Death Grips: Sound Control, Manchester, 6/11/12

Being a right cynic made me anxious about seeing Death Grips. Their whole to-do with Epic, the characteristic leaking of No Love Deep Web, the expected ‘backlash’ and ensuing acrimony all struck me as the label-men tapping into the new-age punk ethos of the newly leashed talent, contriving the whole stand-off in order to bring their hype to a new level and quell fears of them being tamed. I just wasn’t buying it. Thankfully, Epic dropped the band four days before this show, assuaging my suspicion, restoring a little of that ‘fuck-the-Man’ mentality. Shit was ‘bout to get kamikaze.

Sound Control being Manchester’s premier top-floor venue with basement feel, it was a cosy affair. The dim purple hue of the lights masked a lot, as many missed a sullen, hooded Stefan Burnett arranging the performance visuals minutes before the show. A shout of ‘Ride!’ from behind prompted a stern nod and little more.

When he and drummer Zach Hill eventually poured onto the stage, both shirtless, both scalped, both bearded, they engaged in no pleasantries (save a smattering of fist-bumps/punches from Ride) and leapt into the throat-infected confrontation of ‘Come up and get me’. It folded into ‘Lil Boy’, a jittery Atari-step that flits into stomp mode, and then the binary lurch of ‘Get Got’, descending to the echoes and sirens of ‘Blackjack’. Transitions between tracks were heralded by the skittish beats rippling from Hill, his minimal kit whipping Burnett into whichever predestined contortions awaited. This set was as rigid as your nan’s knitting.

The obvious absence of Flatlander from the stage somewhat obscured the usual electronic crackle of the live mix, leaving the duo with only a backing track to writhe to. In the wrong hands, this could detract from the fluidity of their set, but the ceaseless energy, physicality and relentless pulpit-like rantings of Burnett, with the flailing metronomic precision of Hill, made this as much performance art as it did hardcore rap gig.

Each of the band’s three albums was represented equally in the spacing of the night, the crowd screaming choruses to ‘Spread Eagle Cross the Block’ and the brooding closer of ‘Lock Your Doors’ alike. Surprisingly, of the older material, bloggers favourite ‘Guillotine’ lacked the vitality and immediacy of its contemporaries such as ‘Takyon (Death Yon)’.

Yet where the set thrives is new album highlight ‘No Love’. If you were to distil the essence of Death Grips, it would be this track. It builds and sways into a malevolent grind, Ride’s ‘dark matter flu state of consciousness’ shared and chanted of by his misanthropic horde. It provided a sinister and unified centre-point around which the evening pivoted.

Unity is really at the heart of a Death Grips show, despite its being one of the strangest social spaces I’ve encountered. I rocked up with my 70’s hairdo and my Converse, affecting the usual aloof detachment and voyeurism as I’m wont to indulge in, expecting to be greeted by swathes of hardcore types, all matted hair and band t-shirts.

They were there, certainly, yet the stench of beard sweat was imbued with a hint of Paco Rabanne, the shaved heads and mosher-mops were interspersed with Nu-Era caps and drooping ear-stretches. There were hipsters, hip-hop heads and bespectacled cardigan types, Black Flag, Ariel Pink and Raekwon t-shirts, myriad waves of social strata and taste-driven segmentation of the new youth. There was even a scouser who dubbed local support act Wet Nuns as ‘not bad…for a rock act’.

Whilst all unlikely passengers in the same carriage, we were all willingly churned into this sweating heaving organism. Skinny rakes gyrated like craved Morrisseys, butch blokes pushed and shoved, severe girls screeched along with the bile and flow of their conductor. It was as if all the idle tribalism of the modern musical landscape had dissolved in this realisation of repressed aggression, refracted through Burnett, a shouty prism of sinew, glaring from the stage.

It was an experience almost powerful enough to make me buy a t-shirt with a cock on it. Fifteen quid though? Fuck the man indeed…

Dan Cere