Death Grips just posted a note on their Facebook page announcing their breakup, which involves them canceling any and all upcoming tour dates. In an attempt at getting right to the goods for once, here’s a copy of the letter–which appears to be scrawled on a beat-up napkin–followed by the text in that message.
we are now at our best and so Death Grips is over. we have officially stopped. all currently scheduled live dates are canceled. our upcoming double album “the powers that b” will still be delivered worldwide later this year via Harvest/Third Worlds Records. Death Grips was and always has been a conceptual art exhibition anchored by sound and vision. above and beyond a “band”. to our truest fans, please stay legend.
Should I even be posting an update about this? Should we feed into the hype… or anti-hype, or whatever it is? I don’t know what we “should” or should not be doing. There’s a loose idea or framework for the site that is drifting around in my skull like snow globe dander, in lieu of any legitimate mission statement, but while I may choose to believe that it’s a real and true flag that I have firmly cemented into the Earth that reflects some noble ethos, the reality is that it’s probably fairly easy to tip over and that a breeze or two has even leveled it from time to time–perhaps without me even recognizing it. For me, it’s pretty simple; we covered Death Grips toward the beginning, back before they were absolutely everywhere, so it makes sense to address them now, during their incredibly suitable departure.
Let me puncture some holes in the veil that people who publicly write about music often seem so reliant on and make it known that some magical Spider sense never went off in the back of my skull alerting me that there was breaking music related news emerging; a friend actually reposted the breakup note on my Facebook page. As I first wrote about in my extensive review/breakdown of Exmilitary, a full 3 years ago, my own introduction to the Sacramento trio and their unique brand of industrial noise rap came way of another friend/writer, who sent me their remarkably compelling “Guillotine” video. He didn’t know anything about them either, other than that the video was amazing and that I might feel the same way about it. So, I looked into it, found their site, downloaded the free mixtape, and listened to it like crazy for over a week, never knowing where or who this music was coming from, and, more or less, content, at the time, in never finding out. Not everything works this way; usually the snow’s been trampled quite a bit by the time we get to touch it, and even when we hear about these things when they’re fresh, everyone else is still getting the same press releases. This, however, seemed to exist in its own realm, on its own terms.
I was surprised to discover that hyper technical drumming powerhouse Zach Hill was behind the project. I didn’t know his level of involvement other than that he was producing beats, but he was the only name tied to it at first, aside from the mysterious rapper bugging the fuck out in the passenger seat of the video (later revealed as Stefan “Mc Ride” Burnett). Hill let it be known that the music that he was creating with Death Grips actually fell more in line with his personal interests and with what he listened to in his personal life, than the work that he had created as one-half of the experimental math rock duo Hella, who helped put him on the map. It was clear that his future was with noise rap. According to the master beatsmith, Death Grips was all that he would focus on from that point on, leaving his supporting role as drummer for Brooklyn guitar tapping virtuoso, Marnie Stern, and even putting his involvement with legendary Japanese noise rock outfit, The Boredoms on hold. He was trading in his well earned indie rock accolades for something even more abrasive and less accessible; teaming up with producer, Andy “Flatlander” Morin (who had also worked on Hella and Zach Hill solo releases), and Burnett, a previously unknown figure that lived in Hill’s neighborhood and whose raw lyrical content and aggressive presentation made him the face of the operation.
Live, the heavily tattooed Ride would bark out his lyrics like a cross between an emcee and a hardcore punk frontman, while Hill laid out a whooping on his kit, as he is known to do–the duo being typically shirtless. Sometimes, Morin would be there; at others, not. They gave off the impression–sometimes directly, sometimes implied, sometimes through lyrics–that they were recording in abandoned Sacramento buildings; even squatting. Everything was gritty, urban, and industrial with glitched-out, post-apocalyptic elements; the type of shit that makes one dwell on backfiring technology becoming dangerously self aware and dying in space with a microchip implanted in their skulls. They seemed committed to the rejection of the more orthodox avenues of promotion and mainstream media, and devoted to operating from the underground. Exmilitary sampled everyone from Charles Manson and Janes Addiction to Link Wray, Pink Floyd, and David Bowie, so they couldn’t very well sell that beast legally with all of those uncleared samples, but they were renegades… just like Lorenzo Lamas. That’s how it seemed, at least. Then they signed to Epic records.
