DeathGrips

The Echoplex is looking particularly moody tonight. There’s almost no illumination throughout the club save for the spotlights suffusing the stage with ominous washes of red and white light that, in turn, barely penetrate the soupy murk emanating from the smoke machine. Far more forceful is the throbbing bass generated by the Echoplex’s PA which — almost two hours before noise-rap outfit Death Grips is set to take the stage — already has this painfully hip crowd of LA scenesters bobbing their heads in unison. And there will be plenty more where that came from. If nothing else, during their brief but already storied career, Death Grips has established a reputation for pummeling, aggressive sonic hellscapes, industrial assaults over which vocalist MC Ride roams like a cracked-out junkyard dog.

Opener Cities Aviv takes the stage to a pulsing white-noise beat that gradually melds with his repeated refrain, “Life is real.” His set gradually increases in intensity as he whips his mic cord around like a lasso, sending drum mics and DI boxes flying. The set climaxes with Aviv leaping over the barricade into the front rows of the audience, prompting the hitherto relatively sedate crowd to engage in an impromptu mosh. By the time he finally frees himself from the ensuing melee and regains the stage, it is the crowd that has picked up his mantra of “Life is real.” Hard to argue with that.

Now is as good a time as any to mention that I have decided that the only way to really experience a Death Grips show, man, is to do so from the turgid melee of bodies at the front of the crowd, the eye of the vortex of energy that this concert promises to be. A violent location, and certainly no place for a full-size camera. I therefore decided to document the experience of the pit using my trusty iPhone, risking life and limb — not to mention $600 of personal electronics — for you, dear reader. This accounts for the, shall we say, impressionistic nature of the images that accompany this piece. Are they clear? No. Are they professional? Not really. Are they vérité? They’re vérité as fuck.

The live incarnation of Death Grips is comprised of Ride and prolific drummer Zach Hill. (Absent is engineer Andy Morin, who collaboartes with Hill on the band’s studio recordings but is sitting out the band’s current tour.) Ride receives a particularly rapturous welcome from the audience whilst Hill stubs out his cigarette and performs a few warm-up exercises. The reason for these becomes immediately obvious once Hill sits down at his extremely minimalist drum kit and begins pounding out a furious, rattling rhythm that doesn’t abate for the duration of the duo’s set. Not to be outdone, Ride barks out his lyrics in a frenzy, all the while flailing like an epileptic belly dancer, and by the time Death Grips is halfway through their opening number, “Come Up and Get Me,” both members are pouring sweat.

Understandably, therefore, the set is brief, lasting less than an hour, but the band makes the most of the time, tearing through a twelve-song set that draws equally from their three releases: 2011’s Exmilitary mixtape and 2012’s The Money Store (which landed the #10 spot on LA Music Blog’s Top 50 Albums of 2012 list) and No Love Deep Web. The band never pauses for breath throughout the set, and their audience responds in kind, surging crushingly forward as if drawn in by the gravitational pull of such signature tracks as “Get Got” and “I’ve Seen Footage.” Ride only ever says two words directly to them — “Thank you” as the band wraps their final number, “Lock Your Doors” — but it’s obvious from the shellshocked faces that surround me as the lights come up that Death Grips has made their intended statement loud and clear.

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Death Grips