Deli Girls – I Don’t Know How to Be Happy (Review)

Remind them that they will never be as angry as the rest of us.”

So screams Danny Orlowski on ‘Here We Go Again’, a track appearing three-quarters of the way through Deli Girls’ second album, I Don’t Know How to Be Happy. The directive doubles as a manifesto for everything Deli Girls represent; raw intensity, unbridled ferocity, and a distinct sense of belonging that clearly demarcates us from them. Yes, the Brooklyn-based duo are angry – and they want you to know it.

Despite consisting of only two individuals – Orlowski on vocals and producer Tommi Kelly on machines – the chaotic punk energy of a Deli Girls recording is akin to that of a full band. The anger that Deli Girls express feels particularly suited to a generation of young people growing up in a world where economic and social power lies in the hands of the few at the expense of the many. Theirs is a music for an age characterised by social alienation and hopelessness, where mental health problems are the accepted norm, and where even subversion of the status quo has been co-opted by marketing campaigns, reducing dissent to the level of a disposable hashtag and a ‘woke’ status update. The alienation of young people is no more apparent than in the evolution of modern popular music. Today, the starry-eyed optimism of 90s boy and girl bands has been replaced by opioid addicted Soundcloud rappers, more likely crooning about suicidal thoughts and loneliness than they are crafting feelgood hits about teenage romance and the wholesome benefits of being young, wild and free.

Amidst this bleakness, Deli Girls represent a refreshing change of energy and narrative. A look at their live performances shows a mostly teenage fanbase conducting themselves in a manner that is anything but apathetic. True, the angst remains, as does the nihilism (there is certainly no optimistic message to their music), but the duo separate themselves by channelling their justifiable frustrations into a brutal, unfiltered rage. Even at their most emo, such as on tracks like ‘I’d Rather Die’, they manage to sidestep self-pity altogether, replacing apathy with unbridled fury even as the lyrics detail an impulse towards suicide. If Orlowski’s vocal chords do occasionally break, revealing a buried vulnerability lurking just beneath their ferocity, it only intensifies the feeling of angered desperation that is being placed on full display.

Deli Girls rail against power in whichever form it manifests: The opening track, ‘Officer’, vilifies police harassment; ‘Money’ targets the rich; and ‘Abortion’ sees Orlowski screaming ‘Take out your violence on my insides’, attacking a patriarchal system that seeks total control over women and their bodies. Meanwhile, closing track ‘It Must Be So nice’ is the album’s coup de grâce, a final ‘fuck you’ to the privileged few charged with writing the rules of conformity to which the rest of society are expected to adhere. Orlowski’s sneering, cynical laugh clearly aims to exclude and belittle; ‘What gives you the right to take away their rights?’ they roar, seething with anger at those who would marginalise anyone refusing to fit into society’s stifling standards of normativity.

With Tommi Kelly’s instrumentals providing a backdrop of steady, quantized grooves, Orlowski’s vocals are free to roam chaotically across the mix. Diverging from the mostly live vocals of Deli Girls’ first album, Evidence, Orlowski introduces more overdubs, with screams, growls, shrieks and moans crashing in from every angle. This inclusion is put to particularly effective use on the aforementioned ‘Here We Go Again’. Listening to this track is like being trapped inside Orlowski’s angst-ridden mind; bombarded from all sides by schizophrenic, contradicting voices, the effect is claustrophobic, overwhelming, and ceaseless in its intensity.

Beneath these searing vocal attacks, Tommi Kelly’s industrial samples, pulsing kicks and crashing snares combine to create a sound that is equal parts dance music and noise. The track ‘Peg’ features a rolling synth bassline that wouldn’t sound amiss in a Chicago House track, while ‘Shut Up’ is a blasting, repetitive barrage that is ferociously antagonistic yet infectiously danceable. The mix of digital and live instruments that make up Kelly’s sampling palette echoes a wider contemporary reappraisal of once disparaged genres like Nu Metal, Pop Punk and Emo. Having grown up listening to such music, it is perhaps unsurprising that many young producers – Kelly included – have begun to unashamedly wear these critically unacclaimed influences on their (often tattooed) sleeves.

Yet, while contemporary artists such as the late Lil Peep found success in modern emo-trap nostalgia, what distinguishes Deli Girls from this trend is the sheer force that defines their music. At the start of this century, the convergence of guitars, groove, and clean digital production resulted in the compressed sterility and often embarrassing emotionality of Nu Metal. Despite its undeniable influence on their sound, Deli Girls succeed in avoiding the genre’s biggest clichés by taking its best ingredients and turning each of them up to eleven. The result is a frenzied display of raw emotion that hits the sweet spot between angst, anger and outright catchiness. Whether it takes off as a new popular trend is hard to predict. Still, if young teenage outsiders are able to shake off the nihilistic hedonism that defines emo-trap and embrace fury on this level, it will no doubt have the boomers quaking in their loafers.

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