Death Grips and Does Not Let Go

I managed to convince a few buddies to come along to the Death Grips show last Friday based on the following thin, grapevine background info I provided them with: “Epic Records cut them loose just a month ago for bypassing them and releasing the album themselves,”; “There’s a lot of crazy buzz about these guys having a new sound, really aggressive… tech-hip hop… stuff… or something,”; and “The cover of their latest album is a [rooster]. Yeah, really.”

Sounds weird. Let’s do it.

We were almost certainly the three least “in the know” people in attendance. Jimmy had more than a few conversations where he whipped out the “Yeah, I’ve never heard of these guys,” and relished the stunned scenester faces left in the statement’s wake. “Oh really? Oh they’re amazing.”

Within minutes of walking in, the lights went down and the rolling bass began to rumble, spiked with sharp, machine-gun percussion. One-man wrecking crew Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett stood braced at the front of the stage, arms up, barking ragged shrapnel lyrics. In no time, the charged, amorphous mass of flesh on the floor (aka the audience) was a mess of sweat, dropped drinks and sheer elation. Those amid the fray who had not been expecting such frenzy were quickly forced to let go and join the insanity or scurry off to a safer vantage point.

Burnett, standing out in the enveloping smoke and backlit by an ominous red haze, is an irresistible force on stage. Part revolutionary drill sergeant stoking his troops for oncoming battle, part manic poet-shaman, his is an intensity that is honest, uninhibited and just a bit dangerous.

Despite the music media’s cockroach scramble to label, catalogue and compare every new sound we hear, Death Grips’ sound manages to maintain its unidentifiable, differentiating essence. I don’t portend to be able to peg down their sound; I truly don’t want to. That said, I’ve become vaguely familiar with the “future” genre term in electronic music this year. Even though I’m not sure I’ll ever fully wrap my head around the term, I can’t help but think there is some future in Death Grips.

There is an undercurrent of otherworldliness running through The Money Store (April 2012). “The Fever (Aye Aye)” is a cosmic mix of trip-tribal rhythms, sci-fi synth and Burnett’s unrelenting attack. Album closer “The Hacker” starts out with a shout of “No ins and outs!” that serves as a timely reminder that by that point in the album, you are clearly very much “in”. The futuristic thread continues in No Love Deep Web (October 2012) right from the get-go with “Come Up and Get Me” and its spaceship generator vibe.

To call Death Grips intense is not news in the least, but it is perhaps the most fitting one-word descriptor. Their music has a lot of room in which to stretch and breathe, even in its most frantic moments. Calling it minimalist might be a stretch. That said, one of the band’s great strengths is their awareness of just how much of this and that needs to go into each tune. This underlying, almost imperceptible simplicity, combined with the complexity of the compositions and the band members’ dynamic energies, makes for an electrifying live show. It is loud, it is unpredictable, it is heavy, and it is beautifully executed.

I see more Death Grips in our future.