Why do people still like Death Grips? It's not an accusation or a question of taste, it's a question of patience, of self-respect. The antics of the Sacramento three-piece, whose genre-defying industrial hip hop attracts labels like "ketamine-fueled hobo noise-rap," are arguably more notorious than the band's music.
They have a habit of "leaking" their own albums, cancelling shows or simply not showing up, breaking up (but not really), and generally treating their fans with more spitting hatred than Maynard James Keenan.
In short, Death Grips are assholes.
But at least they sound fucking good. The scrawny bearded frontman, Stefan "MC Ride" Burnett, flops around on stage like those vinyl tube-men found on used car lots, spitting rhymes as aggressive as Floyd Mayweather's left hooks. Zach Hill (of Hella and tons of other bands) smashes a crumpled drum kit while Andy Morin mixes live samples and synths on a sludgy soundsystem likely pulled from the swamp of some reclusive chainsaw killer. It's (early) Crystal Castles if they were fronted by an escaped Charles Manson (they do sample his voice on Exmilitary) going through a Napalm Death phase, but also Tupac. Yeah.
The band is also a textbook example of "prolific," having "leaked" four studio albums, a mixtape, a soundtrack, two EPs and six singles since forming in 2010. It seems like they are so impatient to inflict their music on you, that all they can do is write albums to upload to Pirate Bay.
But Death Grips also spend a lot of their time pissing people off. Maybe that's funny or punk or cool or something. What I've never been able to 'grip' (don't excuse the pun—don't excuse anything) is why people still put up with it. You see, there's this old story about a boy and a wolf...
Death Grips' most famous example was when, dissatisfied with Epic Record's timetable for their sophomore album No Love Deep Web, they leaked the album, as well as several internal emails. The album art famously features the title written in Sharpie on Hill's erect cock. Epic grew furious and dropped them from their roster.
Maybe that's sort of anti-establishment in a Dead Kennedys way, but at the same time, it just seems sloppy. But not as unprofessional as all this "announcing tours, then cancelling them" and "breaking up, but not really" bullshit. Even Trent Reznor was disappointed in them when they threw a wrench in Nine Inch Nails' tour plans.
"Why would I have ever thought those dudes could keep it together?" the "Hurt" singer tweeted. Now, whenever Death Grips announces show dates, it's a wonder if they'll show up.
It's like that time I decided to stay home and have sex with my girlfriend instead of showing up to my job selling cheesecake to obese mole people at Costco. That wasn't punk of me. It didn't make a statement. It was just lame. But that time I got fired for doing LSD, that was far more creative and deliberate than just being absent.
Death Grips' attitude is dripping with irony, the currency of hipsters. Except when you purchase a Hulk Hogan nose trimmer because it's lame—that is, because it's "ironic"—it doesn't make you cool. It's just a waste of time.
Regardless, Death Grips are nonconventional. They treat themselves as more of an abstract performance art than a "real" band. When they sort-of-broke-up-but-not-really-not-at-all the message they posted to Twitter claimed, Death Grips was and always has been a conceptual art exhibition anchored by sound and vision. Above and beyond a "band."
"Nothing about the creative or the musical aspects of the group are at all forced or contrived, it's all very natural," Zach Hill told The Skinny in 2012. Hill is right – it's not forced, but it is lazy. They've got to figure out a more compelling technique than just shouting "psych!" at everyone.
On the other hand, maybe Death Grips' unwavering fear of commitment is actually some transcendental, forward-thinking "fuck you" that really means something. Rarely in music will you find many of the topics this band addresses, including capitalist slavery, the deep web, hidden art and snuff films. This makes Death Grips truly original, with something deeply reflective of our culture. And maybe that's why it's so elusive.