Sacto punk-grime-rap duo Death Grips brought their aggressive live show to Slim’s last Monday. They blasted through a twelve song, sweat-soaked set while the mosh pit below them twisted with the energy of eager young men rushing towards the stage.
Zach Hill—the semi-famous experimental drummer best known for his roles with Hella and guest stints with Boredoms, Marnie Stern, and Wavves—brought an intentionally hollow tribal drum attack that popped out in unison with the backing-track electronic drums. MC Ride, shirtless for the entire show and dripping sweat, gave off the stage presence of a slow motion tornado, moving his arms up and down to follow beat drops, squeezing the mike with two hands, his lean body clenching up to force out the eye-popping yell-rap that defines his style.
The band played it fairly even-handed in terms of back-catalogue, an equal number of tracks coming from all three LPs: the lo-fi Exmilitary, the spasmodic The Money Store, and the deep synth punch of NO LOVE DEEP WEB.
The hits were obvious, though. Crowds love easy sing-alongs and Death Grips thrive on tension, pushing atonal and amelodic rapping to open songs until MC Ride reveals his (usually obscured) internalization of traditional song structure, spasming into a warped form of a chorus, as with “Spread Eagle Cross the Block,” “Lil Boy,” and “Come Up And Get Me.”
Easily their most accessible song, “I’ve Seen Footage,” which addresses the desensitization of our Internet-addled existence (“I stay noided, stimulation overload account for it / desensitized by the mass amounts of shit… Seen crazy shit man crazy shit”) and sounds like a deformed version of “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa, gives MC Ride his Death Grips mantra: I’ve seen footage. As the song builds, MC Ride repeats the phrase, over and over, a nod to the infinite loop of online content.
Death Grips, as artists, were built for and by the Internet; their approach is the textbook guide for leveraging social media, blogs, and a consistent aesthetic to expose your art. Within one year, Death Grips went from playing their third live show ever at my former house in Davis, CA to a mid-afternoon set at Coachella. It’s the kind of meteoric rise that would have been impossible years ago for a noisy, abrasive punk-rap duo. It’s inspiring and scary. If Death Grips represent a cyber-machine subculture success story, what’s failure? What kind of shit are we bringing to the forefront of pop culture with the circuitous re-blog spectacle?
If anything, seeing Death Grips in the flesh on Monday night proved, at least temporarily, that experience is more than pixels on a screen. I can’t guarantee it, but I’d bet at least a few audience members were inspired to blog/post/tweet “I’VE SEEN DEATH GRIPS” after the show. Even when we see the “real,” we’re still pounding it right back into cyberspace. Which is fine — there’s nothing inherently real about music, chopped and layered as it is, or, arguably, our individual experience of life. Death Grips push, shove, and fuck with this dynamic, guiding the audience to yell, jump, scream, strut, and feel MC Ride’s anxiety, giving a tangible voice to the digital unease that lurks all around us.
Come up and get me
Takyon (Death Yon)
The Fever (Aye Aye)
Spread Eagle Cross the Block
Lord of the Game
I’ve Seen Footage
Lock Your Doors