On seeing the queues outside Manchester Academy on Sunday night you could easily be fooled into thinking that the venue was playing host to a household name or regular chart topper. But no, the hundreds of people gathered excitedly outside were waiting for Death Grips, an experimental underground hip hop trio from California. Through their subversive antics they have managed to cultivate a cultish fanbase that are out in full force for their first show in England in over three years.
In true Death Grips style there is no support act. Instead a droning note which gradually becomes higher and higher in pitch reverberates round the academy; it was all that was needed to bring the crowd to fever pitch. As the note peaked three figures strode onto the stage and, without even acknowledging the crowd, burst into the first song ‘Whatever I want (Fuck who’s watching)’. Manchester Academy erupts.
The pace of the show is relentless as one song gives way to the next without any pause for breath. The rumbling bass of ‘Bubbles Buried in This Jungle’ morphs into the tribal drums of ‘Get Got’. MC Ride stands at the front of the stage, an isolated but intimidating figure, illuminated only by purple strobes. Black leather gloves grip the mic like a weapon as he shouts each lyric whilst pacing the stage like a tiger trapped in a cage. It is clear that MC Ride doesn’t just want to play through some songs he’s here tonight to incite a riot.
Providing the glitchy backing track is Andy Morin who revels in exploring sonic avenues that other hip hop groups wouldn’t even dare look down. He sways over his keys and laptop like a man possessed, effortlessly switching from song to song and keeping the pace of the show at full throttle.
To the left of Morin sits drummer Zach Hill – the final component in the Death Grips lineup. Hill batters away on the tightly wound snare drum skin with a ferocity that would rival John Bonham in his prime. His manic, animalistic playing has become almost as synonymous with Death Grips as frontman MC Ride’s erratic and often unsettling disposition. The drum kit is flanked by two massive monitors so Hill can hear what the rest of the band are doing whilst he pounds away, improvising and adding flourishes as he goes.
The group plays through an extensive setlist that spans their entire discography – even finding time to include ‘Full Moon (Death Classic)’, their first ever song. It is followed by: ’You Might Think He Loves You for Your Money but I Know What He Really Loves You for It’s Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat’, ‘Hustle Bones’ and ‘Guillotine’; a trio of tracks that demonstrate Death Grips at their finest.
There are very few bands that would be able to sustain the energy that Death Grips did for the hour and a half they performed for. There were no breaks just one constant, cathartic, explosion of energy which was more comparable to a punk gig than a hip hop set. In the live setting their music becomes something physical and imbues the crowd with a volatile energy where they feel free to truly let loose.
As MC Ride repeatedly cries out “I break mirrors with my face in the United States!” the biggest mosh pit of the evening breaks out and bodies and limbs are thrown towards one another. From the stage MC Ride glowers over the mass of people writhing around and clattering into each other. T-shirts are thrown off as those caught in the middle of the crowd begin to overheat and by the end of the set there is not a single person in the venue without a fresh bruise and a sweaty brow. The experience is overwhelming and intense – perfectly matching the onstage performance. The result is an unforgettable show from one of the best live acts of this generation.