Their signing of a 2 album deal with Epic CEO, L.A. Reid–the man behind the success of artists like Justin Beiber, Mariah Carey, Avril Lavigne, Paula Abdul, Pink etc. etc.–in early 2012, seemed incredibly left field. Death Grips assured us that nothing had changed and, somehow, tried to angle things as if they were more punk than ever, even mentioning that they xeroxed their contract on Reid‘s then-co-host on The X- Factor, Simon Cowell‘s, copier machine (they infiltrated the system; they weren’t part of it… of course. Hannibal Lecter had been invited to Bruce Wayne’s dinner party). Up until then, Death Grips had only played very select dates in hipster havens like Brooklyn, or in venues overseas, beyond the random small shows in their home state of California. In fact, the friend who forwarded me their breakup note, did so because she was someone that I had initially turned on to the group in those early days, hipping her to a raucous warehouse show that the trio was throwing in Oakland. I couldn’t go to it myself, still waiting for them to schedule a stop where I could see them in the Northwest.
When they finally announced that first real tour, I had an interview scheduled with them, which I had pitched to a print mag that I had just begun working with. I was given an advanced promo of their major label debut, The Money Store, and was reassured with material that was slightly less lo-fi grit, but demonstrated a progression incorporating some equally as engaging cyber doom elements. However, the week that the interview was supposed to take place, they canceled the entire tour, claiming that they needed to focus on working on the followup release, and then… effectively vanished. The publicist admitted that he couldn’t even get a hold of them himself, and suggested that I monitor their twitter account, because they’d probably pop up there eventually. I told him that I wasn’t waiting for anyone, and moved on, but the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. I continued to support the group and eventually saw them at the exact same Seattle venue that they bailed on originally–albeit it quit a bit later–but something never quite sat right with me again, regarding the group. Something about shitting on the small clubs and working for a major, didn’t seem to line up with the image they’d been so carefully presenting.
Death Grips wanted to continue to create with a freedom that Epic, apparently, promised them that they would retain, even while under contract. Sometime after their tour cancellation, a couple of remixes for Bjork appeared, as well, after the Icelandic songstress sent a letter of support to the group. There was also an interactive video for the song “I’ve Seen Footage,” featuring a bunch of douchie white college kids at a pool party and released in collaboration with none other than MTV. My interview was scrapped around May of 2012, and on September 30th, the band leaked their follow up studio release, No Love, Deep Web, for free through their website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. They claimed that their work was of the moment and that they needed to put it out when it was ready, so that they could effectively move on to the next stage. They were pissed at Epic for not giving them an exact release date other than the general information that it wouldn’t come out until the following year. The cover art featured a picture of an erect penis (Zach Hill’s?) with the album title scribbled across it in sharpie. Many speculated that it was all promotional hype, but Hill and company eventually made the frustrated email correspondences with the Epic public. That’s when the label dropped them. The result was not unlike the conclusion to Grizzly Man; you could see it coming. It was only a matter of time.
This too seemed very anti-establishment and in line with the mission statements that they had pitched to the press and through their social media outlets, but there was a bit of hypocrisy in a lot of it. They were still speaking to media outlets like Spin and Pitchfork, after all, so it was actually just the really small, more underground publications, like the one that I was supposed to interview them for, which got the shaft. They still booked/played festivals like Coachella and Pitchfork Music Fest, so it was the small clubs, their bookers, and the fans that would have seen them in those more intimate environment, coming to see them specifically, that really got fucked. Then there’s the whole issue about how long it really takes to physically press an album for quality control, the limitations of production time and availability of facilities around the end of the year, with delays due to Christmas, and the feasibility for the label to get that album out even if they wanted to… but that’s a whole other issue. They wanted out of the deal, so they set fire to that relationship, pure and simple.
The guys always stated that their intention was to operate as a project that was more than just a “band,” and supported those claims with the visual component of their videos. Another example is The Money Store‘s graphic cover art by illustrator, Sua Yoo, which featured “an androgynous masochist on the leash of a feminist sadist who’s smoking” and was meant to be a reflection of their desire to “fiercely support homosexuality, transparent world leadership, and the idea of embracing yourself as an individual in any shape or form.” When they followed up to their No Love, Deep Web release last year, by dropping the Government Plates LP–again for free, through their Facebook page without warning–it was accompanied with a video for each and every one of the 11 tracks. Less than a month ago, the punk-rap outfit released what they referred to as “Niggas On The Moon,” with the explanation that the 8 track effort (featuring vocals by Bjork on every one of them) was actually just the first half of what would be their upcoming double album, The Powers That B; also referenced in the napkin note. They gave music to the fans, but they still seemed to be conflicted about a lot of things beyond that. They wanted to exist as more than a band, so their issues extended beyond just creating music.
