listening to so much stuff and all of a sudden... That question’s always like "Wait, what have I been listening to?".

W - Black Thought... with Danger Mouse.

M - Oh yeah, that's fuckin' amazing.

W - I think he might be the dopest MC bar none. I think his lyrics are ridiculous.

M - I've also been listening to a lot of Linqua Franqa.

W - I'm still stuck on Solange. I know that record (When I Get Home) isn't new but I have it constantly on repeat. I know this is sacrilege but I think she's way better than Beyoncé. That's a hot take! I'm starting the beef right now!

 



Dälek at Amplifest 2022
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