“It’s like osmosis or something,” says Dan the Automator. The alternative hip-hop pioneer and master of hybridized genre fusion projects is discussing his writing partner Del’s uncanny knack for absorbing and processing information. Del has accumulated expansive knowledge on a variety of topical subjects, Dan says, despite not having a television set. But in a post-millennial age, Del says, all he needs is the Internet to stay up on things.

Dan and Del —Oakland-based rapper, co-founder of legendary hip-hop crew Hieroglyphics, and fan favorite known for his brilliantly eccentric flows—are sitting in front of a large table, surrounded by microphones and about 100 die-hard fans at Stern Grove’s Trocadero clubhouse. In a couple hours, they’ll lead a 23-piece orchestra–complete with strings, horns, a choir, drums, bass, guitar, and a turntablist—through a  live performance of compositions by their alt.hip-hop supergroup Deltron 3030,  before a crowd of 20,000+. The set list will include several songs from the highly-anticipated follow-up to Deltron’s eponymous debut album, an Afro-futurist sci-fi opus originally released in 2000.

Deltron fans

Deltron fans

The first Deltron album, comprised of concept-driven tunes like “Virus,” “Master-mind,” and “Things You Can Do,” resonated with music fans (and tech geeks) far outside of the traditional hip-hop spectrum, raising expectations for the follow-up, which has been reportedly in the works since 2006 and promised for release later this year. After years of statements from group members insisting the album was close to being finished in the last year, the group has made several festival appearances, teasing audiences with new Deltron songs.

Del the Funky Homosapien

“Beyond hip-hop”: Del

I’ve been asked to moderate the Deltron Q&A, after the original choice, novelist Adam Mansbach (“Rage is Back”) couldn’t make it due to a conflicting engagement.  The 45-minute discussion, which also includes Deltron’s third member, Kid Koala, touches on everything from Dadaism to Justin Bieber to why the new project is “beyond hip-hop,” according to Del.

“It’s art, man. Not a lot of rappers or hip-hop artists, per se; I don’t know that they’re artists like that,” Del explains. “I don’t know if they sit there and try to conceptualize stuff, automatically. I walk around, all day, coming up with concepts … that’s the way my mind works. “

Del explains that Deltron Zero, the narrator/protagonist of a series of stories set in a post-apocalyptic world some 1000+ years into the future, was originally patterned on Japanese manga and the endearing Mega Man video game franchise. Deltron represents “a souped-up version of what I do already,” the rapper says.  By his own admission, Del “freestyled” a lot on the first album. That’s an impressive feat considering the complexity and quality of the lyrics, which he humbly describes as the result of a “stream of consciousness” approach.

Deltron Zero

Deltron Zero aka Deltron Osiris

For his second go at his futuristic alter-ego, Del takes on a new title on the just-released song, “City Rising From the Ashes:” Deltron Osiris. He’s also stepped up his research game and focused on the humanistic  aspects of the character.  “I wanted to take Deltron away from a lot of the stereotypical, futuristic weaponry and robots and all that. I kind of wanted to … move more toward the emotional side of things,” he says.

Event II is set 10 years after the first Deltron excursion, albeit with a caveat: due to some time-traveling, the year 4010 is also visited. In that time, things have gotten worse, Del says. “We done got to the point where technology done ate up everything. Humans didn’t have no sense and tore everything up and then looked back and was like, oh man, we tore everything up.  What do we do now? So that’s what we’re doing, filtering through rubbish, basically. And the album is like how society deals with that.”

"Going for the vast" :The Automator

“Going for the vast” : The Automator

The Automator—who notes that the cover of the “City Rising From the Ashes” single depicts a city precariously perched on the back of a dinosaur—says of the album’s thematic tropes, “we’re just following the arc of society to a degree.” His approach to shaping the Deltron sound this time around is straightforward:  “I’m just going for the vast.” In his vision of the future, “you’ve got sort of the bleak apocalypse… but I also see the lush soundscape.”

Kid Koala, meanwhile, says he sees himself as “a character in this universe they’ve created,” augmenting Deltron’s raps with spoken word cuts or manifesting the Automator’s various sonic ideas, such as “a robot skating backwards.”

Kid Koala

Kid Koala

The Stern Grove performance, Dan says, means a lot to him: “I finally got to realize my dream of making the record live sound like I wanted to hear… we’re taking the hip-hop thing, [and] we’re doing it on a level where we actually are incorporating a good majority of instruments we used to make this record, so it’s actually like a production.”

Things you can do, some can't be done

“Things you can do, some can’t be done”

Sunday’s show wasn’t the first time a hip-hop orchestra has been attempted at Stern Grove, but it was easily the most fully-realized, organic-sounding presentation of the juxtaposed form to date.

Instead of a button-masher acting as virtual conductor, the Automator—a classically-trained violinist who became first a DJ, then a producer—got to be an actual conductor, directing strings, horns, or choir with a baton. Koala, meanwhile, shone as a featured percussionist, adding zesty chirps, flares, and sc-sc-scratches to the arrangements.

"Let's start the adventure"

“Let’s start the adventure”

There would be no Deltron, however, without Del, who transformed from the lackadaisical, laid-back dude he was during the Q&A, into an animated, energized enigma onstage. Dressed in a “Star Trek” shirt, sunglasses, and a t-shirt fashioned into a makeshift turban, he flawlessly delivered complex rhyme patterns, such as this one, from “Positive Contact”: “Now let’s see — Deltron Z/ Art avenger, let’s start the adventure/ Hit ya with nerve gas, absurd blasts/ Crashin space craft, I’m bio-enhanced/ Hiero advanced series, monstrous evolution/ Headed, tooth and nail, scoop the trail/ Super-sleuth, a new race/ Mad creator, savage nature/ World Wide Web, the ebb and flow/ Light years from watchful eyes while my thoughts provide/ Objectives to ostracize the pompous prophecies/ Underground societies are hard to lead.”

Sheet music from "The Return"

Sheet music from “The Return”

The set, which featured cameos by DJ Q-Bert and vocalist Mike Patton, concluded with an encore of “Clint Eastwood,” a song from the first Gorillaz album (originally produced by Automator and featuring Del), which ended the afternoon on an up note.

deltron at stern grove 178_edited-1

“It’s like osmosis”

Summing up the live Deltron experience, it was almost like a conceptual-minded hip-hop orchestra from the future teleported in to give today’s listeners a taste of what they might expect to hear, decades or centuries from now. To say that Deltron raised the bar for a rap performance would be an understatement. Despite the inherent nihilism of the sci-fi-themed material, the overall impact was hopeful, offering a glimpse of what hip-hop could be, if the creative limitations currently placed on the genre were lifted.

The way Del sees it, hip-hop has taken up residence within the musical canon; “you could use it as a foundation for anything… Just like after the blues, you’re gonna always have blues elements. I don’t care how mutated they are from the original source, but it’s gonna have those elements… You’re gonna have rap in music forever now. That’s been established. You’re gonna have that [hip-hop] beat in music forever now, that’s been established. But what you do with it, when you take it, it’s up to the artist, and the audience, what they’re willing to accept.”

This week’s picks:

Midnite, July 4, 9pm, $25-$30, The New Parish, 579 18th St.

A Band Called Death, July 5, 8pm & 10:30pm, the New Parkway, 474 24th St.

First Friday at Loakal with Nite Owl and Chris Granillo, July 5, 6pm-10pm, 560 2nd St.

Afrofunk Experience, Broun Fellinis, July 6, 9pm, $10-$15, Cloud 9, 1320 9th St., Berkeley

10th Annual Temescal Street Fair, July 7, 12pm-6pm, free, Telegraph Ave. between 42nd and 51st Sts.


View from the crowd

View from the crowd

3 Responses

  1. Alexi M.

    I think this show deserves to be seen in an indoor with much better sound and more theatrics, lightsm and all that good stuff. Then we’d be talking about something really amazing.

  2. Ramon Cardenas

    Hey! Deltron 3030 show was the best I’ve seen all year, plenty of great vibes, awesome music, and superb atmosphere in the middle of the woods. Only one thing to say… Why didn’t you guys show my brother and my face?? We were the ones holding up the Deltron 3030 records! C’mon show some love to the supporters and fans. Been looking for pictures everywhere, can’t find any. Peace.


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