Newark, New Jersey noise-rap pioneers Dälek have cut a singular path over 18 years and seven albums. Mixing the searing political rhetoric of Public Enemy, the suffocating shoegaze textures of My Bloody Valentine and the primal appeal of squealing industrial noise, they were perpetual underdogs, hopping around rock and metal labels and opening for bands like Tool and the Melvins before going on a quiet hiatus in 2011. However, last year, MC Dälek returned to a landscape where noisy rap music was thriving both online and off: Death Grips are a Coachella hot ticket, Odd Future built a small empire on opaque grime, Clipping is signed to Sub Pop and Kanye West dropped a full-on Rick Rubin-assisted industrial-rap opus, Yeezus, in 2013.
Asphalt for Eden is the group’s latest album, their first in six years and first for extreme metal label Profound Lore — you can hear the whole thing below before its April 22 release date. MC Dälek, DJ Rek and intrepid noisemonger Destructo Swarmbots create a tornado of gorgeous-yet-venomous Screwgaze squall where rhymes about the rash of police killings fight for space. Rolling Stone caught up with MC Dälek about the underground’s recent noise-rap Renaissance.
Are you finding that there’s a new audience for noisy rap music right now?
The nicest surprise is that we still have people that saw us back in ’99 or whatever coming out to shows but, understandably, a lot of those people aren’t really going to shows anymore. The cool thing is we’re getting a lot of new fans, man. I’ve gotten a lot of kids coming up to me afterwards being like, “Yo, I never thought I’d get to see you play live. I’ve been a fan for a long time.” Just hearing that and seeing the new faces and the new energy, that’s invigorating, man.
The crowd at your last New York show was especially amped. Was that surprising to you?
I mean somewhat. To be honest with you, I really had no idea what to expect from starting up Dälek shows again. I was hoping this would be the case. I think the climate of music is more geared towards us now. Music, top to bottom, seems to blend genre a lot more than it did when we started. Just like even the world of “noise rap,” quote unquote, there’s more bands doing what we did back in the day.
Do you feel like you’ve been telling people for years and now they’re finally listening?
You know, music is funny like that, man. I remember when we were working on the Dälek/Faust album, Joachim [Irmler] from Faust, we recorded at his house, at the studio in Germany. We were drinking bottles of red wine and just chilling and just working on shit til like four or five in the morning. I remember him telling me like, “You remind me of Faust. You will make great music, but you will never make any money.” [Laughs.] I was like laughing, and I was like, “That’s the best and worst thing anyone has ever said to me.”… We made those steps early on and there really wasn’t a scene for us. No one really knew where to categorize us. And I don’t think that’s really changed. I think, at least, there’s more of a conversation now. We make sense in a lot more places than we did in the past. It’s nice to see that time’s catching up with us, I guess.
And now you seem to be jumping around heavy metal labels, going from a Hydra Head record to Profound Lore.
It’s not like we’ve ever been on a hip-hop label, you know? [Laughs.] I mean honestly, I’m more concerned about the people that run the label and how they run their label and how they treat their artists. And Chris [Bruni] reached out to us, just interested on putting out something by Dälek. Initially we pitched him the idea of an EP and he was completely into it. So the fact that halfway through the process we were like, “Oh, by the way, it’s going to be an album now,” and he didn’t even blink — that’s the kind of label we want behind us. That’s willing to deal with our crazy asses and just willing to put up with our nonsense.
Speaking of not being able to fit anywhere, there’s always stories about the bands who end up opening for Tool and then have to deal with their audiences.
They weren’t especially kind for Fantômas, it didn’t work out too well for the Melvins…
I don’t think it’s especially kind to any band that opens for them, man. Tool fans are there to see Tool. It was great, man! I loved it. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, man. Honestly. Because we got to play arenas. All you gotta do is do the mathematics on it. They’re playing in front of like, between 12 and 17 thousand people. If even a quarter of those people like us… Like that’s a bigger crowd than comes out to our shows, so it’s great exposure for us! I’m not going to say it was easy. Those guys have been so good to us, man. Not just putting us out on that tour but then, you know every time we have something released, be it Iconoclass, my side project, or be it Dälek, they’ve like posted it on the Tool page! It’s like an event for me, because I can’t wait to see what the Tool fans write in the comments section. Half of them despise us, hate us and are just so pissed off that Tool would post anything other than news on their new album. The other part of the audience is into us and are open-minded and are really digging what we’re doing. It never disappoints, man. Actually this time around, it was more positive than negative, so… I don’t know if they have better filters on their page … or if people actually like what we’re doing.
Asphalt for Eden, lyrically, touches on Michael Brown and Black Lives Matter and Freddie Gray and the whole state the United States is in right now. How do you feel the hip-hop reaction to that has been?
It actually impressed me how much more of a voice hip-hop had with these issues than it’s had in its recent past. I’d say from like 2000 on, the socially conscious voice of hip-hop was strictly in the underground. You wouldn’t even imagine someone in mainstream rap music or anything like that doing anything to rock the boat. I know it’s one name, but a dude like Kendrick Lamar is so important. It’s such an amazing voice, A) because he’s of a younger generation and B) because of the platform that he has, and that he’s actually trying to say something with that, not only lyrically but also musically.
What’d you think the very first time you heard Death Grips?
I definitely heard a little bit of influence. But I thought it was coming from a very much more punk rock background. I thought the vocals were fucking raw as shit. Exmilitary I definitely dug a lot, man. I like that they’re pushing the envelope. I like that it’s noisy, I like that it’s heavy.
What about Yeezus?
I had people calling me like “Kanye must have heard Dälek.” [Laughs] I listened to the record and I was like, “If you say so, man.” Real talk, we didn’t create the sound out of thin air. There was Public Enemy before us. At the same time as us, there was New Kingdom, there was Techno Animal. If you listen to those three groups, you can find the common thread, but I feel like New Kingdom, Dälek, and Techno Animal, you could have thrown in like Company Flow. It’s all so different! Public Enemy came before us, and Faust came before us. My Bloody Valentine came before us…
Yeah, Rammellzee. Like Rammellzee should be really pissed that I exist. [Laughs.] Rammellzee if he was around, would be like, “Yo, what the fuck? Why is he getting shine and I’m not?” I never look at it like that. Like when I saw Death Grips shining, I was like, “Oh shit! People have opened up their ears a lot more than when we were around early on.” Because it’s true! When we started, man, there was no scene for it. I remember playing like DIY basement shows in the middle of the country. There was like a crowd of like 15 kids in this basement show and we’d start playing. We’d be the opening act … and by the second song, there’d be like three kids in the entire room. You could clear out most of 15 people. But those three kids were really into what we were doing. And some of those kids are grown-ass men now and are still coming to our shows. You know, yeah, it’s built, man. And now there’s groups like Death Grips, there’s groups like Blackie, there’s groups like Clipping. I always feel it’s weird when bands get bent out of shape that Death Grips is shining. I feel that them shining is fucking great for all of us! Why would you be mad that there’s an audience for it?