Deltron 3030 Back to the Future

Deltron 3030 Back to the Future
Photo: Darren Samuelson
In 2000, supergroup Deltron 3030 released their debut album, a sprawling concept record that was quickly declared a classic. Producer Dan the Automator's beats were big, funky fun with DJ Kid Koala's cuts adding atmospheric effects, while frontman Del Tha Funky Homosapien was in top form rapping as heroic Deltron Zero in the year 3030, his lyrics providing very vivid images of this dystopian future. It was fresh and exciting, and anticipation grew for a long-discussed sequel that just never appeared. Until now, 13 years later.

Event II comes with a lot more classical orchestration added to the Automator's already quirky hip-hop production, Kid Koala's atmospheric cuts are better integrated, and Del's research results in raps with greater resonance. Del delves deeper into the problems of the future using exaggerated examples of the present. All in all, Event II is a much more focused album, but also a lot darker. We talked to the members of Deltron 3030 to find out what caused the long delay, whether we will ever see a trilogy, and what this talented trio have to offer as individual artists in the near future.

Why did it take so long for a follow-up album?
Dan the Automator: Well, there were a number of reasons, but the primary reason was that we just had to be in the right place at the right time to do it. And there are a whole bunch of reasons that we ended up in the right place at the right time in terms of like, it was a good time to do it. By the same token, I would have been happy if it had been done a long time ago, but in the period of time between doing it, a lot of things have happened in the country and in the world in general that brought fodder for good writing.

The other part about it was, after doing the first record — and having fun doing the first record — we realized that the way it's perceived, and the way something that's science fiction is done, is you have to be cognisant of the present. Good science fiction by nature is a commentary on the present through the future, on some level, because you can't have a future without recognizing the past, essentially. So it made it a more intense kind of endeavour. I think we learned a little bit about what can be said or what could be done because of the nature of what it is.

The first album is considered a classic. Were you worried about matching or bettering that album with the new one?
Kid Koala: What people consider a classic, I don't necessarily think that was part of the plan or the motivation. When we made that first record, we just wanted to do something we hadn't heard yet and hopefully someone will hear it, and if people flock to it, great, but I didn't feel any personal pressure to live up to that. The only part to live up to was to keep taking it further and further. I thought the first record was done more pen-pal style and having that under our belts and having [toured together], I learned a lot from that.

Dan: You know, to be honest, I had no doubt it was going to be better. I felt like the first album was good, and I felt this one was much better for a number of reasons, including, like I said, where we learned a little bit more about what you can say, what you can do in terms of speaking of politics. And also, because we got to do a lot of records between then and now, and I have a lot more techniques and styles that I've learned, so when it came to making this record we made the record we wanted to make and when you work under that kind of thing there will be a few people who are "I prefer the first one" for nostalgic or whatever reasons, but ultimately I don't care in the sense that we did what we wanted to do.

Del Tha Funky Homosapien: I wouldn't say I was worried about it, but yeah, I definitely was concerned about it because I'm familiar with people's reactions to stuff like that, which is usually, no matter how good the sequel is, a lot of people have to say the first one is better because they knew about it and didn't nobody know about it but them. I was concerned for the real fans, too, making sure it was a step up, if I was even going to do it.

How was it to get back into the Deltron Zero character?
Del: That was kind of hard cuz my mind wasn't in that place anymore. I'm grown now, I don't sit up all day watching sci-fi stuff no more. Don't play videogames, read comic books and watch anime all day like I used to. I had to get into the mood, to be there, because I was pretty much about making my songs and trying to study music around that time, you know. Dealing with real shit, I ain't really have time to be flying off into no imaginary world. Just the prospect of having to do Deltron wasn't inviting to me. It was like going back to school again or something.

So what made you decide to do it in the end?
Del: Me and Dan had already kind of planned on that, like I already had the music for years, but he just didn't bug me about it. He was willing to wait until I was ready, but I had the music for the last eight, nine, ten years, like the initial music. I just had to, like, really think about it. The fans, too, the demand about it. It really affected a lot of fans. I never thought it would grow to something like this because when I was doing it, it was just like a hobby, seeing if I could meld these different mediums or whatever. It was just to see if I could do it. Then it got to this level so now I'm like, next time I'll think of a concept, I'm going to make it something that could be sustainable over time. And to make it sustainable is too much work to do. Now say there was a third one, right. That would be so much work it wouldn't even be worth it.