Last year, the Sac Town outfit performed at the Sasquatch! Music Festival in Eastern Washington State on a bill that proudly boasted headliners and hugely popular (and boring as shit) acts like Mumford & Sons, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Vampire Weekend, The Lumineers, The Postal Service, and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. This yielded (at least a couple) really poorly written reviews by people who had very little idea about who the band was, yet felt comfortable posting weakly informed misinformation and half-assed content in the form of “reviews.” Later in the year, they canceled their tour, which involved a scheduled spot at Austin‘s Fun Fun Fun Fest, beside such respectable and/or pioneering artists as Slayer, Ice T, Television, Daniel Johnson, Cro-Mags, The Underachievers, and Melt Banana. With the latest news, the trio are now effectively bailing on Fun Fun Fun Fest, yet again (this year’s lineup includes Judas Priest, Nas, King Diamond, John Waters, Dinosaur Jr, Rocket From the Crypt, Yo La Tengo, and Freddie Gibbs & Madlib). In discussing the Money Store artwork, the group also stated, “Acceleration is a mantra, we’re not a political band, we are freaks and outsiders.” The problem is that they seem to have pulled the brakes on a lot of events that actually catered more to the disenfranchised freaks and outsiders that they claim to represent and support, while showing up quite a bit for the larger, more mainstream festival crowds. The major exception to that scenario is when they ditched out on an officially sponsored Lollapalooza after party event–opting to project a fans suicide note on a screen instead–and were later removed from the festival lineup itself (replaced by skate/snowboarder, Shaun White’s band, Bad Things).
There were times when I didn’t eat meat, and while it ultimately didn’t take, there is one thing that I learned from it by those around me: do what you do, but if you start preaching and acting lofty about shit, people are going to not only hold you to the things that you boast and claim to be about, but wait for you to slip up, just so that they can call you out on that shit. When I decided that I didn’t want to be a vegetarian anymore, I just stopped being one and never heard a word about it. On the flipside, I knew someone who bragged about being vegan to the point where she needed to verify with the waiter if the aioli had eggs in it or not, before putting it on her fish (an animal with a face)–then, when she discovered that it did have them, she just got it anyway. It’s the same thing that gets me about the idea of an organized religion that requires you to attend a service once a week to remind yourself not to act like a demonic piece of shit toward the people around you; if you simply internalize what you believe in and put it into practice, you should be able to simply trust yourself, move, and live without constantly questioning your own motives. Death Grips championed their ideals, but then had a lot to address regarding them, and how they chose to publicly execute their game plan. They often came across as conflicted.
I understand the concept of working on a project with a more expansive vision–in other words, “beyond” just a “band”–but whether these guys were just operating as a project under some loose principles, or as one under a very strict concrete vision, as they often portrayed, it’s difficult as an “outsider” to not feel that their focus may have been compromised from time to time. But then again, maybe that’s all that there is to it; they just moved freely, making decisions as they went along, and changing directions without concerning themselves about the repercussions–only with if they felt that those maneuvers were necessary at the time or not. These decisions appear to rise out of the blue; they were just advertising for their Fun Fun Fun Fest spot on their Facebook page a couple of weeks ago, after all.
The group arrives like an apparition from underground means, then after signing to a major and defending that decision in a number of interviews, second guess that choice and pull the plug. They sign on for Lollapalooza, second guess the decision, and pull the plug. Now, right before embarking on the biggest, most mainstream, fake hardcore MTV tour of their lives as the supporting acts for Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, they pull the plug. Perhaps it hit them how much nothing more could epitomize the idea of abrasive underground “art” for the marginalized outsiders mutating into the biggest corporate money draws available than that NIN/Soundgarden tour–maybe they saw their potential future and/or recognized their role as the “credibility” on the bill. Having an inner conflict would seem natural in those situations–it would make more sense than for them to actually go ahead as planned with them– but, for the most part, the largest casualties often became those that supported the band from a very genuine place and anticipated the small club shows that were pulled away in favor of giant glorified frat parties masquerading as music festivals.
Is it ironic that Zach Hill rejected his past projects, while endorsing his new one, walking away from a fairly recognized position in indie music for a more abrasive and “honest” role in a, supposedly, less accessible, aggressive underground project, only to have that project become the biggest thing that he’s probably ever been involved with on any really substantial creative level? Or, was that just part of the formula? Maybe the inner conflicts, detours, and hurdles that we witnessed, never actually existed for them. Who knows? Perhaps, if you asked them, they’d tell you that everything unfolded incredibly smoothly from where they stood, but it did often feel that, for such an explosive outfit with such a reckless, unrestrained and volatile aesthetic, they were holding onto the wheel pretty firmly throughout most of the turbulence and, maybe now that the road ahead has been paved so well for them, they now feel comfortable enough to just leap the fuck out of the moving vehicle.
