If you’re not familiar with Death Grips, maybe it’s for the best. I mean, unless you enjoy riding an emotional rollercoaster, Death Grips is not the artist to let into your heart. In July of last year, the industrial hip-hop group posted a photo of a napkin announcing their disbandment, which spread like wildfire. There was suspicion, of course, but announcing something so serious with such a blasé attitude is not out of character for a band like Death Grips. They had said that they wanted to go out on a high note – albums such as Exmilitary and The Money Store were praised and overplayed – and fans found this justification to be legitimate, however unfortunate.
Soon after it was found that the news of their breakup was a rumour (started by the band themselves), a tour was announced. I was among the lucky ones to procure my ticket within the first ten minutes that they went on sale.
Given all of the hype surrounding their breakup and the fact that they haven’t toured since 2013 (after cancelling dates from last year), I was expecting a lot out of their Toronto show. What I got instead was the most dangerous crowd I had ever found myself drowning in and drowned out sound that was better quality the farther you got from the stage. The former surprised me, since it was an all-ages show – meaning that with younger people in the audience, it wouldn’t carry as much serious energy – and the latter annoyed me, since the Danforth Music Hall is supposed to have fantastic acoustics, given how popular of a venue it is. There isn’t room to complain about the set list, though. The docket of songs left nothing to be desired.
The show opened with “Takyon (Death Yon),” which was a strong starting point, given its popularity and punchy rhythm. The rest of the set was ideal – there were about five songs from each of their albums. Fan favorites, such as “Get Got,” “Guillotine,” and “I’ve Seen Footage” were on the list and executed beautifully by MC Ride. “No Love” was extended by a few minutes with Zach Hill’s drumming, which was perhaps the highest point of the show.
The show ended rather early (10:30 p.m.), and without an encore. Really, such would be expected, given that it was an all-ages show, and because an encore isn’t something in the nature of Death Grips’ persona.
At the end of it all, I’m glad to say that I was able to witness MC Ride in a shadowed silhouette, throwing all of the energy I had only heard recorded up to that point, into a physical form that was as strong as I had imagined. Having Zach Hill accompany MC Ride was a blessing, and I can’t imagine the experience being as potent without him. Despite my gripes with Death Grips, ultimately, I’m glad that they showed up at all.
Whenever we listen to music, it is difficult to separate the music itself from the circumstances of the artist. What you know about the artist tends to influence your perception of the music. Death Grips, however, bridges this gap between reality and music; they complement one another.
Exmilitary, the initial Death Grips mixtape, was released with a sense of mystery in 2011. The physical cover image, described as a “power object,” was a photograph that one member of the group had in his wallet for ten years without knowing the origin. MC Ride was also the only known member of the three-piece group at this point. They are now recognized as a three-piece, consisting of Ride, Zach Hill, and Andy Morin.
Although Exmilitary’s follow-up, The Money Store, was released without any major complications and with critical praise on an actual record label, Death Grips’ subsequent decision to abandon their international tour to work on their next album angered the label and fans. The content and more industrial production of The Money Store further polarized fans, both those who were expecting something similar to Exmilitary and new fans attempting to get into the band.
This next album, entitled No Love Deep Web, turned out to be what launched Death Grips into widespread popularity. In a rebellious gesture towards their label, Epic Records, who wanted to delay the release of the album until 2013, the group leaked No Love Deep Web to the masses. The now infamous cover featured an erect penis with the album title written on it. The band described this as a spiritual thing, not too dissimilar from Exmilitary’s cover, and further explained how peoples’ hang-ups with sexuality, gender, nudity, and religion were “toxic and poisonous to the human mind, and the development of humans in the modern world.” This perspective also corresponds to The Money Store’s cover of an androgynous masochist on the leash of a smoking female sadist.
Death Grips was dropped from the label after this incident and for posting private emails in a Facebook post titled “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA NOW FUCK OFF.” At Lollapalooza 2013, they never showed up for their performance and instead displayed a suicide note written to them with a child’s learning drum kit in front, which was destroyed by the audience.
On Nov. 13, 2013, Death Grips released Government Plates without any forewarning and for free, similar to the methods they used for No Love Deep Web. The physical release of No Love Deep Web finally took place on Nov. 19.
Surrounded with self-created controversy, deeper societal observations, and a polarization over all of their actions, Death Grips represent the punk ideology of separating oneself from society only to criticize it. This is ironically coupled with an overarching feeling that they do not care about themselves or who they anger, even if who they anger is the intended target of the message.