Ben Grenrock knows what Burial looks like.
If you’re looking for a contemporary hip-hop producer more underrated, under-listened-to, and underground than Damacha, you’ve got a lot of looking to do. You’re going to have to look farther than the follower-farms of Soundcloud. Farther than his adopted home base of Shanghai. You’re going to have to look farther than any terrestrial enclave of beatmaking and sift through whatever is analogous to Bandcamp tags on the nearest life-bearing planet, because here on Earth there are few with the same disproportionate ratio of skill-to-renown.
Little relevant info can be gleaned about the enigmatic Damacha. Aside from the fact that he’s a bespectacled dude from the Twin Cities who’s been releasing beat tapes from behind the Great Firewall since at least 2012, his origins remain shrouded in mystery, apocalyptic smog, and a touch of engineered obscurantism.
In the absence of any sort of bio or Wikipedia article, the only way to get to know Damacha is through his catalogue of tracks. To do so, be prepared to invest some serious time as well as the integrity of your neck muscles, as you nod your way through his impressively prolific catalogue. Since first encountering Damacha as the producer behind Chester Watson’s “Fck,”—a languid stomp through clouds of opium smoke in which Chester navigates the beat’s mercurial footing via the stepping-stones of his own internal rhymes—I’ve seen Damacha’s Bandcamp page blossom to fifteen robust digital tapes, each with their own distinct sonic and thematic qualities.
Damacha’s concepts for his albums range from the inventive, to the sardonic, to the bizarre. Alongside the expected compilations of spliff-worthy grooves (Tradecraft, Shmexual) and a tape made up of samples from old Chinese films (EXCELLENT TEA), sits an EP of Justin Beiber remixes (Justin) that sounds as if the pop star has had his body ground up and then force-fed through the record presses seen in the opening montage of Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton. There’s another short tape of tracks that drip with the detached sexuality of a 19th century odalisque, each appropriately titled with the name of a different perfume (Perfume), and a full length which heavily samples The Adventures of Tin Tin (Ding Ding), offering the listener an aural globe-trot imbued with the loose, improvisational vibe of an Odd Nosdam record or of actually trotting around the globe.
But since hitting its zenith, Damacha’s available catalogue has undergone a serious downsizing, from the aforementioned fifteen to nine. Many of his most experimental and unique efforts are no longer featured on his Bandcamp or anywhere else for that matter. Somehow my favorite contemporary producer has managed to wipe every trace of the albums I love from the Internet—an impressive feat in itself. These albums include his most ambitious concept, a tape fashioned almost entirely out of the first electronically generated sounds ever created (c. 1957) and featuring snippets of scientists marveling at the then-fantastical idea of computers being used as instruments (Rolling in their Graves).
Rolling in their Graves and the other albums now M.I.A. encapsulate a side of Damacha that it would seem he is trying to distance himself from: an almost unspeakable lo-fi filthiness that elicits the fascinating yin-yang balance of pain and pleasure reminiscent of being tattooed or of watching Lil’ Wayne trying and failing to freestyle. On Rolling in their Graves Damacha takes the art of crafting a banger to places it has never been and that it probably doesn’t belong. But the results are jaw-unhingingly good. These sounds, now ancient by our technological age’s standards, rise from junk heaps of oxidized detritus to bludgeon listeners into masochistic bliss in unexpected ways.
A track entitled “σ(^_^;) Curiosity Landed?” features a metronomic clicking in ¾ that serves the purpose of a hi hat while a meandering piano riff dips in an out, so chopped up that it seems to evade the grasp of any sort of time-signature whatsoever. While this sort of rhythmic manipulation is at home in the realm of math rock, the fact that Damacha can make the arrhythmic not only rap-able, but beg to be rapped over and thumped at full volume, is a testament to his mastery of both sound selection and sampling. But you’re going to have to take my word for it. Despite my elation at having discovered a link to Rolling in Their Graves on just the sort of sketchy Russian website that might still host Damacha’s grittier works after hours of searching, all my desperate click returned was an empty Bandcamp error page and the feeling that something dark and magical had been lost.
On another disappeared album, Dawn::, the track “Brown Recluse” features serrated sub-bass tones that gnash their way into your skull beneath an array of drum sounds so over-compressed they the transcend the lo-fi and become something else entirely. It’s similar to the recent trend in some of the world’s premier restaurants of using mold and “cured” (read: carefully rotted) ingredients in their dishes to produce a refined flavor. But Damacha does it so much grimier than Noma ever could. The “C” rating of your favorite back-ally dumpling shop at best.
To keep the food metaphor going, it’s not just the individual sounds that Damacha has fermented to perfection. Like a carefully crafted course of a meal, he sets up his drum kits so that each element complements the others perfectly. The songs detailed above can only be listened to by the lucky few who snagged them before they were removed from the public ear, but check out “Kujakundy” off Shmexual which is still streamable here. While possessing none of the viciousness of his now-yanked works, the track features a flawlessly crafted collection of sounds in which each element fills the space created by the others to maintain a delicate unity; kick, snare, hat, and everything else sounding like voices in the same unholy choir. Both “Untitled [yrmomsd]” and “Honeypot” off Tradecraft accomplish similar feats of synchronicity in their own ways, the latter sounding almost wrong without Chester Watson rapping on it, his voice being of the same family of flavors as the timbres that make up that particular track.
The last bastions of Damacha’s dirty dark side that can be found on the Internet are a collection of beats on Traktrain, for lease or exclusive sale to the first rappers smart enough to swoop them up. Of those beats, “the girls of omashu” and “piss on yr grave” stand as minimalist and maximalist poles respectively, with “pixelpanties” providing the undead-Goldie-Locks of a gnarled happy medium. While I prefer tracks like these or the cyberpunk-hellscapes of “These:::” or “Electrons 9” or “Bath Salt Break,” which (feel free to dig through the dusty corners of the Russian web to try and find them) are no longer online, that’s not to say I don’t love Damacha’s most recent, more melodic efforts.
His tape 3E3240 strays farther from traditional hip-hop than any of his previous releases, seeming to straddle so many genres at once that instead of concocting a pithy new genre-label for it like “Power-Puff-Step,” “Sacral-Trap,” or “Glitch-Candy,” I’d just as soon call it “Octopus-Legs” and leave it at that. Some of his more recent standalone tracks like “Yiyuan“ venture even further from rap’s familiarity and would be better complimented by cinematic drone footage than rhymes. With musical talent and unbridled creativity like his, the future can only be bright for Damacha, but one such as I looks nostalgically into his shadowy past.
The Internet is the ultimate illusion of immortality. We think of it an immutable unchangeable history. But all it takes is a gangly hip-hop genius to click a few buttons and unique works of art are lost from the annals of digital music streaming. So buy his current releases while you can. Keep your ear to the ground for any new info about him or his upcoming work. Damacha’s name means “Big Cannabis Tea” and he is the fucking truth.