Dälek – Soup Kitchen, Manchester, UK (22nd July 2019)

Dälek have been pushing the boundaries of hip hop for over two decades now with their innovative blend of noise, industrial, drone and shoegaze. Despite earning critical acclaim for albums such as 2005’s Absence and 2017’s Endangered Philosophies, as well as laying the groundwork for experimental rap groups like clipping and Death Grips, they’ve too often been overlooked by many hip hop fans and the wider community.

Over the years it’s been more likely that they would feature in The Wire than they would do in The Source. There certainly haven’t been many rap groups that would even consider collaborating with krautrock legends Faust, as they did on 2004’s Derbe Respect, Alder. With large parts of their fan base made up of metal heads and others who prefer their music more on the experimental side, they definitely don’t look out of place at Ipecac Recordings, the label of former Faith No More frontman Mike Patton and home to artists such as Daughters, Sleaford Mods and BEAK>.

The current line-up of MC/producer Dälek (Will Brooks) and producer/programmer Mike Manteca (Mike Mare) have been working together officially since 2015, with Mare previously working as a live guitarist and driver/merchandise assistant during the first incarnation of the group. In addition to Dälek, Brooks and Mare are also members of experimental hip hop five-piece Anguish, with the current European tour serving as a two-in-one trip for both groups (check out their jazzy 2018 self-titled debut).

It’s a shame Anguish couldn’t join Dälek on their UK tour as well. Instead, we were treated to two equally fascinating support acts down in the suitably dark and beautifully dingy Soup Kitchen basement. Up first were local experimental electronica duo She The Throne. With their respective faces concealed behind a tasselled blindfold and a balaclava, their 30 minute set featured a harrowing blend of noise, drone and darksynth. Largely performing tracks from their 2017 self-titled debut, the set included its brooding lead single ‘Sometimes My Arms Bend Back’ which sounded like a hybrid of Grimes and something you might find on a dystopian 80’s film soundtrack. 

Moving away from the stage to the centre of the room, free improvisation trio Sly & the Family Drone had everyone who had gathered in a circle around them transfixed for close to 40 minutes. Known for their roller coaster performances, a few in the audience had come along just to see these guys. They were not disappointed as we were treated to a wild ride featuring a blend of noise, sax and frenetic percussion. It was controlled chaos at its very best, and after an incredibly tough 2018 it’s great to see one of Britain’s finest underground bands back blowing minds and bursting ear drums. 

Fresh off the back of their performance at Supersonic Festival in Birmingham, Dälek kicked off their set with back-to-back tracks from 2016’s Asphalt for Eden. Starting with the hard hitting ‘Critical’ before performing the Noam Chomsky sampling ‘Control’, it set the tone perfectly. Turning things up a few notches, they jumped straight into Endangered Philosophies powerful opener ‘Echoes of…’ Carried along by pounding beats, Will Brooks’ fiery rhymes were almost drowned out by the searing noise.

Combining influences and styles from the likes of Public Enemy’s Chuck D and forgotten underground rapper Paris, with the industrial and noise experimentation of Einstürzende Neubauten and the hazy shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine is what has always made Dälek standout. The influence of the latter is most evident on the gorgeous ‘Ever Somber’, from arguably their finest record Absence. Receiving probably the biggest cheer of the night, it’s not far off how you’d imagine an MBV-crafted hip hop track to sound if Kevin Shields ever turned his hand to the genre. 

After performing a couple of their more subdued tracks from their latest full-length Endangered Philosophies with ‘Sacrifice’ and ‘The Son of Immigrants’, they cranked up the noise once again with the epic ‘Eyes to Form Shadows’ taken from Absence. After a technical issue during which we were treated to an improvisational noise piece from Brooks, they turned back the clock to their 1998 debut Negro Necro Nekros. Dedicating it to his ‘brother’ who taught him about life on the road, ‘Three Rocks Blessed’ offered up a more stripped back Dälek than most are perhaps used to hearing.

Despite an altercation between some overzealous security and a photographer who kept getting up on the stage causing a bit of a scene towards the end of the night, Dälek were undeterred as they closed their set strongly. The final run included ‘…With These Mics’, taken from their recent European tour only limited EP Respect to the Authors, as well as ‘Paragraphs Relentless’ from 2007’s Abandoned Language. Anyone who may have been distracted by the earlier tussle were pulled back into the room with the brilliant closing combination of ‘Numb’ from Endangered Philosophies and ‘Asylum (Permanent Underclass)’ from Absence