Writer Harry Croxford / Photographer Connor Pope
Cutting through electrical fog with acerbic and pointed poetry, Dälek triumphs with a wrathful and critical tour-de-force on the Birmingham stopover on their UK tour. Supported by friends and fellow boundary-pushers Holy Scum, the show exhibits why Supersonic are recognised as cultivators of ground breaking experimental music.
Warm and welcoming are the staff; harsh and angular are the acts they promote. Supersonic Festival astounds once again in Centrala’s intimate Digbeth space, reminding us why they are considered one of the premier experimental music promoters.
The night comprises performances from Holy Scum and Dälek. The close ties between the two groups evidenced not only from their shared members, but a dedication to boundary pushing and dense electronic fuzz.
Holy Scum, an improvisational act formed in 2019, with members of Dälek (Mike Mare), GNOD (Chris Haslam and Jon perry), and Action Beat (Peter J. Taylor), strikes hard and incorporates elements of shoegaze, noise, and an anarchic approach to performance.
Among cables, instruments, and speakers, pedals scatter the floor. Perry and Haslam provide the pulse – high-strung, aggravated. Perry’s characteristic drumming that gives GNOD their characteristic explosivity and pound, and Haslam’s bass erect a steely backbone to the rest of the band’s wild static improvisations.
Mare, drawing on the shoegaze-mist that has slowly developed across Dälek’s recent releases combines live production with highly treated vocals. Taylor’s post-punky, reverb-ladened guitar, winds upwards and repeats in this cacophonic whirl-wind.
And added to this too, is a quasi-pantomimic audience interaction: mid-performance Taylor disappears, only to reappear beside a surprised audience-member, and he continues with this: skating on a transport trolley, passing his guitar to bewildered audience members, and running round with wild abandon.
It is intimidatingly hilarious.
Like warning sirens in a typhoon, this maximalist wall of sound leaves us all wanting as they conclude the set, letting the reverb drenched synths expand and eventually fade.
Luckily for us, however, Mare makes his return to the stage as one half of Dälek. This time accompanied by Will Brooks, or MC Dälek, who enters the stage accompanied with a similar electronic drone that defines their recent LP, Precipice.
This duo are monoliths in the experimental hip-hop world. From Death Grips to Billy Woods, and Lil Ugly Mane to Danny Brown, sonic through-lines to contemporary acts can be traced back across Dälek’s boundary-pushing multi-decade career.
While previous albums explore territories as broad as jazz, sludge metal, and krautrock, the tracks Dälek takes us through result from Precipice: a sharp, acerbic, and enlivened record that stands on its own as a fuzzy, bristling, shoegaze-hip-hop masterpiece.
Live mixing dark ambient drone with pounding drum breaks, Dälek here proves it to be hip-hop at its genre-splicing best, with Brooks’ lyrics deftly sliding serpentine round Mare’s maximal wall of sound.
The backdrop to all of this are fragments from the accompanying art to Precipice. Lit up behind the duo is a flickering and vivid tableau developed by artist Paul Romano and featuring work from Mikel Lavanne Elam, whose Afro-Futurist work refracts much of the themes and history explored by Brooks.
Brook’s poetry is at its best when it marries embittered reflections on social injustices, casting them in an apocalyptic, wrathful, bull-blood-red light. In ‘Good’ his lines ricochet from the Sword of Damocles to police injustice, and references to popular tracks like Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, ironically contrasting with the violence that seeps through the other lines, depicting Cooke’s track as naive, or overly optimistic.
Despite some technical issues, resulting in an impassioned Brooks pausing the show while the sound engineer tries to alter and refine the sound, the show is cohesive and tight. This temporary pause allows Brooks to meditate on the importance of live music despite the past two years of uncertainty, cancellation, and delay.
“This shit means too much,” Brooks states, turning to the crowd. It is clear that he treats his art, and the audience’s experience, with great care and sensitivity.
And by centring on the shared experience of musician/audience, the latter half of the show and its lyrics depicting a world wrought by anxiety, agonising injustices, and the twilight hours of a decaying global order, are supplanted by the vein of rebellion and a social collectivism that constantly emerges in Brooks’ lyrics.
Find out more about Dälek and their most recent release here: www.dalek.bandcamp.com
For more on GNOD visit: www.gnod.bandcamp.com
For more on Action Beat visit: www.action-beat.bandcamp.com
Mikel Lavanne Elam visit: www.mikel-elam.format.com
For more on Paul Romano visit: www.workhardened.com/links
For details on the upcoming Supersonic Festival (08/07-10/07) visit: www.sup:ersonicfestival.com/supersonic-2022
For more from Centrala go to: www.centrala-space.org.uk