Death Grips have earned a reputation as one of the digital age’s most notorious acts. The group’s hybrid of industrial-noise-punk-rap has garnered critical acclaim – and a rabid, cult-like following, if the sold-out Academy is anything to go by.
Much has happened in Death Grip’s lifespan since their last appearance on Irish shores; specifically the unexpected releases of third studio album ‘Government Plates’, double album ‘The Powers That B’ (released in two halves, eight months apart, interrupted by the trio’s break-up, announced with a crudely written message on a napkin posted on Facebook and released in full with an accompanying message that they ‘might make more’), and fifth full-length ‘Bottomless Pit’.
Death Grips rarely (if ever) has an opener. Instead, the group do what they always sought to – make people uncomfortable. Dim lighting and a constant, grinding sonic loop with occasional flourishes of lo-fi recorded voices create an unnerving atmosphere. An impatient, already amplified crowd chant the grim, doom-laden and obscure lyrics that frontman MC Ride has made his bread and butter before trailing off into silence.
A mock countdown to a Happy New Year breaks out somewhere but before anybody has a chance to sing Auld Lang Syne; enter stage Death Grips. Dublin erupts.
Already known for their savage, corporeal performance and stage presence, Death Grips pull no punches tonight. With no interest in crowd banter or interaction, Ride snarls:
“Hand yourself over. Remain calm, I only plan to steal whatever I want”
It has begun. The dizzying synths of Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching) courtesy of Andy Morin gives Zach Hill his cue to begin his superhuman, injury inducing brand of drumming, and to the aforementioned sea of bodies that poured into the Academy to now ebb, flow and crash violently towards the stage and back again. By the time the group break into ‘Bottomless Pit’ opener I Keep Giving Bad People Good Ideas, mosh pits have broken out.
To call the performance seamless would be a massive understatement. Death Grips are relentless. Each track gives way to the next without even a brief pause. Noted for his impressive use of live sampling, Morin captures and loops Ride’s primal screams while patching together abrasive, over modulated synths. Particularly impressive and captivating are the segues from Up My Sleeves to Lock Your Doors and Hustle Bones into Guillotine.
Zach Hill’s performance is particularly astonishing, having created the off-kilter nature of Death Grips’ beats is one thing but to play it for ninety minutes without pause adding lightning fast, improvised drum fills is another. That anybody could arrange a fitting light and smoke show around their spasmodic sound is bewildering.
At no point does Ride stop moving, constantly changing the manner in which he projects his voice, flailing violently, hopping and gyrating like a man possessed until his lean, muscular, tattooed body glistens with sweat. It is not often that one attends a concert where a rambunctious crowd eventually struggles to keep up with the act they came to see. By the time the band played themselves off with The Fever (Aye Aye) sweat is dripping from the walls, people are exhausted, soaking but still beguiled.
That any artist can evoke such an emotional and physical reaction from an audience in the digital age is incredible – but then, Death Grips are arguably the definitive act of the digital age. No artist has embraced the seediness or bleakness readily found on the Internet like they have, nor has anybody exploited social media or file-sharing the way they have. However, to see a lack of smartphone waving at their show is admittedly refreshing.
Kurt Cobain once said that “rap music is the only vital form of music introduced since punk rock”. Nobody has proven it more than Death Grips did here.