Death Grips offer one of the most brutal performances to have graced the 02 Academy Brixton – an experience in pure savagery.
Witnessing experimental hardcore/rap band Death Grips live is almost unexplainable. What one witnesses in that hour is beyond words and is certainly not for the faint of heart. The only way one can describe it would be to use a mix of oxymorons and adjectives – fascinatingly terrifying, brutally brilliant and yet (most accurately) utterly, utterly evil.
The set began with an hour-long drone of noise, with layers of samples of Charles Manson’s infamous “I make the money” speech. After bearing through this, Death Grips finally arrived… 30 minutes late. This was slightly surprising to some of the audience, including myself, who half-expected them to not arrive at all considering their history at Lollapalooza 2013 and their 2012 tour which was entirely cancelled last minute.
Death Grips are known as a band to continuously pull these PR stunts, so you can’t blame me for thinking a show at the O2 Academy Brixton could be cancelled without notice. Their arrival was likely part of the act. As Ian Cohen of Pitchfork suggests in his review of their latest album Year of the Snitch, “[in] the process of trying to sabotage their own career … Death Grips became career artists.”
It has become part of their image to be crazed, which is likely why their sudden appearance was intentional. They wanted to oppose these expectations, and so they avoided their usual stunts and instead cut straight to the point. Regardless, as if out of thin air, they suddenly materialised on stage. Following on from the Charles Manson drone they began with Beware, which feature this sample also in its intro. From there onwards, the songs became increasingly incoherent and their stances were indistinguishable.
Their stage presence continued the frankly weird personification of the band. The members were an image of controlled chaos, acting directly and in a monotone fashion as they twitched and jittered, remaining mostly static on the stage. Drummer Zach Hill remained head-down and trashed on his drums endlessly. Frontman MC Ride, on the other hand, went manic, but only moved within an area of 5 metres space. Keyboardist Andy Morin kept his body stationary, but his head and hands jolted violently.
Despite various websites telling us that there were around 21 songs performed in the setlist, it is hard to believe there was more than one. Death Grips managed to play their entire set without a single break. Due to this, it was nearly impossible to distinguish between different tracks. They were all brilliantly blended together in a burst of energy and noise. Flickering moments of recognition would often spring from the audience, with the introduction to Get Got being noticed, along with the chorus of Guillotine and the hook of I’ve Seen Footage. However, aside from these moments, the audience seemed completely submerged in their constant sonic sound.
For fans, the show was a coherent progression, but for me as a newcomer, the difficulty in deciphering their complex and interlinking structure was immeasurable. Despite enjoying the set, I would often find myself suddenly hearing a different hook to one was currently playing, only to realise the song had already ended and the next had begun.
Their sound for the uninitiated is both intimidating, but also somewhat exhilarating. The pure, raw energy of the music can be incredibly daunting when it first arrives, especially since it is so loud. However, once one begins to embrace the primal elements and lock onto the repeating and rapid hooks that flow like foam amid the waves, one can see the appeal. Their sound is incredibly intimate and literally lulls people into a dazed state of motion.
Much of the crowd moved in a continuous mosh pit for the entire show. The experience of an individual audience member is also indescribable, but best put by a Reddit User with the moniker ‘u/Clueman’ who describes the crazed nature of the crowd and the unique state of euphoria for fans:
“I was in the middle of a hurricane of bodies and right in the eye of the storm, I bumped into a guy scooping peanut butter into his mouth. With his hand. From a huge tub. I asked him about and he said he really likes peanut butter and Death Grips. By the end of it all, I was drenched in other people’s sweat and my own.”
Although likely somewhat exaggerated and an old report, Clueman’s explanation really sets at the nature of the scene. There is no sense of regard for anyone around you, people lose themselves entirely in the wash of sound that bursts from Death Grips amplifiers and simply enjoy themselves. For those who are new to the sound of Death Grips, this crowd must be hard to enjoy, but it is obvious that for fans of the band, these types of shows are not to be missed.
Regardless of their experimental and incredibly gritty sound, Death Grips are undoubtedly a worthwhile experience. Their energy, monument and expression make the show tantalising and will keep your eyes locked on the stage. For all their unusual acts, Stefan, Zach and Andy offer an unbelievably dramatic performance that combines so many contrasting elements of terror and wonder – that deserves some credit.