But you have to have a trilogy. Everything is a trilogy.
Del: [laughs] I'll end up doing it and people will be like, "No, the second one is better." It will really be like that then. And then half those people will be like, "He's just doing it to make money." After the second one, what other reason would it be to try to come back with another one? 'Cause me personally, I hate that. I'm always like, "why don't you make a new game? Or why don't you make a new video? Or why don't you make a new cartoon? Why don't you make a new comic book? Why do you keep coming with the same character for years and years until you die?" I want to do more creative things with my mind.

Dan, when working on a project like Event II, are the beats made specific for the project or do you have a pool of beats for the artists to choose from?
Dan: Oh no, it's all made for the project. It's all made at the time.

Do you get any guidance from the artists, such as Del, as to what they're looking for?
Dan: No, not at all, but I do it for him in mind. I do what I do.

Does he select out of those, or are they all destined for the album?
Dan: No, we pretty much do them all. Pretty much all the stuff I made for it. There are several false starts on songs that I just would not bring to him. It would not go that far, it's always one-tenth done or one-third done. But in real life, everything I do that he hears makes the record or makes it as a bonus cut.

Kid Koala's cuts are a significant element of the production. How closely did the two of you have to work to achieve that effect?
Dan: Oh, he's been on most of my records since the Handsome Boy Modelling School record in 2000, so he's just my guy. What he does a lot is put the ambience in the track, and he's always in key, and that kind of stuff. He knows what I want to do even when I don't.

And Kid Koala, when it comes to choice of what things to scratch and how to do it, do you get to do what you want?
Koala: Yeah, that's pretty much kind of my domain. There are always parts, it's just how it complements. As well as parts [like] we needed the bridge, we needed the bass, we need some kick snare. Often I would just try to harmonize musically with what was happening at the moment.

The new album takes place ten years into the future. Why the big jump in time?
Del: I don't know [laughs]. They're just numbers. It wasn't like a biggie, you know, there wasn't no big deal behind it or hella thought going into it. [Just] somewhere farther into the future. People been saying it's like a thousand years — I didn't even realize really that it was a thousand years [laughs]. I was just, "Okay, 3030, it will be 3040."

A lot has changed in that ten years for Deltron and the world around him. How is this world different from the first?
Del: Basically, all you've got to do is look at what's happening now, you know, the things people do when they have power, they start getting greedy. Have you ever seen He-Man & the Masters of the Universe, something like that? You know when the bad guys' master, like Skeletor, when he's got He-Man he starts laughing, giggling and gloating and rubbing his hands together, really thinking that there's no way to be over-turned? That's kind of how I look at it. They've gone too far with it, they just do it blatantly and then the bottom fell out of it. So that's basically what happened to Deltron. You know, like the government was corrupt, they kept on playing games. They have weaponry, super-duper weaponry, all kinds of nuclear weaponry, so they went too far, basically. It's just like a dystopian future, it's all bad.

So, is Event II meant to be a cautionary tale or should people just take it as a fun concept album?
Del: You know what? For me, I'm like this: I try to make stuff to where I'm not really hitting you over the head with nothing… I try to make it where there's two layers. Now, you can either take it as a fun little adventure or if you wanted to go deeper I put that there, you know what I'm sayin'? I think that's important, but I definitely want it to be enjoyable just listening because that's the first layer of music; everybody listens to it for the pleasure of how it sounds, so that's gotta be there.

Now that Deltron is done, what's next for everyone?
Dan: We're about to go on tour and do all that stuff, so we're going to be caught up for a minute. But my next record is a project called Got a Girl. It features myself and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, she sings on some of the Deltron stuff, and that's going to be the next thing coming out.

Del: Me and Ladybug Mecca from Digable Planets got a concept project. It's a more musical concept, I guess, but it's dissonant. It's like dancehall melody, primarily, 'cause one, rhythm is all you need, and two, the thing that got me into hip-hop was the fact that you didn't have no melody, no nothing. That's how I felt when Run DMC came out with "Sucker MCs." That was like the defining moment for me, where I was like, "Oh my God, this is the cleanest music I've ever heard in my life." So that's kind of what we focus on. You've got to listen to it to really get it, I guess, but it's dissonant. We're kind of going in a different way. That's what I'm working on.

Koala: I'm actually working on a new live film-scoring/theatre piece with K. K. Barrett. I've been a huge fan of his work for years. He's the art director for Where the Wild Things Are, a lot of Spike Jonze films. It's based on one of my graphic novels. Yeah, so I'm pretty excited about that. Also, we're in the midst of mixing a second Slew album. Six turntables, I don't know, Black Sabbath styles [laughs].