A single man sat in one of Oxford Art Factory’s trademark brick inlets at the back of the Main Room, his head snapped painfully back against the ledge, half resting on the lip of his skateboard. He slept undisturbed through the thumping drum ‘n’ bass and grime that warmed the audience up in the final minutes before Death Grips. Out of nowhere, a laid-back instrumental opera song cut through the filth, and he awoke suddenly. If he slept through Death Grips, he may as well have been dead.
A single throbbing synth signalled Death Grips’ arrival. The red velvet curtains opened and two tall, shirtless figures rushed the stage. The imposing Zach Hill jumped behind his minimalist drum kit set-up – a single snare, tom and bass kick. He charged into every movement with full pent aggression, emitting a raw jungle sound under the synth-noise that jumped around playfully at the start of Come Up and Get Me. MC Ride ran onto the stage pumped-up, throwing his limbs wildly at the audience, winding the fans at the front into a frenzy. The synth-noise suddenly morphed into an entirely different beast – dropping into an absurdly deep baseline that felt like hitting a brick wall. In an instant the temperature soared as the mosh pit exploded with violent movement. The steam off their writhing bodies thickened the air.
The stage was constantly flooded in a shade of blood red, like Death Grips were calling for blood from their fans. Urged by flashes of white light, their fans obliged, as if brainwashed into a state of sheer mindlessness by the nightmare rave Get Got. Its frantic electronic whirring was matched by the speedy rhyme, ‘get get get get got got got got, blood rush to my head lit hot lock’. The intense tribal jerks of the two muscular members of Death Grips mirrored the confronting sounds they produced. MC Ride jerked the microphone like a cock in the faces of the front row of fans squashed against the stage wall, whose heads sat at the perfect height for more compromising sexual activities. Fuelled by his acts of hedonism, they responded with a crazed state of moshing you’d expect at a metal gig, bringing to life Death Grips own statement that “(our music is) like taking a pill that makes you superhuman”.
Images flickered across two iMac-sized screens, positioned vertically on a table behind MC Ride. A woman exposed her naked body and red leather gloves, flames engulfed a car wreck and strange occult-like symbols. The images were intentionally shocking and confrontational, like their music. After all, their album art for No Love Deep Web was an erect penis with the title written on it in black texta. Lost Boys took their sound deep into the dark abyss of experimental underground electronica; it became almost like some form of satanic ritual.
Bodies smashed recklessly into each other with violent enthusiasm. Others were thrown across the sea of heads. Many crowd surfed onto the stage, where a single security guard tried in vein to eject them. As if guided by the “Fuck Off” (entry) stamp on their wrists, they ignored him and danced wildly on stage before stage diving back into the fray. Trademark electronic whirs throbbed, building the energy up and up for The Fever (Aye Aye). Hill built the song up with a simple bass snare combo before unleashing a frantic flurry of rhythms when it dropped into the first verse. MC Ride reciprocated, jumping around in a crazed state as he shouted, “I got the fever”. The electronic sounds they unleashed in The Fever were absurd. One lunatic got on stage, pulled his shirt over his head and front flipped back into the crowd. MC Ride then decided he’d had enough of the stage invasions and grabbed some intruders, throwing them back into the audience aggressively. His crazed eyes, thick beard and rough prison-style tattoos would have been enough to deter most sane people.
I’ve Seen Footage dropped its funky underlying sample that sounds awfully similar to Salt-N-Pepa’s Push It. It’s an awesome sample. It should be noted here that Death Grips production is brilliant. Live though, they’re so loud and heavily bass-orientated that you often miss the brilliant sounds that they have on their studio albums. Instead, you get an onslaught of sound that wows you at the very heaviness of it. I’ve Seen Footage was a great comedown to The Fever. Until this point it was incredible to note that Zach Hill hadn’t broken rhythm once. There were no song interludes or breaks of any sort, just flat out drumming. MC Ride threw himself around to the onslaught of sound, holding his mike as a weapon as he shouted vocals at his fans.
Hill stood suddenly for the intro to No Love. He dropped down with fury to slam his foot on his electronically programmed bass kick, launching sub bass so deep and forceful I felt my brain vibrate in its cocoon. Even MC Ride dropped to the ground under its weight. Hill rose and dropped again and again, repeatedly smashing his tom with his clenched fist, lifting the intensity to absurd levels. The lyrics were shouted by MC Ride at the audience. His voice is so absurdly deep that the words were hard to distinguish – bar the line in the chorus, ‘madness, chaos in the brain’. Fitting.
Finishing on the heaving bass of Lock Your Doors, they walked off as MC Ride’s voice echoed repeatedly into the silent abyss. The crowd stood, shocked at what they’d witnessed. They hoped for an encore. It was never going to happen. Their dormant bodies were confused after 50 minutes of straight aural onslaught and physical abuse. Like Death Grips, they’d given every ounce of energy that they had. Death Grips live show was something that – like the first time I heard their music – left me wide-eyed and jaw-dropped. Their music is so confrontational and dark, yet they manage to drive it home live with this raw aggression and energy that crosses the boundary from being weird and fucked-up to being shockingly awesome. Their sound is next level. Their live show takes their next level sound next level. Death Grips – wow.
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