Photo by Corey Williams
Before Def Jux, before Death Grips, before Yeezus, there was Dälek. MC/producer Dälek (Will Brooks), co-producer Oktopus (Alap Momin) and their collaborators dragged hip-hop through noise and distortion on their debut EP Negro, Nekro, Nekros, and dropped it onto New Jersey’s late-90s DIY scene. From there, they linked up with Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings to release four LPs, confused or converted legions of bearded nerds while opening for the Melvins and Tool, collaborated with krautrock pioneers Faust, and inspired a thousand hack writers to dub them the musical offspring of Public Enemy and My Bloody Valentine (shit, make it a thousand and one).
For a band so steeped in noise and bombast, Dälek ended quietly, without even an official statement. Brooks stresses that there was no beef between he and Momin, just a project that had run its course. Momin moved to Berlin and focused on electronic projects, while Brooks made slightly more traditional rap as iconAclass. But performing classic Dälek tracks live gave Brooks the urge to revive Dälek, and with Okto’s blessing he assembled a new lineup with co-producer Mikey Manteca (Destructo Swarmbots) and DJ rEk.
The new Dälek is premiering the video for the somber new track “Masked Laughter (Nothing’s Left)” right here:
We caught up with Brooks as he prepared for a European tour (with a Brooklyn show at Over the Eight on April 11 before that) to talk about the end and rebirth of Dälek.
Noisey: I don't remember there being an announcement that Dälek was ending or going on hiatus. What led up to the end of the band? At the time, did you think you'd ever make music as Dälek again?
Will Brooks: There never was an official announcement. I think after 15 years we needed a break, we needed to do other things. Me and Oktopus were road dogs and that kind of extensive touring takes a toll on you. Joshua Booth, who was always with us in the studio and toured with us for a while, had already bowed out to finish his PhD. At that point it was just me and Okto and I think we were exhausted.
The last "official" show was a fly-in show in Geneva, Switzerland in August 2010. After soundcheck, me and Oktopus were chilling outside the club just bullshittin' and catching up on stuff, when we started talking about the future. We had just done a tour opening for Tool in Canada and in the U.S. on the West Coast. I had been back in Jersey and had started working on production on what would become the Deadverse Massive TakeOver album. Okto had immersed himself in the Berlin bass scene. We could feel that we were traveling down different roads and that it was time to do something else. I remember him saying something like, "I think this show might be it for me," and I responded with something like, "Yeah, I know, fam." It just felt right to stop, breathe a bit, and try out some other stuff. It was an amazing show that night though.
I didn't really think about whether or not I'd make music again as Dälek, it was just time to go on "permanent hiatus"…though I guess it turned out not to be so permanent.
What did you work on while Dälek was inactive?
After all that time on the road I really reveled in being at my studio. I was excited to work on new material and new projects. Okto and I actually scored a film together, Lilith, for our brother, director Sridhar Reddy. I produced and released the Deadverse Massive TakeOver album with the MCs Gym Brown, Skalla, Dev-One, MoRikan, DLEMMA and Oddateee. It kind of sparked a desire to do something more stripped down, more boom-bap, which led to the iconAclass project. I just recently wrapped up a new iconAclass album, Changing Culture With Revolvers.
I did vocals for DeepStar & AKG on their album Universal Language, and for the Italian group Aucan. Remixes for a lot of heads… Black Heart Procession, Palms, Zombi and there are some new ones to be on the lookout for this year as well. I also started a minimal noise/electronic/instrumental duo with Mikey Manteca called Fill Jackson Heights. I guess I stayed busy.
Why did you decide to revive Dälek in 2015?
The short answer? I just missed the noise.
I started playing a few Dälek songs on the iconAclass European tour in 2013 and it just sparked that love for that noise and heaviness again. I had a good conversation with Oktopus about it all in mid 2014, and though he didn't want to pursue it, he was cool with the fact that I wanted to head out on the road as Dälek again. It kind of took off quickly after that. I asked rEk if he'd be interested in re-joining as the DJ. rEk was the original DJ in Dälek; he was out there grinding with me when we were sleeping on people's floors, playing basement shows for gas money. He came out on our first European tour opening for The Lapse in 1999. He never got to experience the "good times" with Dälek, when we got luxuries like our own beds to sleep in!
With the DJ secured, I told former Mikey Manteca, who I had started Fill Jackson Heights with, my plans and that I had thought about asking him to rejoin. I thought he wouldn't be interested because he had recently started a brewery called Secret Engine. Thankfully I was wrong. Now, after just a few months, we got some new joints finished and a month-long EU tour ahead of us.
You have some new material, but is it safe to assume you'll be playing stuff from earlier records on your upcoming tour? Do you have any new perspectives on those older songs after some time away from them?
Yeah, we debuted a new joint right up there, "Masked Laughter (Nothing's Left)," which embodies where I'm at right now and where the new material is heading. We've been relearning old songs, and I got to say, I'm amped. The duality of looking back and yet also moving forward, it's a bugged out feeling. The old songs make up a fifteen-year period of my life. I love those songs, the memories attached to creating them, the time spent on the road performing them. Being able to perform them again feels amazing.
Can you say anything yet about what you're working on with avantgarde French black metal troupe Blut Aus Nord?
We’re set to meet at a Dälek show in France, so it's all in the preliminary stages. I'm looking forward to see what we can build. I mean, I have no idea what you’re talking about!
Photo courtesy of Dälek
Dälek tour dates:
April 11 Brooklyn NY @ Over the Eight
April 16 Montbeliard FR @ Impetus Festival
April 17 Winterthur CH @ Kraftfeld
April 19 Geneva CH @ Cave 12
April 20 Montpellier FR @ Blacksheep
April 21 Lyon FR @ Marche Gare
April 22 Fribourg CH @ Fri-Son
April 23 Metz FR @ Les Trinitaires
April 24 Paris FR @ Le Petit Bain
April 25 Lorient FR @ Manège
April 27 Toulouse FR @ Le Metronum
April 28 Bordeaux FR @ I-Boat
April 29 Perigueux FR @ Le Sans Reserve
April 30 Caen FR @ Cargö
May 1 Utrecht NL @ DBs
May 2-3 TBA London
May 4 Amiens FR @ La Lune des Pirates
May 5 Kortrijk BE @ De Kreun
May 6 Hamburg DE @ Hafenklang
Anthony Bartkewicz is boom-bapping on Twitter - @BRTKWCZ