Everyone who’s ever been to a Death Grips live show will tell you it ranks as amongst the more intense, visceral moments of their little lives. And as the following review by Guy Manchester attests, last Monday’s gig at The Fleece in Bristol was no exception this rule.
Golly it feels like I’ve been waiting to see a Death Grips show for an awful long time. Certainly since they entered my consciousness as a band / collective in early 2011 anyway. “I’d like to see these chaps live, I bet they’d blow a few cobwebs away” was possibly the first thought I remember associating with them in fact. Haha, “…blow a few cobwebs away indeed”. Now there’s an underestimate of grand proportions.
And then a few weeks ago I received a Facebook alert announcing this date & I went “Coo”. And then 4 days ago I was stood at The Fleece awaiting the gig, still going “Coo”. And now I’m writing about it. And I’m out of “Coo’s” coz I used em all up on Monday you see?
Before I tell you about Death Grips though you’ll be wanting to hear about the support for the night. There had been a push to try & get one of the bands from the cities burgeoning hardcore scene to open for Death Grips but it wasn’t to be. Shame. As Death Grip’s brand of hiphop more closely equivalates to hardcore than it does to other hiphop artists (imo) it would’ve been a very good move. Everyone I know who’s into hardcore adores these guys which is unusual coz mostly hardcore fans hunker down into whatever their specific favoured niche under the general banner ‘hardcore’ is e.g. fans of powerviolence probably won’t be into screamo bands & vice versa. Or so it seems to me. Whatever the reason it was a shame coz it woulda been good to have shown an audience that never goes to hardcore shows how strong the scene is here atm & I’m sure The Fleece, who are usually so good at helping promote local bands, would have been up for it.
Having said that the one support we had was ace – the youthful NYC hip hop collective Ratking who, inevitably, have been raising a few eyebrows lately not only coz they (hushed tones) may be a new Odd Future (YAWN – they aren’t, they’re a new Ratking) but also, far more pertinently, coz what we’ve already heard from them is very very good. Which is what they were live too. They were a tad scrappy, granted, (which you can get away with live obviously) & surprisingly they seemed to be a bit lacking in confidence. But they were definitely shown a real load of respect from the audience, (which is how it should always be of course but so rarely is). They had a wonderfully diverse set of songs for a group so young, full of different ideas & pace changes. The little corner of the audience I was in was dancing throughout no matter how many about turns they threw at us. They had a sinister number, a slinky number, a sweetly flowing number (which I really wasn’t expecting), a jazzy number & even a catchy number – and they’re just the ones I could remember. There’s not many bands full stop who can showcase such a strong variety of music, let alone one so early on in their career. Soon as these kids gain in confidence & everything clicks (which probably wont be far away from now) they’re gonna explode & we who were here tonight will be able to say “sweet, saw them years ago supporting Death Grips & we knew they were gonna be good coz everyone was all attentive & everything despite them only being the support band”.
And then it was Death Grips time. S’funny, but whenever I’m at the cinema & the lights go down I still always feel a bit excited despite the fact that I’ve been going to at least a couple of films a week for over 20 years. Invariably a wee smile creeps across my face too. Y’know, like I was 10 yo & going to the flicks for the first time. The same excitement happens just before a band starts to play at a gig, but raised to the power of “quite a lot”. So rather than a “wee smile” it’s more likely to be “a large grin”. And when the band starts playing in a tension raising, adrenalin inducing fashion like Death Grips did this night, with Zach Hill clatterfucking buggerry out of his ikkle drum kit, that grin is exacerbated from “large grin” status to “something that’d make The Joker from Batman feel like he’s the most miserably person at a “most miserable person in the world contest” status. As soon as the drum clatter was over I had a split second to think “Aghh, I’m gonna explode with all this pent up excitement” at which point MC Ride took over as the focus of attention & began shout rapping just as the backing track started & we were off, I (and everyone else I guess) started jumping around like batshit crazy. Straight from the off MC Ride was contorting & writhing with his skinny, taut, incredibly muscular & impressively tattooed frame, & he was leaning over the audience & bending down to disappear amongst them then back up again to writhe & contort again, never stopping, sweat pouring off him. Of course it wasn’t all about MC Ride though – Zach Hill held our attention just as impressively & sweated just as profusely. Despite having such a small ‘toy soldier’ drum kit (don’t tell him I said that) he was really giving it some, broken sticks were flying left, right & centre & he even knocked the snare drum over a couple of times so forceful was his drumming.
Some folks consider it one of life’s pondurables why a band that should be impenetrable like Death Grips are so popular. And so easy to dance to. But Death Grips music, despite everything, oozes rhythm. It may be a bit concealed (hidden behind shouts, screels of electronics & the drums) but it’s there. I’ve never been to a gig before where I’ve felt so compelled to just fucking bounce. Right from the start. I still can’t believe I had the stamina to keep the bouncing up all the way through (I was shattered 2 mins into the first song truth be told) but somehow I did. The occasional adrenalin rush whenever the guy next to me punched me in the face (accidentally, attempting to air punch) probably helped. But of course the energy I was expending was like nowt compared to what Death Grips were expending. They were seriously investing their all in the show. Visually a Death Grips gig so dominates your attention – apart from Death Grips themselves being such a transfixing sight, one I could happily watch for ages even if the sound were turned down, they also had a couple of monitors set up â that I tried closing my eyes for the duration of one song & it’s amazing how much more of the sound enters your consciousness when you do this. If I hadn’t been repeatedly crushing the lass behind me’s feet I may have carried on doing this a bit longer. (Apologies to the lass if she’s reading this).
Biggest surprise of the night was the absence of mike grabs / stage dives. I can’t believe the audience were any less pumped than me & yet everyone was so well behaved. Weird – if ever I was expecting mike grabs & stage dives it would’ve been here. Oh ok, so it’d have been at a Trash Talk gig but second of all it’d be here. But I guess it was a Monday night…
It’s so exciting (and rare) to see something so original that also makes perfect sense. Being original isn’t so tricky on its own of course but being original & good is. We’re lucky if there’s one truly original new band that breaks through each year. By pushing hiphop towards this particular intense, deep, heavily confrontational, extreme & twisted direction Death grips have done just that. And fair play to em for it.
A couple of weeks ago a live recording of Death Grips was released on Youtube. It gives you a vague idea of what a Death Grips show is like but comes nowhere close to the feral, tangible viscerality of it in actuality. Sorry. Worth a watch anyone.