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Interview: DELS

19th November 2014

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Kieren Gallear aka DELS is an artist journeying through a transitional period, coming to terms with his desire to create whilst making sense of an ever-changing world. This is what makes Petals Have Fallen, his second album, one of 2014’s hip hop highlights.


Several moments in our chat at Big Dada HQ highlight the personal, emotional and political aspects that weave the inner fabric of this album, and his wider existence.

“The title’s about trying to protect something precious that will ultimately fall apart. Where it came from was KWES’ young brother produced the beat (on the track of the same name), and when he sent it to me one of Ninja's (Ninja Tune) artist’s Offshore had just passed away. It really hit me and made me feel really fragile.”

“I felt like I was going to live forever like you do when you're young but it just made me feel I don't have forever and I needed to be better with my time.”

Petals is a document of his 'time' and 'identity' at this moment, a culmination of influences and events colliding with his recent history. But one that represents an artist in flux.

In many respects this is a complete artistic vision. DELS in his capacity of graphic designer has laid out the striking visuals for the piece, drawing a complete line from his lyrical content right through to a decision on the release date. It was postponed till the autumn to better fit the title and mood of the release. Every element is considered as part of a whole and it shows.

Despite this there's a restlessness about Petals, it constantly hopping between ideas and styles.

From an early age, in the company of his parents, ‘music’ and in particular those artists pushing boundaries formed part of family life.

“I didn't live in a household where we were all musicians or we had to go do piano lessons, we just loved music and we were always looking for the new thing. It wasn't like my mum was playing a load of old records, she was always looking for that new sound. She told me about Timbaland, Jay Z, Nas for his Illmatic album. My dad was really into rave music and house so it was always that thing of 'discovery'.”

“[We’d] sit and listen to Busta Rhymes and be like 'listen to the beats he's rapping over' or Timbaland and Aliyah, those beats were crazy but it sounded like 'them'. I remember sitting there with my brothers and my mum and we'd be getting excited about the way Timbaland was using his snares on his late 90s tracks. It's almost sounded like a slowed down version of jungle, the way the snare sounded. My mum and dad used to love jungle back in the day.”

This element of genre-hopping and the search for new sonic adventures, was there on his debut back in 2011 GOB - a grand opening statement, an EDM-infused, experimental take on the hip hop template, intensely personal and poetic but also backed with humour.

Petals offers the same but with more consistency and sophistication, and a new body of collaborators pushing what the music of DELS is.

“Even though they share certain sonic aspects, a couple of tracks like 'RGB' could be on the same album as 'Shapeshift', but then you have 'Falls' that is produced by Bonobo, and it doesn't sound like Bonobo and it's become this new thing, everyone's evolving and not trying to stay in their comfort zone. That's why I am so proud of this album because I feel people are pushing themselves to be different.”

Along with on-going collaborator, Warp record wunderkind KWES for this record DELS has also brought Ninja Tune man-of-the-moment Bonobo to add his soulful edge. Aside from the production hook-ups what is a noticeable difference is the inclusion of vocalists, such Rosie Lowe, to add a new edge to the tunes.

This extreme pull towards creative collaboration comes from strange, unexpected place from back in the fogs of social media time – Myspace. In its infancy it was an unguarded place for people to chat directly about music and creativity but without the mess of issues experienced in todays social media quagmire.

“KWES is brilliant, he's a really, really clever guy. He gets what I want, he almost knows what I want to do before I have said it. We have this connection and I love him like he's my brother now, which is weird because he is someone I met on the internet, on Myspace. It's a weird concept for me because I had never really used the internet before that time and I met all these musicians on Myspace like Ghostpoet, Sampa, Kwes, Michachu and it ended up having this creative relationship with them.”

“Maybe that has fed into the approach we took for this record, I always saw this project as a platform for people to be heard or seen. With the videos on the first album like 'Trumpalump' two of my friends Chris and Luke got this studio called Us and now they are really established video directors.”

You get the feeling DELS has never known what it is he IS (or what he wants to be), but has always needed a push in the right direction – these days it comes from his collaborators but in the past he has always had a guiding force pushing him down new roads.

“My friend Neil Mason, who was way older than me, he was like a youth worker, he took me to his friends house and he was a producer. He was like 'Kieran's a rapper' and I thought 'no I'm not I've never written anything in my life' and he was like 'you guys should make a track together'. He used to always do that, say I was something that I wasn't, that's how I ended up playing basketball. He would always push be down these roots I hadn't considered, it was not like he was actually pushing me he would just say these things to see what I would do. Would I do it?”

“I feel blessed because he was one of those people that pushed me in the right way, because my mum and dad split up when I was quite young so it was really good to have someone like him to be my mentor and stuff.”

Challenging himself has continued to this day, which explains the lyrical content of Petals, which is a step up from the rhymes on GOB. As he states on track ‘Bird Milk’, “I’m a walking contradiction”. Petals shows him to be a cultural sponge soaking up the precipitation of society. In many ways this explains why this album is darker in tempo and content, as it emerged during a time of turmoil on the streets of our capital.

“On this record there's a track called '149' and it's a story told in reverse. It's about getting on the 149 bus, but what links each verse together is that it's all about unrest in society. It's quite cinematic, quite descriptive about sirens going past the bus in the first verse, in the last verse it's about me being on the phone to my friends and it's all about the time around when Mark Duggan had been killed by the police and then the riots kicked off. I was talking about London being on fire.”

Personal and political themes flow through Petals but not in an obvious way, there is a demand for the listener to delve in, interpret and consider the ideals of a rapper who clearly has something to say. It even nods to the work on his first record, showing an understanding of development of themes.

Consider the lyric “just like you I’m in the dark”, it immediately rings a bell, causes a thought process opening a door to a plethora of ideas.

“That lyric actually comes from 'Capsize' (off GOB) and it is a way of linking two albums together. If you are talking about politics, with 'Capsize' it was really explicit and I was talking about the way I feel about the Conservatives, but on this album it's not as clear.”

“I want to keep it a little bit open so people can bring their own meaning to the track. That's what I think is really interesting about music, you get people like MF Doom and people like that who when they rap you have to listen to the track five or ten times to understand, or think you understand.”

And there’s plenty to ‘think’ about from politics back to a key theme for his artistic persona  ‘identity’, something which has played a big part in his life to date.

‘Fall Apart’ delves into this searching for a ‘place’, coming to terms with that identity.

“It's about a lot of things, a lot of double entendre; it has a lot of double meanings. I am talking about race and about myself, I never really saw myself as a particular race until I came into the city for university. Because I was raised by a load of black women I never really thought about my race, I just thought I was black for some reason. My father was a round, but he wasn't around enough to have an impact on me and how a feel as a mixed race individual. It wasn't until I came here that I was like 'I'm black' and people were like 'no you're not you're mixed race'.”

“What box am I?” is the question that can be applied across what I know of DELS, from my personal chat with him to listening to his music, there is no easily definable ‘box’ in which to stick the tick of Kieren Gallear.

This is what makes Petals Have Fallen an essential album for autumn 2014 and what promises that the next time we talk about a new DELS album it will be a completely different conversation.

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