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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Dalek @ The Cactus Club

Feb. 29, 2008

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The Newark, N.J.-based alternative hip-hop group Dlek has made a career out of defying expectations of what rap music should—or should not—sound like. On record, the band has managed to meld such disparate influences as Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim, Mogwai, My Bloody Valentine and Jesu to create a sound that remarkably coheres into something all its own. There is a sense that group members truly love all forms of underground music, and it comes across on their albums. With the horrors of the unholy late- 1990s “rap-rock” phenomenon quickly dissolving from our collective cultural memory, Dlek allows us to fully see the artistic benefits of indiscriminate genre-hopping.

Yet the act of reproducing recorded rap tracks in a live setting is a skill that has eluded even some of the most gifted performers, and judging from its recent Cactus Club performance, even Dlek finds it difficult. The band’s setup, which included three Apple computers (note to Steve Jobs: How about replacing the irritating Justin Long with the boys in Dlek for your next ad campaign?), seemed to be designed to overpower the listeners’ senses, and the bass was cranked so high that the walls of the Cactus Club literally shook. Although sometimes awe-inspiring, this display of sonic power created an incredibly messy soundscape. The atmospheric quality of Dlek’s recorded material was lost, as the distinctive tracks and effects that mark the band’s best songs bled into one another. Perhaps more importantly, the Rakim-esque cadence and flow of MC Dlek, so commanding on the band’s albums, was overpowered by the sheer noise created by the other band members. MC Dlek’s vocals provide a sense of focus and cohesion for the group, allowing the band to explore the possibilities of aural chaos without ever fully losing control. With his rhymes relegated to the background, Dlek lost a bit of the distinctiveness that makes it one of the most exciting bands in underground music.
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