Rocky Horror Show

Live Music Review: Death Grips at Rock City

4 June 19 words: Tina Sherwood
photos: Tom Morley

We went with some trepidation to catch controversial American experimental hip hop band Death Grips down at Rock City this week...

I had some idea of what I was in for as I made my way to Rock City having written the Death Grips preview article for LeftLion. In my eagerness for work during a fallow time, I’d raised my hand.

Whilst untypical of the Death Grips demographic, I don’t feel as out of place as I’d imagined…sort of like throwing your Granny in the mosh pit. The audience are predominantly young and male, but there are enough females and people over 30 that I don’t feel excruciatingly awkward.

Rock City is heaving. There is a tangible ‘something’s going down’ vibe, a tension and excitement for a band with a well-documented history. Speaking with some of the sound crew about the day they’d had, my mind was not eased.

There are no on-stage banners, backdrops, no t-shirts or merchandise; everything seems impersonal. There isn’t even a support act, yet the audience is full, knowledgeable and baying for the band.

With heat from so many bodies and the temperature rising inside the venue, several pockets of fans attempt to stir the crowd by bellowing around the room, but it doesn’t catch on. At 8.30, the designated start time, a technician walks across the stage, prompting rigorous chanting of ‘MC Ride,’ front man and vocalist, Stefan Burnett’s alias, but even that fizzles out when nothing more happens. Remaining in the dark, a second technician is sent out to test the mics. It seems almost orchestrated, as though teasing the crowd; with these guys, it is wholly possible.

This gig was never going to start on time, once you know their history. At 8.45, 15 minutes after the crowd had begun to be ‘warmed up,’ the shadowy figures of the Death Grips trio slip onto the stage and the audience ignites.

At no point is there any spoken interaction between performer and audience. There are no welcomes, no band introductions, not even a pause for breath between each track. The only time there is space for applause is at the end; no opportunity for audience praise, the band play straight through.

All three musicians: MC Ride, drummer/producer Zach Hill, and keyboard player/producer/recording engineer Andy Morin, are industrious in their delivery. They work incredibly hard throughout the show but don’t stick around for plaudits or encores - the show ends as abruptly as it began. A single one-hour set.

Contrary to expectation, I loved the primal rhythm and thundering bass. It was loud – very loud. I was grateful to be on the balcony, not in the pit. I appreciated the band’s performance, even though I had no idea what the songs were about as the only lyrics I could decipher were expletives. I wouldn’t choose to attend another Death Grips gig, nor invest in their music, but I was surrounded by people who would be happy to do both.

There was a police presence in Talbot Street as I left the venue. I neither saw nor heard of any trouble, although the crowd was still immense as I drove through on my way home, with ears still pounding and the pulsating light show in my head.

Death Grips played Rock City on Monday 3 June.

Rock City website

Haarlem Fieldwork

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