After releasing their self-titled debut LP to cultish acclaim in 2000, Bay Area hip-hop supergroup Deltron 3030 mysteriously dropped off the radar for over a decade, resulting in borderline Chinese Democracy levels of superfan speculation. Now, with their follow-up, Deltron Event II, finished and slated for release this fall, the trio is going all out on their first North American tour since the project’s revival.
This Sunday, rap icon Del the Funky Homosapien (or Del tha Funkee Homosapien), producer Dan the Automator, and turntablist Kid Koala, will descend upon Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheater on their second Rock the Bells tour stop as Deltron 3030, for a homecoming spectacular determined to exceed their devoted fan-base’s already lofty expectations.
As demonstrated by the triumphant live premiere of Deltron Event II in Toronto this past June, and in the YouTube videos that circulated in its aftermath, the trio’s comeback tour is anything but a low-key affair. “We’re literally bringing a string section, a horn section, and a choir,” Dan the Automator told the Guardian over the phone from his SF studio. “I mean, rap doesn’t do that. We’re in our own lane. There’s no actual comparative group to deal with, except ourselves.”
Dan’s assertion would recall Mike Tyson’s infamous post-prizefight gloating, if he weren’t totally right. Truth be told, Deltron 3030’s ambitious live approach presents a striking departure from hip-hop’s bare-bones, DIY origins.
“It’s an experience,” Del said from his home in Oakland. “It ain’t the same old walkin' back and forth, two turntables, yelling in a microphone, not really doing nothing... This is an extravaganza.”
Having produced, recorded, and engineered a vast range of musical projects, from Kool Keith, to Gorillaz, to Primal Scream, Dan is no stranger to ambitious undertakings. However, the logistical planning of Deltron 3030’s current touring lineup stands tall as the mightiest accomplishment of his career thus far.
“I came up with the idea, and everybody else helped pull it off,” Dan explained. “Then, we had to do charts, score the music, get all the people, find how we can get that many people to a place. I don’t want to say it was a stupid idea, because it was a great idea. [Laughs] It was an incredibly naive undertaking, but it’s awesome that we got to do it.”
Del was similarly awestruck at the depth of Dan’s achievement. “It’s amazing, to me, how he had this vision, and really made it happen. Of course, it took some work, but he’s up there with the tuxedo on, with the baton in his hand, conducting. And I’m like, ‘Wow! OK, this is really happening.’ Plus, for some reason, I don’t know where his power comes from. I guess, because he’s the Automator.”
Whereas Dan functions as Deltron 3030’s chief organizer, and the primary force behind the project’s aesthetic foundation, Del is largely responsible for the underlying mythology. Set in an Orwellian dystopia, 1000 years in the future, and filtered through the observations of protagonist Deltron Zero, Deltron 3030 evoked the structure of rock operas such as Tommy, Ziggy Stardust, and The Wall, in its insistence upon narrative drive and the establishment of a distinctive universe all its own.
Partly in response to tumultuous changes in the real world since 2000 (9/11; the ensuing police state, and wars in the Middle East; Occupy Wall Street) Deltron Event II illustrates a society that has only grown bleaker and more demoralized.
“It’s a Mad Max type of world,” Del philosophized. “Everybody went too far, so to speak. Everything is just trashed; there’s no law; criminals just took over the streets, basically, so you just gotta get in where you can fit in, just make it happen however you gonna make it happen. It’s like anarchy, basically. It’s everybody for themselves.”
From his home in Montreal, Kid Koala discussed Deltron 3030’s futuristic approach, and its capacity to address the zeitgeist of 2012 more effectively than a narrative set in current times.
“Even though it’s set in the future,” he explained, “it’s not really about us being on some crazy laser quest... it’s actually talking about real issues. The economy, the class system... but, I guess, had we set it in the actual present day, it would just come off as more preachy, or something.”
Given the largely personal, apolitical nature of Del’s solo material, and his much celebrated work with Hieroglyphics, his resistance to heavy-handed politicking is understandable.
“Deltron is kind of separate from what I do with Del. With Del, I try to be more direct, to the ground, to the earth, try to talk directly to people. And it’s usually about real life situations. Just being able to deal and cope with personal types of problems or issues... and just striving. That’s what that’s about. With Deltron, I just tried to make a novel and put it in a musical format.”
Outlining his literary approach, Del cited Orwell’s 1984 as having a major effect on Deltron Event II’s conceptual framework, but the project’s key influence behind might come as a surprise.
“My main inspiration came from Megaman X,” Del explained. “It was the same game, basically, but the graphics were stepped up: more glossy, more futuristic, just looked real spiffy. It wasn’t as bubbly and cartoony as the first one. It looked modern. You had modern types of weapons and stuff. It really sent [me] a message, like, ‘Ok, that’s how you can do Del, too: put him in this future world, and he’ll be the same Del, but he’ll be able to do different little things that the regular Del can’t do.’”
High gloss, modern weapons, and a world gone down the tubes: that’s the state of affairs in the Deltron universe, circa 3040. But, despite the hopelessness of the world they’ve created, Dan, Del, and Koala are confident in Deltron Event II’s ability to justify a 12-year hiatus.
“I think it crushes the first one,” Kid Koala proclaimed. “The three of us, individually, are just better at our crafts now. We just tried to raise the bar on ourselves, really.”
A glance at the Rock the Bells lineup reveals a wealth of esteemed artists, and genuine game-changers in the world of hip-hop: Method Man and Redman, Ice Cube, Nas, Common. However, Deltron 3030’s almost absurdly ambitious live approach puts them in an entirely different league.
“As far as the artistic aspect, intrinsically, there’s nothing like this,” Dan insisted. “There never has been, and I doubt there ever will be.”