“Play your fucking part – I’ll bleed my fucking heart dry”
Just who the fuck are Death Grips?
For me the quality of life at any given time is massively influenced by whatever music you’re listening to at that time. Sometimes it’s like the good times in life are good because there’s a new band you’re into or a great album that has just been released. The music puts you in a great mood which influences how happy you are and how positive you are which leads to more enjoyable days. Sometimes there’s no new music to listen to. Everything sucks and fails to grab your attention. And then life is bland and boring. Nothing happens. You put your headphones on and listen to your favourite songs but your brain just needs some new vibrations to bounce along to and nothing you have in any playlist can satisfy the itch.
Then you have these moments where you just totally get into a band and everything in life is ok again. Over the years I’ve had these moments a few times. In very recent years The Beatles (finally), Opeth, Massive Attack and (the most recent) The Smiths have been the bands that totally encapsulated me to the point where I almost needed to play their songs all day every day for a few months until they became one of the typical favourites and my brain had chance to crave something new again. These favourites are still great and you can still listen to them a lot and never get bored. But it’s not like the addiction of being into something fresh. I know not everybody can relate to this. There are friends of mine that will only really listen to radio hits and never really give anything new a chance and have no desire to. I always wonder how they ever begin to like a new song or band. I guess the song must be on the radio station they listen to frequently and after that station plays it a few times it becomes familiar and can then be liked. I guess not everyone cares so much about broadening their taste since music is not so important in their lives and that is fair enough. But I always need new music. I search for it via reviews and videos. If you can find a great album then you’re happy. If you find a band with a consistently interesting discography then that’s awesome. But the holy grail is finding a band where you are invested in them as a band with both their music and their vision. This is a rare thing. When you find it their music speaks for you and you can relate. And they’re real. The lyrics in the songs are meant and they back it up with their actions. And when that happens for a few months at least you will love the soundwaves that this creative force has come up with and it will merge with your life. In the future those very vibrations will be tied to a nostalgia of a particular time. I guess for me this time it will be the soundtrack of the summer of 2016 when the politics in the UK totally lost the plot.
The band in question for me this time are called Death Grips. I first heard about them and listened to them about a year ago. I follow a popular YouTube channel called The Needle Drop (Anthony Fantano). His reviews on music are always informative and I feel that he gives his honest and uncompromising opinion on music. He judges it on its merits and doesn’t really think about image, hype or fanbase so much. This guy always gives Eminem pretty crap reviews and since I’m a huge Stan I totally disagree with him but massively respect his opinion. So many times I’ve thought an album was the dog’s bollocks and I’ve checked into The Needle Drop sure that he will be giving an 8 or 9 out of 10 only to be dismayed to see him give the thing 5 or 6 out of 10. For a while I used to think that he was just a music snob. Fuck him. What the hell does he know? Eventually I learnt to just respect what he says but be at peace that my opinion was different to his. And sometimes he did love albums that I loved too. I’d never seen him give out a full 10 out of 10. Even when I was sure he would give a 10 based on how his review was going it would only get a 9. So I decided to find his really rare reviews on when he’d given a 10. I discovered two albums that this music snob raved about. The Madvillain album was one of them which I’d already listened to a bunch of times and though I think it is great I don’t know how he loved it enough to give a 10. It has many skits which add to the vibe but eventually just interrupt the album for me. The other album was The Money Store by Death Grips. Holy shit. I remember listening to it with my headphones and understanding how it was worth a 10 on first listen. It’s sonically something else. It’s mega aggressive and gets you so pumped up. For some reason though I didn’t listen to it that much. I guess The Beatles were still overshadowing everything.
Then recently I see a new Death Grips album review by Fantano for Bottomless Pit. His mind is blown again and he gives it a strong 9 out of 10. These guys again. So I decided to have another look at them and see what they were about and what they’d accomplished so far. And they’re simply one of the strangest bands around. There’s three of them. MC Ride is the rapper/screamer. Zach Hill is the drummer/producer. And Flatlander is the keyboard player/producer. Two white guys and a black dude making hip hop music. Except it isn’t hip hop music really. It’s far too heavy and aggressive to be classed as that. It’s very experimental, very punk, very electro, very industrial and completely mental. It’s like what would happen if you merged The Roots, The Sex Pistols and Nine Inch Nails and then added an unhealthy dose of insanity. Every song of theirs is interesting and creative. Most of them are outstanding and make you wanna get up and move/smash things. I guess angry music was what my heart desired this time after so much melodic and peaceful music lately. And this band ticks a lot of boxes. The rhymes are there and the lyrics are always a bit nuts and make little sense in a good way. There’s so much going on with each track as they use samples and guitars and insane drumming with synthesizers. And considering they only got together in 2010 they have absolutely thrown these songs out at an incredible rate. More than an album per year at the moment. I don’t know how they’re doing it or where they’re finding the creativity. Each song is different and each album is a curveball.
