The last few years of music have witnessed a palpable interest in the “vs.” concept. American deejays have been experimenting with mash-ups, a technique of simply spinning two or more songs — usually of completely variant genres — on top of each other and seeing what happens. And under the direction of Matthew Shipp, Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series has released albums featuring hip-hop and electronic luminaries like Antipop Consortium, DJ Spooky and El-P, who collaborated with the cream of New York City’s avant-jazz crop, and has mashed up contemporary classical and jazz, most obviously in the Blue Series Continuum’s The Sorcerer Sessions.
With due respect to the adventurousness of all of the above, those musical disciplines are relatively accustomed to the collaborative spirit, which is especially rooted into the traditions of jazz and hip-hop. But aside from “Walk this Way,” a rock/hip-hop project is somewhat unheard of. And this rock band is already one of Europe’s most enigmatic.
Anyone expecting Derbe Respect, Alder, the collaboration between German legends Faust and Newark, New Jersey’s experimental hip-hop group Dalek, to be your typical file-under-hip-hop album will be seriously weirded out, if not shocked. Faust will forever be stamped on hipster rock history for a series of albums they made from the early-’70s that toy with the nature of music to mind-bending effect. None of the songs sounded like the others, there were often multiple songs within songs, and the production still sounds straight out of 2004.
After a hiatus in the ’80s, Faust returned in the late-’90s, sounding just as weird and (almost) just as good. Dalek — emcee Dalek (Will Brooks), producer the Octopus (Alap Momin) and turntablist DJ Still (Hsi-Chang Linaka) — has one extremely interesting, if somewhat flawed, full-length and one EP comprising their discography. From the Filthy Tongues of Gods and Griots, Dalek’s 2002 debut, emphasizes sonic overload. It’s the Loveless of hip-hop, although its intensity, and Dalek’s rapping, occasionally comes off as a little contrived.
But it’s not all that surprising that this collaboration works so well. Both bands rely on sonics — frequency, pitch, volume — for their signature sounds, which really aren’t so different once you get over the fact that one’s making hip-hop and the other’s making some warped form of rock. Derbe Respect, Alder employs variant textures and sound qualities throughout — true audiophile dorks will dig. Emcee Dalek doesn’t so much rap as spout freeform poetry over the “musical” interventions of Faust and the rest of his band. He uses words almost like a jazz improviser uses an instrument, falling in and out of intelligibility, un-reliant on a backbeat to sculpt his rhymes. Songs seamlessly flow into the next (again, Loveless is a precedent), and an air of brutality is maintained throughout.
This is not easy listening. Faust’s industrial clanging is met with equal intensity by the emcee, whose best moments are made better by the chilling scariness of his collaborators’ brutal range.
Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising is an appropriate comparison, although Derbe Respect, Alder doesn’t have the anthemic pop songs like “Brave Men Run,” “Death Valley 69,” or “Flower” that haunting album does — until “T-Electronique,” the triumphant final song. Updating a great track from Faust’s 1999 album Ravvivando, Dalek adds samples and rapping to this huge, beat-driven song that recalls the encompassing atmospherics of Bowery Electric’s first album.
Sure, there’s a temptation to fall into guessing how great Derbe Respect, Alder would have been if it all sounded like “T-Electronique.” But that also could have stumbled into oft-dull remix territory, which would have sacrificed the collaborative energy this goose bump-inducing album conjures. I’ve made a point of listening to the coolly terrifying Bad Moon Rising every Halloween for years now. Derbe Respect, Alder is my new warm-up album.