Death Grips live in New York
- By Ryan W. Neal -
- Nov 15, 2012
Although the way it’s expressed can be radically different, the spirits behind punk rock and hip-hop have always been similar. Both are politically motivated, rebellious, anti-establishment, and sometimes nihilistic. Both have roots firmly planted in urban areas, and abandoned traditional vocal methods in favor of something more colloquial. In recent years, the similarities have finally been coming together, with Tyler the Creator even stating that he sees his group, Odd Future, as more of a punk act.
This has never been more apparent than with Sacramento-based Death Grips, who played to a sold out crowd in Brooklyn on Monday at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.
As soon as the lights came down and the ear-numbing bass came up, the shirts of drummer Zach Hill and front man Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett came off. After that, it’s hard to accurately describe the experience without using too many adjectives. As my friend and fellow music writer tweeted, “PREPARE FOR 300% AUDIO ONSLAUGHT.”
Onslaught is a great word for Death Grips, and I would add primordial. There was something tribalistic about Hill’s furious pounding on a simple drum kit. He was even barefoot. It recalled that cave-dance scene in Matrix Reloaded—intense, rebellious energy expressed through dance and sweat. Only this had less Keanu Reeves ass.
According to one fan, “watching Zach Hill play drums alone is worth the price of admission.”
This tribalism is perfectly symbolized by Burnett: the shirtless, hairy, and tattooed shaman guiding the crowd with his synergy of rapping and hardcore-style grunts and growls.
Yet all of this is contrasted against the complex and abstract electronic arrangements produced by Andy “Flatlander” Morin, who did not take the stage Monday night. The juxtaposition of the prehistoric with the hyper-modern adds to the frenetic, unsettling nature of the show. Yet, given the counter-culture ethos of a lot of alternative electronic musicians, it all makes perfect sense.
With the possible exception of sample-heavy tracks like 'Spread Eagle Cross the Block', and the dance track 'I’ve Seen Footage', Death Grips uses synth to subvert the current norm in hip-hop, creating an assaulting and difficult sound rather than an an easily digestible pop track. It is incredibly loud, extreme, and about as ear rattling as a rocket launch. There was even one track that intentionally made use of the squeal of microphone feedback.
And it is all immensely enjoyable. Although it may seem angry and chaotic, everyone - from the men on stage to the people in the crowd to even the bouncers - was having fun.
“Honestly, I enjoyed myself,” said Craig Freifelder, who was working security that night. “I really liked it… but not as crazy as GWAR.”
It was a dance party here, buried beneath the moshing, crowd surfing, and stage diving the same way the beats were buried under the crushing bass and electronic dissonance.
“It’s fast, it’s aggressive, it’s rock, it’s rap,” said Adrian, a Death Grips fan, after the show. “It’s fucking Grips, man.”
The onslaught never let up for a minute. Although MC Ride and Hill occasionally took a few seconds to chug a bottle of water, one of the two was always working. The melody, if it can be called that, continued until MC Ride said a single, “thank you,” and exited the stage.
Perhaps the only complaint would be the length of the set, which clocked in less than one hour. Despite chants of “Death Grips! Death Grips!” from the sold out Brooklyn audience, there was no encore in sight. Which is understandable. To ask this band to expend any more energy would just be cruel, and probably not humanly possible.
This is why Death Grips is a perfect title for the group. No matter how intense or disturbing of a place they take the audience, they always remain firmly in control. They make the nasty sound great.
Photos courtesy of Earl Blaize
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