I saw Dälek last night at Rock & Roll Hotel, a nice venue in an old DC neighborhood that one guy is singlehandedly trying to revitalize (he has acquired no less than eight liquor licenses — including Rock & Roll Hotel — in a three-block radius!). As I found out when I saw them last year with Isis and Zombi, this noisy hip-hop duo has an angry stage presence and a punishingly loud live sound. I came prepared with my trusty Etymotic earplugs, and boy am I glad I didn’t leave them at home. I can’t imagine how the folks without earplugs survived without their brains being completely pulped. Even though Dälek’s new album Abandoned Language is far less aggressively noisy than their last masterpiece, Absence, in a live setting the dynamics are so much wider and the group really exploits maximum volume to the fullest. They’ve added a guitarist of all things since I last saw them, although mostly he was just strumming his strings as hard as he could in order to generate a lot of white noise.
This was a pretty good show, all in all. Dälek the MC’s vocals are still a little recessed in the mix, which is intentional but means he’s a bit hard to understand underneath all the howling noise. But witnessing the way that the group played with dynamics, going from contemplative soundscapes to teeth-rattling beats and back again, was a pretty powerful experience. The only thing that disappointed me was that they played a short set, I think just playing Abandoned Language straight through (the closer “Subversive Script” was a serious highlight) and nothing else. I really wanted to hear some stuff from Absence, but no such luck.