Death Grips look set to transform the traditionally pious setting of Albert Hall, and your perception of the world along with it, for one night only. Thomas Featherstone Tells us what makes them so special…
2011 was a massive year for the mixtape. It saw fantastic releases from A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown, The Weeknd, and Frank Ocean. Many of these, were debut releases, and still found their way to ‘End Of Year’ lists and music award shows.
Meanwhile Death Grips from Sacramento, California were capturing the attention of the alternative scene and holding it to ransom. Their ‘Exmilitary’ mixtape went unnoticed in the mainstream rap community, and instead found itself played out in underground punk and heavy metal venues, owing in part due to the involvement of famed LA session drummer, Zach Hill, who’d worked with Hella, Wavves, Marnie Stern and lots of other indie/punk acts.
Exmilitary is an eclectic mix of overdriven hip-hop beats and sample work, explosive industrial synth sounds, and a wail of distorted guitar feedback, all set to MC Ride’s desperate, shouted raps: the lyrics conflating polemical missives about totalitarian government oppression, with pained, raspy raps about mental health issues (some years before this was common discourse in rap music).
Their sound encapsulated punk idealism and ferocious urgency within hip hop’s terms, and fittingly, their debut UK tour took on 100-200 capacity venues where stage dives and mosh pits were standard. Support bands were local hardcore punk outfits such as Dorset’s ‘Witchcult’.
Success rapidly ensued. The group signed with Epic Records in 2012 to release, ‘The Money Store’. Not content to release just one album in the year, they cancelled the tour for that one to work on another, ‘No Love Deep Webb’, pissing off their label and some fans in the process.
Next, they leaked their own record via BitTorrent with the album title written on Zach Hill’s erect penis for the cover. After quickly being released from their contract with Epic they began releasing on their own imprint, Third Worlds.
The years that have followed have seen five music releases from the group, dozens of film projects from Hill and Morin, and many more controversies surrounding the group, including an infamous non-appearance at a Lollapalooza concert in 2014 where the audience invaded the stage and destroyed a facsimile of the band’s instruments.
New album ‘Year of the Snitch’ takes the viscerality of the band’s electro-punk rap, now a self-described “conceptual art exhibition anchored by sound and vision. Above and beyond ‘a band’,” and kicks it up another notch. The album’s first track, ‘Death Grips Is Online’, merges MC Ride’s esoteric and obtuse lyrical references with a dystopian soundscape, populated with metallic synths and breakneck trap beats from Morin and Hill, all complimented by a video that brilliantly showcases the scope of their live shows with the chaotic feeling of being so heavily immersed in this post-modernist, ‘online age’.
The rest of the album is a blessed and heady mix of blast-beats and distorted guitars that might feel well at home on an Paul’s Boutique-era Beastie Boys record, juxtaposed against space age synths, sampled industrial noises (cars skidding and crashing, gated laser-gun samples, the sounds of a computer modem meeting its maker under an alien sun) that reject the suggestion of anything as conventional as ‘rock music’.
It’s a self-referential and uncompromising piece of music that also managed to innovated and expand on what the group already do so well. Hill and Morin deliver their best vocal contributions to date that fantastically contrast Ride’s pitched, washed-out screams and yelps on tracks like ‘The Fear’.
Simply put, the group look set to transform the natural serenity and traditionally pious setting of Albert Hall, and your perception of the world along with it, for one night only. As MC Ride says on their debut’s opening track, ‘Beware’: “I am the beast I worship” and who amongst us could reasonably argue with him?