Deltron 3030 live at Scala London: Gig review

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Originally published on Planet Ivy December 17th 2013

The year is 3040. A financial collapse has ravaged an already terrifyingly dystopian society, corporatism has run rampant, resources are scarce and the subjugated masses live a blighted existence in a post-apocalyptic landscape. The New Republic has even sought to outlaw music production completely. Our two protagonists, Deltron Zero and Automator have returned messianically from the abyss to fight this injustice. This is, in fact, not the plot for a sketchy sci-fi movie, but the setting for Event II, the second album of left field hip-hop supergroup, Deltron 3030. It is made up of Dan “the Automator” Nakamura (producer of the Gorillaz first album), Canadian turntablist Kid Koala, and emcee Del (best known on these shores for his appearance as the Ghost Rapper on the Gorillaz hit, Clint Eastwood, but more on that later).

Their self-titled debut, set in the year 3030, was a tour de force, becoming the quintessential concept record and earning the group a hardcore cult following. In the year of its release, 2000, the cultural landscape was a very different place. Geek was not chic in the way it is now, so rapper Del’s sci fi and comic book references were a novelty. While the aural vistas and infectious loops of the Automator’s production were a groundbreaking fusion of hip-hop and electronica with an added orchestral flourish. In more ways than one, the debut was ahead of its time.

Speculation mounted for years about a follow-up, and the release date for Event II was knocked back more times than an acne-riddled teen at a school disco. With the weight of such expectation Event II was always going to suffer from sequel syndrome, falling short of the galactic standards set by its predecessor. Nevertheless, released in September, it delivered some stand out tracks and a more plot-driven lyrical focus. The group are currently touring to promote Event II and I had the pleasure of catching their show in London.

Deltron 3030′s music was made to be enjoyed in the confines of a hotboxed room from the comfort of a sofa, so it was fascinating to see how they would present it as a live show. Scala was packed with an inordinate amount of Deltron acolytes, gathered as if at some clandestine cult meeting. When the cult-leader, Del, sauntered onstage, clad in a bright-blue puffer jacket and sunglasses with a microphone in one hand and a skateboard in the other, the fanatic excitement was palpable. Kid Koala came across like a star-struck fan despite being part of the group, fawning over Del and the Automator, the latter dressed sharply in full suit and tails with a conductor’s baton to boot.

Behind, a full orchestra, in front, an expectant crowd, and with a graceful sweep of his wand, Automator signalled the start of an enthralling journey. Sensibly, they opened with a trio of classics from their debut album, no doubt what most had come to see. Del’s insouciant, almost disinterested delivery was embellished by the crowd dutifully reciting the lyrics for these opening tracks. Automator’s more jocund performance as the virtuoso maestro offset Del’s coolness, making for a perfect chemistry. But the fireworks were just beginning.

Event II had evidently been produced with the live orchestral performance in mind, so the newer tracks had a greater tightness, with the six-strong brass section particularly brilliant. The strings, on the other hand, did at times get lost and the sound was occasionally a little muddy. Kid Koala’s B-movie cuts and dextrous scratching were delivered adroitly, offering the performance a richer texture. This was already one of the most idiosyncratic hip-hop performances you’re ever likely to see, but they had some pretty cool tricks up their sleeves for the encore. Jamie Cullum made a surprise appearance to deliver his haunting hook for Do You Remember? before they launched into a rambunctious performance of Gorillaz’s Clint Eastwood, with the vivacious brass and subtle strings perfectly underscoring Del’s verses. Spellbinding.

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