Despite having a strong disliking for Brixton’s O2 , I didn’t take much convincing to come round to the idea that Death Grips could make better use of the 35 year old institution than most could, especially after the release earlier this year of “Year of the Snitch”, so I begrudgingly bought my ticket and prepared for the routine moshing.
Death Grips’ cult status very much precedes them; cryptic lyrics, Hendrix-esque sexualised stage persona (think microphone phallus) and the guttural rapping style of frontman Ride stirs hysteria in the minds of angst ridden adolescent boys. There is something unique in the way Ride’s satanic and sleazy vocals blend bizarrely with the unstoppable force of Zach Hill’s bewitched heavy metal drums, and the scatty, industrial and restless synths of Andy Morin.
To my disappointment, any of the invigorating, adrenaline-inducing mania that Death Grips are known for was masked not only by a shoddy sound, but also by how dated it all suddenly seemed – there just isn’t anything controversial or alternative about leaving your crowd waiting and replacing a quarter of your set with a rising Shepherd Tone anymore. Whilst a muddy kick drum and wall of abrasive and indistinct noises warbled from the stage of the old theatre and young men transformed into windmilling fistfuls of mindless testosterone, hoping to slyly ricochet off someone on before slipping back of into the sweaty forest of people, it became evident that Death Grips aren’t so much a band as a social function.
An uncanny liminal space is created in which a particular kind of violence is seemingly espoused. A double-facade emerges, with a take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred, every-man-for-themselves macho flailing contest immediately apparent and, subliminally, an adherence to some unspoken and ill-defined limits to these displays of anger, resulting in the arbitrary and often hypocritical rejection of someones’ own expressions of their bottled up inner fury at the injustices of the world. It all feels oddly familiar, which is definitely not what Death Grips sell themselves on – an ordinary, run of the mill experience.
In this setting of the age old O2 Academy Brixton, home to guitar solos and anti-government sing-a-longs, the Death Grips ordeal feels derivative. It is easy to imagine the exact same scene for when Sex Pistols, Iron Maiden or any number of other hyper-masculine rock acts took to the same stage however many years ago. Maybe if a purpose was served in the creation of this space, it would seem a bit less offensive. Perhaps reducing toxic masculinity in the everyday by allowing people to vent in this environment? I hear you venture. Sadly, I think the legacy of The Who and other such innumerable bands have shown us this is tends not to be the case: if anything, the “scene” enables and empowers such behaviour.
Words by Nick Hann