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Death Grips
Fashion Week Calum Bradbury-Sparvell , January 15th, 2015 12:47

Lone Redditor poaches 8 stray Death Grips instrumentals from producer Andy Morin's website; resulting .zip file deemed inauthentic by peers, Sacramento trio's core constituency; Fashion Week officially arrives 4 months later, containing 6 of the rejected instrumentals and a further 8; all are agog. Yet another unconventional birth from a group subject to all the head-scratching scrutiny the internet can muster and about whom the music press is yet to develop an adequate critical framework. For the uninitiated, Death Grips is a performance art project responsible for some of the gnarliest, punkiest and most cryptic hip-hop to emerge in recent years and which – apart from the promised release of Jenny Death, the second part of double album the powers that b – engaged upon what would prove to be a slow, slow death last July. Death Grips' apparent return to the twittersphere on a new, unverified account – complete with tour promises, endearing Disneyland snaps and retweets of insults to the band – suggest what the savviest fans have already concluded: the project is not yet or not permanently dead. This album could simply be an advert for their swansong – the track names do, somewhat baldly, spell out J E N N Y D E A T H W H E N – or a cunning way to package some leftover demos, but it is far more tempting to forecast a reincarnation.

The undeniable liveliness of these instrumentals – our only real evidence amidst all the obfuscation – testifies to this prediction. Vocalist MC Ride's absence is tantalising for those awaiting Jenny Death but also oddly appropriate. While hardly reaching the giddy heights of PC Music or bo en's saccharine material, Fashion Week is the most vibrant and least menacing collection of tracks Death Grips have released. 'Runway J' and the first 'Runway N' feel like the opening salvos in a guerra florida with UK producer Slugabed; deliciously off-kilter synths evoke not the usual urban hell bracketed by barbed wire and sirens but Adventure Time's technicolour multiverse, a sonic geography in which Ride – at least in the current iteration of his persona – would stick out like a sore thumb.

Zach Hill's cacophonous thudding makes its return on the first 'Runway E' but comes off more clipped and precise than the deliberately anarchic n*ggas on the moon, Jenny Death's predecessor. One is left feeling energised, not threatened; indeed, the beat soundtracked a recent J.W. Anderson menswear showcase in London, while the 4/4 grooves of 'Runway D' and 'Runway A' are tailored to the catwalk. The muscled crook who smashed his way through Exmilitary, The Money Store and NO LOVE DEEP WEB appears to be strutting now. Talking of strutting, the second 'Runway N' is actually faintly Bowie-esque, built around a (mostly synthesised) rock & roll rhythm section and snatches of horns, but dirty and distorted. Death Grips did sample Bowie on Exmilitary's 'Culture Shock', and the artificial-death-cum-dramatic-reinvention that Fashion Week appears to signal does smack of his many avatars.

Despite all this, it appears that many in music journalism have tired of Death Grips. It's exhausting not knowing what to add to the masses of (sometimes much better) commentary generated on forums by amateur music fans, catching up with its findings and not controlling the buzz narrative. Equally many critics believe that Death Grips are all PR fluff – record label beef, no-shows, unexpected album drops – and no substance. Yet to separate Death Grips' smoke and mirrors from their music is to create a false binary. More than any other project, Death Grips validate Marshall McLuhan's 1964 maxim: the medium is the message. In Death Grips' world representations of authenticity and fakeness, rebellion and conformity, art and content, the sublime and the ridiculous blur, just like they do online. The internet has dramatically reshaped the production, dissemination and consumption of music and Death Grips have allowed it to mutate them more than most. How this next mutation will play out is as yet unclear. Several questions remain: what is to become of the two tracks from the .zip file which did not make their way onto Fashion Week? Where is MC Ride? Will any of the tracks on Fashion Week end up on Jenny Death, perhaps with vocals from Ride? Will Jenny Death be released during February's Fashion Week after which this release appears to be named? If so, why? Does Jenny Death even exist?

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