"I think we're moving forward further and further into the back of our minds," reflects producer okt0pus, one half of hip-hop duo dälek
(pronounced dial-ekt). With the group's fifth album, Gutter Tactics, dälek has closely packed intensity with consistency, rallying banks of saturated grit over the fractured insistence of New Jersey's boom-bap bricks.
"Our debut EP Negro Necro Nekros and From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots were about us starting out, sometimes getting sounds more than songs," says okt0pus. "Absence was the book on how extreme you could go. Abandoned Language had more ambient moments, and was the end of that chapter of writing it all either heavy or mellow. Gutter Tactics is more us continually doing some early hip-hop shit but with the attitude of the Melvins or Black Sabbath."
Not that dälek has ever been anything but hip-hop, even as the group claims contemporaries from Techno Animal to Mobb Deep, Kevin Martin's the Bug to Isis. A group whose intense lyrics would clear the air even as its sonic density threatened to clear the room, dälek has spent a decade-plus voraciously consuming leftfield influences and spitting out sonic altercations that have seen the group garner tremendous European support even as dälek stays true to its members' East Coast origins.
"I've always just said that it's hip-hop, because that's my culture - everything I do is hip-hop," says dälek, the group's namesake MC. "And more than that it's a philosophy on how music is made, it's the philosophy of diggin' through crates to find sounds you make your own regardless of genre. Afrika Bambaataa sampled Kraftwerk, while we draw on the essence of Faust, or My Bloody Valentine..."
For Gutter Tactics, however, dälek drew from more than just a cultural, spiritual and philosophical home. Having spent the last two years building a commercial studio by hand, the group similarly constructed Gutter Tactics from the ground up on newly minted home turf, surrounded by patch bays of analog and digital means located just outside the Lincoln Tunnel in Union City.
"Since I started my ‘studio' was always my bedroom, and now I live nine blocks away from the space," says dälek. "There is no rolling out of bed and working on shit right there, but I like the fact that I need to motivate. I was always making beats constantly, but it's nice to have that provision - 1000 square feet of playground that inspires me to work even harder."
Once the beats were collected, okt0pus invited members of the group's Deadverse massive into the studio, laying down sample banks of ghosting tones from musicians such as Destructo Swarmbots, recorded while tweaking effects live to erase any human performance element. Absence could be equated to a Glenn Branca aggregation of harmonic mêlées and atonality pushed so far it verges on pop, and Abandoned Language approached a British-style hypnotism of encompassing more than overly aggravated passages. The 11 tracks of Gutter Tactics, however, work off the immediate grid, lyrics and loops informed by arena-ready dynamics and electronic addling. The sound marches forward even as it pays tribute to a time when Gang Starr fans wore Bad Brains t-shirts and the Bomb Squad could make Slayer seem childish.
Old school compression tricks were then used to slam the shit out of signals, driving things into the red, getting sludge to keep it from being empty, soulless, overly focused. "I'd rather have that David Lynch lighting - shadowy, claustrophobic, but shoved with detail," says okt0pus.
"This album isn't pummeling you, though," observes okt0pus. "It's got that heavy, but it takes a few listens to realize just how substantial it is. We were guilty in the beginning of having everything so focused and compressed, and this record shows you can still be loud and retain the room dimensions that make records really great to hear."
Lyrically, the socio-politically minded Gutter Tactics is equally measured and insurgent. "I don't make records for shock value ... this is a collection of who I am at this point and what I see around me, so it's a dark album, full of anger, maybe some fear, and also hope. It's the state of the world where I, where we are at right now. I just think in America it's not always as safe to speak truth anymore. So, while our music may be abstract, I want the thought process to be more straightforward.
"Except maybe this album's title," concludes dälek. "Instead of having an absolute meaning the title ‘Gutter Tactics' is about the overall feel. It's an album that's raw, heavy, but full of clarity."