It’s always nice to find a new band that are consistently delivering the music that you love. But Death Grips are also more than that. There’s a mystique to them. Eminem uses the character of Slim Shady to act like a maniac in his songs. At the end of the day he can step away from that and be himself. Death Grips are nowhere near his level of fame. But in their lyrics they are at least as mental as Eminem. Except that how they seem to act in real life seems to reinforce that that is just how they are. They started out with an EP and then a mixtape called Exmilitary. Then they got a two album deal on a major label. The first album was the instant classic The Money Store. The samples used range from snippets of ringtones from the Middle East to strange and obscure footage they’ve seen on TV or recorded in real life. They even used the grunt of a female tennis player as a sample. And they turn all of this into music in weird ways. After The Money Store they said they would release another album the very same year. Their label told them they wouldn’t let them as they need to wait a year. Death Grips decide this album will be far more electronic and stripped down than The Money Store. For the album cover Zach Hill took a picture of his erect dick with the album title No Love Deep Web written on it. Obviously this is crazy and is censored everywhere. The record label must be wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into. Still they’re adamant the album won’t be released for a year. However Death Grips does what it wants and they like to release albums when there’s a full moon. Plus they’d already told fans that two albums would be released that year. So on the date they had said and when the moon was full they leaked their own album all over the internet screwing themselves and their label out of a load of money. The label dropped them. Death Grips didn’t give a shit.
The madness continued. They would drop out of shows at random. Sometimes giving no reason and not even telling the organisers. And some of these were big events. They released another album. It was largely instrumental and weird. Then they released another album for free and said it was part one of a two part album with the second half to come at some point. They had a tour booked with Nine Inch Nails where they would open for them. A massive opportunity you would think. Except before the tour Death Grips handwrote a statement on a piece of paper stating that they had split up because they have reached their best. They pulled out of the tour and quit music but said they would still finish part two of the album they already had out. Everybody asked when? When!? When goddamn it!? They released an instrumental album called Fashion Week where the track names spelled out Jenny Death When. Part two of the album was to be called Jenny Death and so this was them saying it would be out Fashion Week. It got released and it was typically chaotic and amazing. This insane band manages to release an awesome album every time. But they were done now right? All over? Nope. They announce they’re making a new album. They start playing shows again. They release the new album and it’s just ridiculously good again. And then they release a new song which people think means a new album is already being made. Except nobody knows since Death Grips are totally unpredictable.
I didn’t really want to type out all of their antics and there are many more. It is probably explained better elsewhere on the internet. But the way they act really interests me. It seems that there are two possibilities that explain them. Option 1 is that they really are crazy and they really truly don’t give a fuck. They don’t just rap about being mental they actually are that way. They only think about the creative vision they have and they don’t care about fans, fame, money or acclaim. Option 2 is that they’re very smart and risky. They know that by being the embodiment of what their music portrays it will cost them money short term but will get a lot of people interested in them. The hype will increase the more unpredictable they are and this will lead to more sales in the long term. I guess maybe they could just care so much about their art that everything else is just background noise to them. If people love it and want to hear it or watch them play then cool. But they are uncompromising. They really don’t seem to care if people like them or not. And that is admirable. They are real and there aren’t many real artists out there in 2016. Death Grips seems to be three dudes not paying attention to what anybody else does and just does what they want. The music they create is raw and organic. So when they have a song that feels unhinged and is about heavy drug use and extreme violence it actually seems believable. That makes them a bit scary. But that is far more interesting than the bland shit we get through our radio stations that are watered down to suit everybody. I get sick of being presented with a product that has been designed to fit the masses so as to achieve high sales and make rich assholes at record labels with no talent even more money. I want to be shocked. I want to feel something. I want to be presented with something ugly and unpolished if that is ultimately the truth of things. And when the music is this natural and so far away from mainstream bullshit but is also consistently incredible and being showered with universal critical acclaim then it means a great summer is ahead listening to these ferocious sons of bitches that seem just as angry as I am living in the UK in 2016.
Fuck it, I’ve rambled enough. If you want to listen to something that will make you feel alive then give these guys a listen and enjoy. You won’t be able to pin down their sound and 95% of people probably won’t like them. They’ll never be on the radio. Although I guess it would be typical Death Grips to next make a pop album that sounds like the Backstreet Boys. But yeah, give them a bash if you like angry music. Start with The Money Store. Just don’t try them before you are about to go to bed as they will make you need to jump around and attack inanimate objects.