So, again, since it’s already obvious that this news is going to be everywhere and we’re just feeding into an over-saturated story and the hype that’s created by laying something out in the open and allowing outlets to swarm in like vultures on carrion to act as if they’ve exhumed it themselves, should we even be covering it? Plus, as I’ve already elaborated on, anyone that’s been following the project for any reasonable amount of time should have probably expected something like this coming anyway; the last thing that the dissolving of the unit amid a slew of high profile tour dates should come across as is “shocking.” But, like Death Grips, we’ll gravitate toward whatever interests us at the time, or whatever conversations I believe that we can contribute something to, whether it’s “underground” and “obscure,” or has become the biggest story in internet culture media. I’m way too fucking old and burned out to worry too much about if I’m endorsing something that doesn’t fit into our “shtick” enough, or is too “mainstream,” as long as it intrigues me.
There are things that I think are straight jive, corny bullshit, or simply not interesting, so we avoid them. There are also certain guidelines, such as making sure that the information–whatever it may be–is provided in a manner that allows people to follow along and learn about new material, rather than feeling shutout by inside references, but for the most part, nothing that we’re doing is really that important. To clarify what I mean by that is that nothing that anyone is doing is that important,whether it’s the biggest music blog on the internet, or the biggest platform in television, radio, or print. And, to tell you the truth, I’d say that we have probably more credibility than the majority of the outlets that I come across, but the reason behind that belief stems purely from knowing my intention and that the intention is always the driving force for me. I have to, at least partially, feel the same way about Death Grips. They made moves that seemed erratic, and others that felt contrived; often at the same time… often the same exact moves. Still, at the core, I believe that they really just wanted to share something with people and had a particular mission or message in doing so, which they cared about enough to feel the need to even express something like this disbandment at all, especially in a letter in the way that they have.
It’s true that it was difficult to tell if they were really just floating effortlessly and making casual moves, or simply over thought everything way too much. The intensity of their answers in specific interviews, militantly delivering their ethos like hostage demands, suggests the latter. But in the end–and this is the end, right?–none of that shit ever really mattered to me. I don’t care about their rants in interviews, anymore than most people are going to give a fuck about my random digression in the last paragraph, where I quickly babble on about my belief in our own credibility and intention behind the site, immediately after explaining how none of that shit is even important at all anyway. What matters is how you inspire people or connect to them and I feel that, when it’s all said and done, Death Grips really did create some truly original and inspiring work. Of course, plenty of folks in Houston would be quick to inform you that the band’s sound wasn’t “unique” at all, but rather a clear rip off of the material being produced by Michael LaCour (aka B L A C K I E…In All Caps With Space) for years prior–and they, actually, make a pretty strong argument–but what Death Grips was producing didn’t quite sounded like anything that I’d ever heard before, and they have put out some tremendous and affecting work in their own right (not to mention, they indirectly pushed B L A C K I E onto the radar of a lot of people that may never have heard of him, otherwise). Meanwhile, Kanye West is still claiming that Yeezus was an unparalleled, innovative, and groundbreaking effort that will change the face of music forever, after just blatantly– and, in my opinion, poorly–biting heavily from both of their styles.
I really love Exmilitary, as well as Money Store and their catalog in general, although I still haven’t given Government Plates or the Niggas On The Moon material much of a listen yet. For having a relatively short run, Death Grips really did push a respectable amount of quality material out and, if what they say is true, there is still a bit more to come. So, what does an official disbandment really mean? I guess that it means no more scheduled concert dates, which they’d, more than likely, cancel anyway. It means no more ominous Project Mayhem level threats/promises, that may or may not simply disintegrate. No more rebel without a cause metaphorical protests or unification of the directionless, where aspiring future Hot Top employees grab pitchforks, ban together donning Guy Fawkes masks manufactured in South American sweatshops, and march down main street until their tummies rumble and they ultimately just stop at the Wafflehouse for a quick break, slowly dispersing one-by-one or in small clusters, so that they can get home in time to meet curfew. What we’re left with is a catalog of tracks that you either “get” or you don’t — want to, or don’t give a shit about. What we’re left with is some pretty great music and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s all that ever really mattered anyway.