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Picture by Brock Hrehor

By Brock Hrehor

Going into a Death Grips show, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Between the band’s difficult to categorize sound and sparse online presence, it’s scarcely an exaggeration to say I was going in blind.  Although words can convey only a fraction of the sonic experience they bring (it takes, perhaps, the first ten seconds of listening to “Guillotine” to know what I mean), by the end of the show, ears ringing and veins pulsing, it was clear that this band left nothing on the table, and I left feeling, albeit still unsure of how to describe what I just saw, as satisfied as I was stunned.  

Death Grips is an experimental hip-hop group formed in Sacramento in 2010.  Known for stitching together an aggressive blend of rap, industrial, and hardcore, the band gained notoriety for their energetic live performances and vastly original style, with their anarchic barrage of industrial noise lauded by fans and critics – even influencing the likes of Kanye West and David Bowie.  As cryptic as they are praised, it was as if the band wanted to extend the feelings of mystery surrounding the night, as they had no opener and waited over two hours to come on.  Even when they did, vocalist MC Ride opted to stand at the edge of the stage, mad-dogging the audience for a good thirty seconds.  Just as the tension was climbing up to its crest, drummer Zach Hill brought it all crashing down with a manic drum fill, thus beginning the set.

The band’s energy was immediately felt by the crowd, who almost instinctively began matching the boisterous energy of “System Blower” with equal intensity.  Moshing ensued, and powerful red stage lights gave the already smoke-filled interior a deranged quality, punctuated by slam dancing and stage diving.  Several audience members had dressed up like the sado-masochistic characters on the cover of The Money Store, and from what I saw, it was these folks, donning masks and leather suits, who were moshing with the most fervor.  The vibe, however, was quite positive, with those in the pit helping up their neighbors and returning the occasional lost shoe or cell phone.  

The barrage persisted, and as my legs grew sorer and my shirt continued to dampen, both band and audience fully got into the groove.  In between bodily contortions and bouts of shouting, Ride gestured to the audience with his free hand, moving his arm like a twisted conductor.  The audience obeyed, eyes glued to the stage.  The band’s set was surprisingly indulgent, including almost all of their best-known work and most notable songs, which the audience rewarded with eruptions of cheers.  

The band didn’t speak a word the entire night save to wish the audience goodnight, and must have spent no more than ten seconds in between songs – Hill would fire off another fill, ushering in Andy Morin’s cacophonous production and Ride’s primal screaming, much to the delight of the night’s patrons.  Shown by the band’s prior requests for no photos or videos, this event was strictly about the music.  The songs spoke for themselves, and the lack of interruption only strengthened the intoxicating effect of the band’s metallic, cerebral beats.  Overall, the performance was captivating, cathartic, and no-nonsense – in essence, all that Death Grips represents.

I walked out feeling like I had been eviscerated by space lasers.  Elevated by dehydration and lack of oxygen, I left in a haze, unfazed even when passing by a local metal band capitalizing on a free audience outside of the show.  The night’s intensity was unmatched.  I’ve never seen a band elicit such a response from their audience, and the powerful connection felt during the show was a much needed breath of fresh air.