Outside in the indifferent and dreary cold, two lines of punters – overwhelmingly teenaged and self-aware of their crude angst – snaked interminably in both directions around the block of the Enmore theatre. Although personally I was a little disappointed that Death Grips didn’t choose to host their gig in an abandoned parking lot or an unfinished construction site, it was clear that the anticipation of the night was palpably feverish, potentially unhinged.
The Californian ‘experimental hip-hop’ trio has been launched into viral infamy, caught in the outer orbit of the internet music mainstream. A band that once did the rounds playing college dorm rooms, basements and intimate warehouse spaces now regularly occupies some of the most coveted slots on international festival headlines.
A band that’s infamous for their live antics and controversial stunts – one year they decided to not show up to a Lollapalooza set at all and in their place, leave a projection of a suicide note –invariably sets the expectations high. Yet their stage set up for the night was conspicuously unelaborate, sparse and rudimental. An act who has consistently outdone themselves in intensity on every subsequent album simply has no need for intricate stage work – it would hold them down.
Fashionably late, the group emerges stoically to raucous cheering and wastes no time getting into a blunt opening of Whatever I Want (Fuck who’s watching). The crowd appears to have taken the message emphatically, descending immediately into a formless wave of senseless agitation. The next few jams provide no momentary respite for the high-octane performance. The follow up Bubbles Buried in this Jungle serves to ratchet the intensity well past 11 with its abrasive droning instrumentals and bludgeoning vocal delivery and Get Got’s schizophrenic break beats and flurried urgent synth lines tempers the pace of Mc Ride’s vigorous vocal delivery.
It’s fitting that the band’s last LP was titled Bottomless Pit, because that seems to be what it feels like to be in the mosh of a Death Grip’s concert. Illuminated by sparse blood red lighting, Mc Ride appears only as a lean and menacing silhouette, commanding the stage alongside an athletic yet maniacal Zach Hill whose commotion on the kit disturbs the fog around him. Inside the crowd, it is difficult to tell when one song ends and the next begins. Flatlander’s pulsating synth drones of System Blower sink right into Zach Hill’s incessant downbeat thrashing of Hot Head, and both retreat momentarily for Mc Ride’s explosive opening into the apocalyptic No Love, where droning air horns seem to collapse from cavernous halls of the Enmore.
No doubt the quality of the crowd was a performance in itself. To call it a mosh pit would be a terrible understatement, from the inside it was a savage fight for survival and an endurance test, from the outside it must’ve looked like the senseless carnage of a warring colony of ants or an agitated black sea. In the near pitch black, you are subject to a never-ending torrent of flying fists, loose elbows and spasmodic thrashing heads. The only momentary respites from this cacophony of violence I recall were during those sparse preludes or even rarer melodic overtures which punctuated even more destructive breakdowns. The eerie female vocals which herald I Keep Giving Bad People Good Ideas begins with a fragile and tantalising mimicry of the title, resetting the energy of the pit, before descending by octaves into a crescendo of overdriven staccato guitar bashing and drum thrashing instrumentals which prompts the pit to implode again into fits of angsty commotion.
The choice of Guillotine, the track arguably responsible for the band’s claim to infamy and memeability, was a peculiar choice for a closer to the show. It lacks the cathartic emphasis I feel would be appropriate to end a gig that’s been a 60-minute performance in violence. Its tension which exudes from Mc Ride’s agitated and incoherent grunts serves to boil your blood in antagonistic defiance, a fitting mood to have started the show with but questionable to end. Peculiar still was that Guillotine was the only Ex-Military track performed, Ex-Military of course being the group’s highly celebrated LP debut, and in some regarded opinions, their best. Although why this is, isn’t worth dwelling on except that the conspicuous absence of Ex-Military tracks (Beware, Takyon, I Want it I Need it) was my main regret about the show.
Say what you will about Death Grips, their novelty, their cultural relevance or what have you, but there’s no denying their ability to ratchet the intensity, to transform even the most unassuming crowd of adolescents into totems of ultra-violence, or to – as all good music should – incite constructive controversy. They’ve no doubt done this at the Enmore, even sending your humble author to the physio for a neck injury incurred in the crowd – I expect no less from Death Grips.