Whatever anyone else says, there is a distinctive trend in the music world between living in a small suburban town and producing meaningful songs. A case in point is UK rapper Kieren Dickins, better known as DELS, who hails from Ipswich, Suffolk. Tied with a self-confessed feeling of isolation and alienation on eventually moving to the Big Smoke, DELS wrote what turned out to be a beguilingly introspective and compelling debut album in the shape of GOB that was released by Big Dada earlier this year and eerily reminiscent of a certain Dizzee Rascal’s critically acclaimed debut album, Boy in da Corner. With a helping hand from UK music gods Roots Manuva and Joe Goddard, it is safe to say that DELS is in good company, and with a clutch of impressive videos to accompany his songs, it looks as though he has all the boxes ticked to stand the test of time.
On listening to GOB, what is most striking is the unconventional, sinister beats that border on atonality. What were your thoughts behind this?
In regard to the production and the album, I had a vision where I’d use producers who aren’t known predominantly for making a hip-hop record. Something I loved about the golden age of hip-hop in the 90s was how individual it was and how everyone was so conscious of not ripping each other off. That was something I wanted to do, but I didn’t want it to sound American at all. So choosing Micachu, Kwes and Joe Goddard created a fresh angle and it pushed me conceptually as well just because Micachu and Kwes’ beats are so awkward and Joe Goddard is a king when it comes to making a pop record which gave me another dimension on the album sonically.
Would you ever consider taking the Chipmunk/ Dizzee Rascal route and saturating your sound to cater for mainstream audiences?
It’s something I’ve been thinking about but I don’t want to compromise my vision and I don’t want to compromise what I stand for, but ultimately everyone wants their music to be really popular but it doesn’t mean I’d necessarily want to saturate it or emulate anyone’s recent chart success because there’s no longevity in that; I want to have a career out of it. I want to be remembered as someone who really cared about the art form, because I don’t want to disrespect the art form, I’m in love with the art form and I want to stand up for it so I guess for my next record which I want to start working on next year, I will be conscious that I didn’t put many hooks in the first album and a lot of bits were disjointed and out of place.
You touched on album number two, have you recorded any new material? What have you been doing since the album release?
I’ve been playing festivals all summer, getting ready for my first headline UK tour. I’ve also been working on a new mixtape that Kwes and Micachu have been doing together called Kwesachu vol. 2 which comes out at the end of the year, I recorded a song for that last week and will be doing another in the next few weeks. I’ve also been asked to be on a mixtape that Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio is putting together. I’m also working on a new EP that will come out next year.
How are you feeling about supporting DOOM on his upcoming tour?
It’s an incredible experience, you get to see how he interacts with his own particular fanbase and people have been waiting a long time to see him perform, he’s got a big cult following. He’s always done what he wanted to do, that’s what I emulate, you know? It’s very inspirational. It’s such a pleasure to be a part of this big tour with Hudson Mohawke and Jamie XX and people who I really respect.
How rewarding was it making the ‘Shapeshift’ video on money you raised yourself?
Yeah it was very rewarding, just because it felt like I was in control of everything, I didn’t have any label telling me how to do it. It felt like a uni project, it was me and my mates coming together and literally just having fun with it really. It turned out better than we anticipated really, because it was made on such a shoestring budget but it goes to show that if you get people together with the right skills then you can do literally anything. I don’t really like being in front of the camera though, it’s quite daunting, and everyone is looking at you the whole day. I don’t really like being bossed about too much. Not to sound like I have an ego but with people saying ‘look that way, look this way’, it’s hard. Maybe on my next album I might approach it differently; maybe I won’t be in my videos at all, switching it up with animation or something.
Does your work as a graphic designer inform your videos? How much creative control do you have? Do you come up with the ideas and concepts?
One of the reasons why I signed to Big Dada was because they allowed me complete creative control. With all of their visual output it’s all been finalise by myself, then sent it to the label to see what they think. They’ve always trusted me with my ideas and had faith in what I wanted to producer. Because I’ve always worked really closely with friends it’s been really easy. I’m definitely interested in directing videos for other bands or for myself by my third album. Because I’m only making three albums.
Why only three albums? And why retire by the age of 30?
Just because I don’t want to be an old rapper, really. There’s so many other things I want to do. I want to be a lecturer, I want to go to Royal College of Art and do a masters, but being a rapper wouldn’t allow me to do that.
But if by album three you’re at the top of your game commercially and critically would you maybe reconsider?
Maybe, maybe think again. My initial plan is to do three albums, and move onto something else. I don’t want to fall out of love with music, I might be a producer or something. I want to make sure that I’ not saying the same thing over and over again. You get a lot of artist who churn out the same shit over and over again. I really really don’t want to go down that road. I want to be a bit more consistent and my music to be more considered and thoughtful, I don’t want it to get to repetitive and boring.
How much did living in Ipswich influence what you rap about?
I think it did, just because in my friendship groups I was always known as the boy from Suffolk, always an outsider. I didn’t feel like I fitted in London, I still don’t now. But when I go back to Ipswich, I feel like that’s my home. There’s all that talk of alienation and loneliness on my album, I still feel alone at home. All my friends have gone down a certain road and I went down a different road. I’ve always had my own ideas of what I want to do, I’ve never really followed anyone else. I guess that’s kind of represented in a sense on my album. I’m not talking about inner city life; I’m talking about other experiences. It’ll be interesting to see how I write my second record, after spending so much more time in the city and going all over the world.
The concept behind Trumpalump – whether we dream in colour or black and white – how did this idea come to you?
I dream some fucked up things a lot. A way of documenting these dreams is waking up in the morning and scribbling in my notepad things that I’ve seen or things that stand out and I’m remembering things later on in the day, working out that nothing really makes sense. One day I was just sitting there, thinking about dreams, and thinking do we actually dream in colour? I love that perpetual loop, you don’t ever know in what colour you dream. The fact that if we colourise our dreams when we remember them is such a nuts idea. I expanded on that idea in the video. When we making it we felt like we were doing something fresh.
A lot of hip-hop albums are weighed down by featuring artists – is this something you actively moved away from for the album?
Yeah definitely, just because I felt like on the first album you need to stamp your own voice. I wanted to prove to myself and others that I could do it on my own. But when Roots Manuva came along I couldn’t turn down that opportunity.
How did you manage to get in contact with Joe Goddard and Roots Manuva?
He used to do this night at Queen of Hoxton last summer called Dub College. I played that and he loved the set. I remember during soundcheck he told me he really liked ‘Shapeshift’ and asked if we could do something together with a Hot Chip beat. I told Joe and he was over the moon because he’s a massive Roots Manuva fan, so he made a beat and sent it to me the next day. I wasn’t too sure of the beat at first but Joe was like ‘trust me this is going to be a banger’ then I wrote the verse and then Roots Manuva went and wrote his verse and Joe added a hook. In the studio we added the brass and it went on from there. That was the first time I worked in a proper studio as opposed to a bedroom, I was like ‘Wow I’m living the dream’. It all came to me in that moment and I felt really proud of how far I’d come.By Lev Harris