The sound and the fury of Death Grips live
The Californian act brought their shock-and-awe tactics to bear in Dublin and the results were explosive
There are few bands less willing to play the record company game than Death Grips. In April last year, they released The Money Store on Epic Records. A month later, they cancelled most of its supporting tour to work on its follow-up. In autumn, when the label tried to hold off on that release, the band did what any reasonable punk rockers would do – gave it away for free on various filesharing websites and published their correspondence with the record company. Some 34 million downloads soon followed on Bit Torrent alone, and Epic dropped the act.
For most bands, this could well be the end, but since then it seems the three-piece unit of vocalist Stefan Burnett, drummer Zach Hill and keyboardist/sampler Andy Morin have gone from strength to furious strength. They’ve toured extensively in recent months, and in March this year they delivered what some critics called the best show at the South by Southwest festival by punching a hole in the Boiler Room’s warehouse party.
Here, the band are stripped back to just Burnett and Morin, with all samples, beats and music pumping out of Morin’s bare-bones set-up. What they lack in equipment they make up for in volume, chaos and the kind of aggression that could turn back a tide. Burnett appears, stripped to the waist, and whips the room into a broiling mass of limbs and heat. In form like this, he looks like he could face down the hordes of Thermopylae with only his mic and Morin for company.
What’s fascinating about the Death Grips sound is how huge and filthy it is, how much hostility it packs into its pitch-black beats – but also how languid much of it sounds. Its underlying beat rarely speeds up beyond a fast pulse, with occasional bursts hustling things along and the odd frantic Afrobeat-like rhythm emerging from the fray. Where punk relies on speed to spark a crowd into a hot fury, here it’s huge waves of relentless low end, harsh electronica and Burnett’s messianic attitude that turn a Monday night crowd into a shirtless, roaring prison riot of a room.
After about 45 furious minutes the band pull the plug and the crowd are left wondering what hit them. Sure, the set could do with more dynamic; having a live kit would no doubt help. And maybe Burnett’s rapping could be more audible above the rage. But after this vulgar display of power, no one is complaining about the shock-and-awe tactics.