Pitchfork Paris Festival, Paris, November 3
It’s Saturday morning and Death Grips have shared a picture of a rusty hammer via their Facebook. “TONIGHT PARIS” they write. Previous gigs in Brussels and Copenhagen have been previewed with images of a broken pipe and a small metal bin. What does it mean? Death Grips are leaving the game to start a hardware shop? After all, the Sacramento rap-noise band may soon need alternative employment – because recently, on their website, they published emails sent to them by their pissed-off major label after Death Grips released the album ‘No Love Deep Web’ online for free. The band response was “HAHAHAHAHAHA HA. NOW FUCK OFF.” The label, Epic, retaliated by dropping them and writing: “Unfortunately, when marketing and publicity stunts trump the actual music, we must remind ourselves of our core values.” It’s funny, because Death Grips are one of the most prolific creators of ‘actual music’ in the last two years. Since March 2011 they’ve released an EP, a mixtape and two full albums. They just don’t make any money. In April, ‘The Money Store’ sold just 3,200 copies. BitTorrent announced that the follow-up had been downloaded over 34 million times for free.
Today they look like they’ve come straight from the airport. Stefan ‘MC Ride’ Burnett and drummer Zach Hill stroll onstage, put down their bags and zip down their black jackets. Ride presses play on the computer and starts to stretch. Hill squats behind his kit and hammers a few bars. The crowd look worried. That’s because Death Grips’ music has a physical effect on your body. They grab you in the gut with churning gutter-synths, and the offbeat drums hurt parts of the brain you never knew existed.
‘Get Got’ has the crowd whooping, barely audible over the angry cracking of the kit. ‘Guillotine’ (appropriate for France) suddenly feels like a mild tickle rather than its usual invasive hammering. Burnett’s scream of “Guilloooooootiiiiine” disappears in the thick soupy fug of samples. But it’s not until ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ that people finally lose their shit (not literally, although who knows what this sound does to some people’s bowels). Ride flexes some more, drops to his knees, springs up and heads to the precipice of the stage. Is he going to jump? No. He just stares into the huge gap between the big stage and the pit. The red smoke grows thicker. They finish with ear-splitting noise. They don’t say anything about the controversy. They don’t pull another stunt. They say their only words of the set, a booming “THANK YOU”.