Not showing up for your own shows in the name of art doesn't make you subversive. It just makes you a dickhead.
[Editor's Note: As of July 2nd, 2014, Death Grips is officially defunct. They're still not punk, they're just stupid.]
Yesterday, it was revealed that Death Grips had booked a mini-tour and had planned on not showing up to any of it, starting with a Lollapalooza no-show (in a delicious slice of irony, they got replaced by Shaun White’s band, who's managed by the same dude who managed OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder) and an aborted after-party appearance, instead projecting a suicide note onstage while their songs played over the loudspeakers. Confronted with charges of scamming bookers and audience members alike, they pleaded “Art,” claiming that their lack of performance was the performance itself. I want to believe that this is true, and that these no-shows were motivated by the very healthy and very punk artistic impulse to subvert, confuse, and generally fuck with people. Unfortunately, this whole fiasco comes off as an insider-y performance art piece aimed to separate those who “Get It” from those who don’t, and that’s not called punk. It’s just Death Grips being a bunch of dicks.
Death Grips have a history of giving the middle finger to the man; they leaked their own record on purpose, and then ensured they got dropped from the label by leaking sensitive internal emails that contained the contact information of a prominent label employee. This is all great. Labels, especially majors, rarely do any favors for bands like Death Grips. By telling their label to go fuck themselves and releasing their music for free, they were doing something that benefitted their fans rather than actively hurting them. This recent tour/non-tour fiasco illustrates the stark contrast between standing up to your label and letting your fans down.
Regardless of whatever reason they might be claiming, booking a specious tour and tricking kids into giving up their money up to stare at a shitty excuse for an art school thesis is shameful. People love Death Grips and planned their days around seeing these shows. If the band had actually wanted to fuck their fans’ heads up, they’d have shown up to their shows and blown their minds. This is called the Transitive Property of Giving a Shit, and Death Grips have not mastered it.
As for the aborted performances’ worth as “Art,” it might have served Death Grips to remember that once you put a work out into the world, you lose control of its interpretation. Though projecting a suicide note onstage might be meant to imply a symbolic killing of their band, it’s a pretty lazy way of articulating that goal. This is different than a rapper clowning someone by telling them to kill themselves; it’s a band that doesn’t want to be a band anymore using the symbolism of suicide to get attention for the fact that they don’t want to be a band instead of just breaking up. In the age of information where buzz is a currency, it’s selfish and shitty and accomplishes the inverse of actually breaking your band up.
Not to get all Republican on you and hearken back to a classic time that I never actually lived in, but in an earlier era of punk, bullshit like this would not fly. Classically, punk has involved something that we at Noisey like to call the "Shit-to-Fucks Ratio." A shit-giving scenario is one handled passively. If you don't give a shit, that means something happened, and you don't care enough to do anything about it. Fucks, meanwhile, are the purview of the proactive. If you don't give a fuck, you take life by the horns and actively do something crazy. Fugazi didn't give a fuck if they played in front of four people or four thousand, they were going to leave it all onstage. The Sonics gave a fuck enough to make a statement by not letting old people into their shows. Television gave so little of a fuck that they became virtuosos just to piss people off. Meanwhile, Death Grips passing their no-shows off as a weird art project proves they don't give a shit, and that sucks. If you're confused by all of these shits and fucks, here's a helpful chart:
Ultimately, whenever a band—especially a punk band, and especially one prone to outbursts as Death Grips—pulls half-baked stunts like this, it comes across as the equivalent of a stoned teenager wearing an Anarchy t-shirt he bought at Spencer’s Gifts crashing his mom’s Volvo into a ditch on purpose. It’s not rebelling against anything, and it solves nothing. It’s just stupid.
Drew Millard is mad as hell and he's not gonna take it anymore. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard