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Death Grips
The Money Store John Calvert , April 26th, 2012 10:32

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There's high comedy afoot on the old web-machine these days. Press attempts to answer the question 'What are Death Grips?' have taken a turn for the surreal, like a particularly psychotropic game of Seven Degrees Of Kevin Bacon. Placing DG's music in relation to the surrounding musical landscape has become the journo's version of The Aristocrats joke. To reach the punchline "And what do you call the act...?" you must first ad-lib fervidly, with comic complexity, and maximum earnestness, on various transgressive subjects – terrorist militias, serial-killers, murder, suicide, race-relations, sometimes domestic voodoo – until, having written the word 'cluster-bomb' more than seven times in one paragraph you're almost certain that MC Ride is actually you, and you he. "And the act is... Death Grips. Ta Da!".

Then there's the genre game: mad-as-shit new classifications bandied about like a photogenic baby at a Tory Conference. It's art-hop! No, it's tech-beat! You're both wrong, it's psycho-rap (actually... that was us). Nay sir, it's Anticon-punk, it's Def Jux joins the army, it's (my personal favourite) 'post-rap'! Until... Pfft... Is it even rap music?! (See also every incensed hip-hop forum in existence). And indeed, if it isn't rap, then it's time to circle around, in a crazy hell-loop, back to square one and... What in God's name is it?

Well we're gonna make it easy for everyone. Because in outlook, sensibility, and sonics, these godless Cali fucks, with their liquid, obliterated anomaly that has baffled half the Western internet... Well, they're as Brit post-punk as Keith Levene at a raincoat convention. Let's break it down.

Here is a band, a multi-ethnic band, who consider themselves true autodidacts, with a personal-is-political approach to agitprop. Who deal in themes of self-abasement, and the insidious erosion of identity. Who, like Joy Division, use expressionist production to convey a sense of place - a monochromatic urban wasteland known as Sacramento. Who use punk as a starting point for binding extremity to the cerebral. Who draw heavily on the music of British post-punk's last champion Kevin Martin. Who, like Massive Attack - the hip-hop babies of PiL and The Pop Group - evoke a ghost-ridden inner city betwixt heaven and hell. Who meld traditionally 'black' music with white, only this time using current musical languages - swapping dub-reggae for hip-hop, and guitar dissonance for millennial digi-noise.

Like ESG, they plough tribal grooves through spooked, denatured spaces, while winning the admiration of such artists as Bjork (see the DG Biophilia remixes): post punk's greatest female artist since The Au Pairs. They talk in terms of ideas, not influences, and just as the punks censured post-punk, they have been decried by their hip-hop peers for their left-field methods. More than perfectly, they fit John Lydon's model for 'the anti-music', and post punk's de facto manifesto of 'art you can dance to'. And always but always, the golden rule informs their every move: the principle that rhythm is the only type of energy that matters, especially when the world is falling down around you (shades of Killing Joke's funk-to-beat-of-the-apocalypse abound).

When reviews starting coming in for The Money Store, criticizing the trio for being overwhelming, too alien, too dense, and impenetrable, it was as if, for a brief moment, Mark Stewart was God again, and the Human League never happened. When you begin to alienate, that's when you know you're on to something. But what the naysayers and the hip-hop purists cannot contest, is that without question Death Grips offer something unprecedented. Which, in truth, was the only quality that unified the post-punk bands into a 'movement'.

Death Grips' debut, Ex Military, fluctuated between three primary modes – tech-gothic doom; militant/aggro wrath; and the suggestion that a process of digital asphyxiation is at work in the net-age. Like Gang Of Four said of the assault on perception, Death Grips imply that it’s a process in which we are complicit. "Masochism by information," producer Flatlander called it, employing exactly the same type of rhetoric as This Heat in explanation of Deceit.

The Money Store is weighed towards that latter mode. Divested of the air-clearing effect afforded by Ex Military's guitar samples and kuduro rhythms, all we're left with is a soup of electronic interference, exhausting percussion and smothering bass-cloud. It's stultifying like a bad case of screen fatigue; tangled and sparking - the sound of frazzled, short-fusing nerve ends. And after being dragged through the DEFCON 5 hysteria of 'Fever (Aye Aye)', the fatalistic IDM of 'Double Helix' and droning horror-rap on the indescribable 'Black Jack', the overwhelming sensation is one of containment. It's a no-wave style sick feeling which not even the second half's party beats can dislodge.

So if the conventional criticism is that the sound is just anarchy, in actual fact it's perfectly in keeping with the ideas the trio discussed with The Quietus last year - bringing to life the central premise that "Everything is static... eating away at the individual". Held in a 'death grip' by the weaponry of fear, the infecting flow of digital information is designed to keep us "half dead," the trio believe, somewhat echoing Marshall McLuhan's prophecy that "the more the data banks record of us, the less we will exist". Death Grips have avowed to keep their music "real and raw", not in a macho sense, but to feel whole again amidst an "endless digital now" (to borrow from William Gibson) which, by disbanding our reality into pixellated shards, scrambles our revolutionary instincts. It's all about a distrust in your very perception, and what could be more post-punk than that?

austin
Apr 27, 2012 6:25am

But it's really just Fishbone meets Throbbing Gristle, no? I mean i like it alot but the over analyzation by reviewers seems silly

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Jesus
Apr 27, 2012 8:48am

Man, I'm sure you're right when you write this, but why in saint fuck do you have to make it sound so pretentious? This article's a turn-off.

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charlie f
Apr 27, 2012 9:32am

I thought it was a really good review, you guys suck

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Luke Turner
Apr 27, 2012 10:38am

In reply to Jesus:

Perhaps you'd be more at home with Amazon-style user reviews Jesus? And anyway, 'pretentious'? You're the star of the Bible man! That stuff's far out!

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Michael Avi
Apr 27, 2012 12:15pm

bahahahaha this album makes me want to rip my head off

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Carpathian
Apr 27, 2012 1:53pm

Sat and watched a hip hop review channel on Youtube where they were all sitting round on the pretext of reviewing the album as so many of their followers had badgered them into doing so. Much argument ensued about whether they were hip hop or not with example and counter example fired backwards and forwards. Aside from that they could hardly seem to decide if they loved, hated or even understood it.

I'm not a fan of hip hop but I see a lot of it in the album and still love it very much. They loved hip hop but end up arguing whether it even is at all. That these two things both happen makes me happy that they've done things right.

It's its own animal and doesn't care otherwise - surely the strongest footing any release can have. Do what you do and screw the trends or current cool. Live or fall on your own efforts.

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Mars
Apr 27, 2012 4:47pm

This group has me all fucked up. Okay, context: I'm forty one, mixed race, and never cared for rap / hip hop music past the 80's (with some exceptions, PE, Wu, ODB) - same with house and industrial music. I grew up in the woods of New England - it just didn't speak to me in the same way that extreme metal and, later, noise rock did.

Very recently though, I started looking up old school rap that I liked (which angry hipsters on Youtube insist I refer to as 'electro'). This led me to some really out there shit beyond guys I liked (Marley Marl). TWR 'those who rock' (seriously, 'Stupid Deff' is mind-blowing), Double Feature 'This Ain't No Game', Poison Lad, Stax's "Wow, we got a drum machine!" funk single 'New York Computer Break Dance'.

Anyway, I'm thinking "How has this stuff not been assimilated?". I mean, if there's anything that ties today's groups together, it's an omnivorous appetite for obscure sounds. Two weeks later: Death Grips has set the fuckin' web on fire.

I should love this, but something is off. It feels too ironic, maybe? I dunno, I'm willing to concede that, a lot of times, everything indie rockers do sounds like a smug pose, whether it is or not.

But my immediate reaction is resistance. Certainly, this means that they're doing something right?

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Apr 27, 2012 5:11pm

Great group, great album, plain and simple.
Enjoy the music.

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Ant
Apr 28, 2012 12:34pm

In reply to Mars:

Totally with Mars here. Similar age / background, although in England. I'm not sure what it is that turns me off about it. On paper I should love it. Maybe I just don't *believe* it. Hmm...

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Mars
Apr 28, 2012 9:34pm

In reply to Ant:

Right? I'm gonna go with Anon's advice and just try to wrap my head around it. Whether it's actually bullshit or brilliant will suss itself out.

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mooseman
Apr 30, 2012 7:06am

In reply to Mars:

If you read any of the interviews with Zach Hill (drummer), they seem pretty genuine. They aren't the ironic sort.

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Mars
May 1, 2012 5:34am

In reply to mooseman:

Not a huge fan of his prior works (no hate, mind you, definitely respect - just... not love either), so I can't say that I've put in the time on that. But, I believe you. I'm sitting down with this tomorrow.

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jemimallah
May 2, 2012 1:19pm

You can only really get away with wild paradigm-juggling like this if you actually make reference to the fucking record once in a while. Also, I'm pretty sure this is a review of Fantastic Damage from ten years ago with the artist and title names changed.

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Bewarethemoon
May 2, 2012 4:28pm

On first listen the whole album is overwhelming, akin to listening to Skinny Puppy on acid ( which we once did I kid you not!)
Like future music from an ultraviolent world, described by William Gibson, I could only get (get, get, get) Hacker on initial listen, but I found myself going back for more, and now I'm hooked!!
I'm too old to give a shit what some hipsters a trending this nanosecond, so I'll just follow my gut instinct, which is that I'm loving the sounds, that bleed into each other and the different snippets of vocals I hear each time I listen.
I will say though, that it reminds me of " The Test" by Ministry from The Mind is....

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