Smoke & blue light

[Death Grips @ The Forum, Kentish Town: 2 May 2013]

It seems as though I’ve arrived pretty much on time, because as I bundle through the Forum’s foyer doors, a solitary figure is standing in the centre of the stage, stripped to his waist and bathed in a demonic haze of smoke and blueish light. I squeeze myself through the crowd and arrive close to the front, in amongst a young rabble of eager faces all bearing slightly hysterical grins. With hardly enough time to assemble my senses before the coming onslaught, I feel a slightly terrified hysterical grin creeping over my own face as I plunge forward.

Two things immediately stand out about Death Grips’ music: the first is that with their highly confrontational sound, they seem to want to repel listeners instead of attracting them. It has become quite a rarity to discover a band who display such obvious disdain for the homogenizing corporate agenda of large record companies. The second is that a band with such a furiously antagonistic approach to making music can nonetheless appeal to such a broad audience. In amongst the spiralling throng of teenage boys unleashing a flurry of semi-playful elbows and punches at the front of the crowd are audience members fitting the profiles of followers of musical subcultures as diverse as hardcore, hip hop, metal and dubstep. Much has been written about the band’s punkish take on rap music, a genre which sometimes struggles to retain its relevance amid an ocean of self-parodying imitators. Less has been written about why the barely audible screams of a man with a torso full of tattoos next to a lurking sidekick with a laptop and a sampler should be so immensely relevant and danceable.

Part of the twisted attraction possibly stems from the voyeuristic fascination of watching one semi-naked man writhe like a snake on stage, capturing, channelling and reflecting the audience’s energies and frustrations, becoming a conduit for their pent up aggression. Beneath the screeches and sub-bass noise, there is an honesty to MC Ride’s stage presence, which doesn’t seem to hide or obscure anything.

There was an element of disappointment in the evening, as I had been looking forward to witnessing drummer Zack Hill break drum sticks while battering his tuned-down toms into submission. Yet despite the lack of live drums, inconceivably, a fellow with a microphone wailing over a backing track managed to to confound and batter the audiences’ expectations. The set up was deliberately minimal, in homage to the DIY aesthetics of early hip hop, yet also retro-futuristic: the whole intense experience like a radio broadcast from the post-apocalyptic remains of a smouldering civilization, a culture burnt out on its own contradictions.

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