Are Death Grips the Only Punk Band we Have Left?
Or are they just a bunch of pricks?
An aging Black Flag have reformed under two separate entities, Lil Wayne is performing with Limp Bizkit, and Minor Threat t-shirts are being sold in Urban Outfitters for $28 a pop. But, Death Grips, a band who are more than just a band, are a kick in the face to a genre that has long been punch-drunk on its past ideals.
But, before we get into things, let’s re-cap. At some point over the past few years, Death Grips signed to Epic Records, which confused everyone, because Death Grips sound like the end of the world, and Epic, which is a subsidiary of Sony, are responsible for radio-friendly artists like Ciara and The Script. Then, on October 1, 2012, after seemingly strained relations with their label, the band leaked their own record, No Love Deep Web. That made Epic angry, because they’d just lost a potential sum of money, and on the leaked version the record had a big cock splayed across the front of it.
Eventually, after a bunch of other stuff, like leaking record exec emails to their Facebook with the strapline “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA NOW FUCK OFF”, Death Grips were dropped. Which, to anyone with an internet connection and a soundcloud account, doesn’t really mean anything.
That condensed version of the Death Grips saga takes us up to last weekend, when the band didn’t show up to their performances at an after party show and a headline slot at Lollapalooza. At the club show, they just projected a suicide note while playing a CDQ recording of the band’s material, ending in Zach Hill’s drum kit being destroyed. And at the latter, they were replaced by snowboarder Shaun White’s band. Both of which are very bad things.
The band has since cancelled shows in Boston, New York, and Baltimore, without giving an official statement or reason as to why. I’m still trying to get my head around it all. Are Death Grips punk as fuck for doing whatever they want, regardless of consequence? Or are they just putting paying fans out of pocket, without being punk enough, or true enough, to offer up any kind of honest reasoning?
When the band first leaked No Love Deep Web, they proved their mastery of social media and their aptness at generating a huge cult following, by ticking all the boxes of anti-musical heroes. They had the phallic symbol album cover, the fuck-you-I-won’t-do-what-you-tell me mantra, and a self-shot music video featuring enough beer, cash, weed and pills to make even the most voyeuristic narcotic fiend sit up and take notice. Everything that Death Grips did, or are doing, ticks all of the boxes that make disaffected youth lose their shit. Essentially, if Epic brushed aside the leaking of the record as a marketing experiment, then they would have one of the most progressively marketable bands sitting on their roster.
In my opinion, Death Grips are really, really fucking smart when it comes to the music industry. Why would a band that bases itself on originality and DIY ethos sign to the same label that fronts Cher Lloyd? The answer, if a recent photo of the band and glitterati members Beyonce and R Patz is anything to go by, is money, and the chance to be enveloped by a concurrent of society much larger than anything contained within the independents. The backing of Epic - who have also supported Rage Against The Machine - would have given the band the foundation, push, and scope to be a fully realised vision, capable of not just shocking the most die-hard of music seekers, but average YouTube users, and radio listeners. But, in the end it was Epic that couldn’t hold their nerve, giving too big a fuck when they clashed with the band, and Death Grips were handed their P45s.
Now, Death Grips own themselves. Seemingly, they can play where they want to play, record what they want to record, and shit where they want to shit, without anyone to answer to but Zach Hill or MC Ride’s stiff upper lip. It’s what they’ve always wanted. So, why then, did the band cancel a bunch of shows? And, instead of not turning up, why did they broadcast a suicide note at the venue? Who were they railing against?
It would be easy for people to see Death Grips' no-show as a two-finger insult to their fans, because generally, not showing up is a pretty bad look. As DNAinfo reports, the stage set-up, projection and looped music was, itself, the Death Grips performance. If reports are to be believed, then this was to be the set-up for the rest of the band’s tour, but after the initial riot, the rest of the shows were cancelled. So, it certainly seems as if they weren’t looking to put on a set of crowdpleasers.
But then, who wants that? Death Grips are more than a band, they’re a movement, and their fans know that. Right now they’re helming the mothership of the marketing genius that they’ve created, seemingly finding a way to slipstream themselves back into the headlines, amidst a well thought out anti-agenda . From Malcolm McClaren’s meticulous string pulling to Crass’ Thatchergate tapes, punk has always been about making the news as much as making music.
Death Grips have got themselves in a position where they can market what was previously unmarketable. Because, in a Catch 22 situation, both real and thought out publicity stunts all come across as the worlds No.1 no-fucks band, giving no-fucks, even though, deep down, they probably give a lot of fucks. The results pay off, too, with Death Grips topping the legally downloaded BitTorrent chart, clocking in at 34 million downloads, which is 8 million more than runner-up Counting Crows.
I’m not saying that Death Grips don’t make forward thinking progressive music. They’re fucking incredible, and are one of the best and most exciting artists around. But are Death Grips just a punk band doing whatever they want? Fuck, no. They’re a machine.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanBassil
Read more like this: