There really isn't a Minion who is into hip hop, per se, but there are occasional things in the genre that i enjoy, and my enthusiasm for Dälek was enough to convince Tracers to come with me to see them perform. For a second time actually, since our first encounter with Dälek was when they toured opening for The Dismemberment Plan back in 2000. Since then i have thoroughly enjoyed two Dälek albums, and so, with a bit of encouragement on my part, we headed off to the show.
We walked into The EARL just in time to see the first opening band finish their setup and begin to play. They were a five-piece couontry-rock band from Asheville, NC, called Wayne Robbins and the Hellsayers. Let's just say that they were not what the average Dälek fan (if there even is such a thing) would enjoy. They had an acoustic guitarist/singer, a slide guitarist, an electric guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer. The vocals were high pitched in a Neil Young sort of way. Although they weren't an awful band, they are also not the type of thing i enjoy. That coupled with their obviously being out of place on the bill made their set seem interminable.
So The Hellsayers and their fans kind of stood out at the show. I will say this though -- everyone was very polite. Dälek DJs Still and Oktopus even went and found The Hellsayers merch salesgirl when some fan approached them. Given the obvious lack of enthusiasm they exhibited during the performance, that's really cool. As to The Hellsayers, well, there are seemingly a thousand bands doing that kind of thing in the South these days, and they are all starting to blur together in my mind. They weren't awful, i can acknowledge that, but they also did not belong on the bill this night. Oh well.
The next opener was local band Deerhunter, who we had seen play between Asobi Seksu and The Futureheads back in November of last year. Aside from being too loud on that night, i thought that they were doing some interesting, My Bloody Valentine style things with feedback during that show. Well, until the frontman started complaining that nothing was working and started turning off gear. Then they were kind of ... dull.
Tonight, Deerhunter were set up on the side stage at The EARL. They started off by creating an echoing wall of feedback, and then they tore into a set of droning, loud, energetic rock a la Spaceman 3 or Loaded-era Velvet Underground. Think loud feedbacky psychedelia. One thing i will say is that the lead vocalist sings through a lot of effects, and that got old (and painful on the ears) after a while. Still, i enjoyed what they were doing much more tonight than i did that evening last November. The crowd seemed to really get into them as well, and i noticed Dälek members back at the merch booth nodding their heads appreciatively. Certainly a better fit for this bill than The Hellsayers.
By this time it wasn't even midnight, and Dälek hurredly set up their gear. It didn't take long because everything was already assembled and plugged in on tables that had been pushed to the back of the main stage during The Hellsayers' performance, and all that had to be done was move things forward, turn everything on, and run through a few checks. So they started playing less than 15 minutes after Deerhunter went off.
Dälek are, as i previously implied, a hip hop act. They are a three piece, with 2 DJs, Still and Oktopus, who stand at the back bouncing around like mad behind tables of electronic gear, and a rapper, Dälek , who stays at the front of the stage and dances around as he raps. Pretty much like you would expect from any rap video you've seen on TV, right?
Well, except for the music. Dälek don't simply built their tunes out of a drum loop and a few samples of back up singers. Instead the music is a rich, textured, and very interesting sound collage. Of the various things i could pick out of the mix, i heard a choral piece, a string quartet, some noisy guitarwork, and some jazzy drumming. Now, that's just the recognizable bits that surfaced above the overall flow of sound. There was a lot going on, with Still changing records and Oktopus rapidly pushing buttons and loading sounds. Their music is massively impressive. One of the most interesting things i heard was a short instrumental, maybe 2 minutes long or so, that sounded like an outtake from (or a remix of) the classic FSOL album Dead Cities. Really lovely.
Now, i don't know a lot about hip hop, but what Still and Oktopus are doing back there reminds me of some of the electronica i like. And the fact that they are so energetic and obviously having a good time gives them a stage show, which is something that i feel a lot of electronic acts desperately need. Adding to their visual interest is Dälek himself, the rapper. He is a large, angry seeming man. On this night he was battling a nasty cold, yet he still bounced around on stage and was generally entertaining. I like his voice too, since it's kind of deep and he growls some of his lines. The fact that all three of them bounce around on stage creates a visual interest that is often lacking in purely electronic performances. It made the show more interesting than it might otherwise have been.
Sonically, the band sounded great. If you take Dälek 's darker rap and combine it with the sound collage of the DJs, the overall effect is something dark, catchy, apocalyptic, and beautiful. Dälek tunes sound like the world is coming apart at the seams, so why not celebrate by screaming along? They seemed to perform mostly songs off of their new album, but I did detect a song or two from their epic From the Filthy Tounges of Gods and Griots. Even the songs I was familiar with seemed more powerful when performed live. Thatís one of the signs of a great band.
To put it simply, Dälek put on a wonderful set tonight. Even Tracers, who is less fond of hip hop than i am, said that it was a good set. They are a truly unique band. I cannot think of anyone else out there doing anything like this. If you get the chance to see them, i strongly urge you to do so.
So, the night started off poorly and then got progressively more interesting. Dälek were a wonderful end to the evening.