Wednesday 12th October 2016 – Limelight, Belfast
Ominous, a creeping Shepard tone plays as a large, eager crowd stares at the equipment on-stage in Limelight. The crowd’s waiting for Death Grips, visibly, and audibly, excited– as well as anxious. This is a given for fans of the band, and understandable for new listeners whose first live experience of the group so far is a seemingly eternally-ascending Shepard tone.
Death Grips have a firmly established unpredictability: from destroying equipment on-stage, to not showing up to shows and leaking their own material to spite their record label. The experimental hip-hop group ‘chose not to arrive’ at a headline Lollapalooza slot in 2013, leaving a banner of a fan’s suicide note as a backdrop for the audience instead with looped CDQ music.
Regardless, since being dropped from Epic records and ‘deleting themselves’ from the Internet, the band’s cult status has only grown. With an album release and tour announced earlier this year despite the release of ‘final’ work Jenny Death, tickets for their first Village Underground show in London sold out in minutes. And as the first performance of the European tour, the atmosphere in Limelight is nine-of-swords tense.
But then the band emerge from the darkness. Drummer and producer Zach Hill sits at the kit, offset by Andy Morin and Stefan Burnett, who fronts as lead bellower ‘MC Ride’. For a group so famously enigmatic and insular, their sound has the same sensory disruptive quality of being eaten by wild animals.
Heavily sequenced instrumentals from Morin are overlaid with Hill’s primal, ceaseless rhythms. Unannounced and unbroken, the set runs less as a display of musicianship from the group and more as a test of the crowd’s endurance. MC Ride’s vocals are commanding, corrosive, bordering between rap and vocal-percussion.
The set runs through the bulk of the groups material to date, from No Love Deep Web’s abrasive ‘Come Up and Get Me’, ‘No Love’ and ‘World of Dogs’ to the famously sinister, geometric sub-bass Exmilitary’s ‘Guillotine’. Tracks from this year’s album Bottomless Pit are given their live debut, with the cyber-grind ‘Giving Bad People Good Ideas’ landing well with the crowd. Occasionally channeling horror-core, women’s screams are sampled into the music.
The band’s visual energy is unmatched. MC Ride howls shirtless, a physical manifestation of the group’s aggression. Hill’s rapid-fire rhythms are searing, relentless alongside Morin who provides the instrumental backbone to the sound.
Death Grips’ industrialized glitch-hop set ends as abruptly as it began. A seamless transition between watching an empty stage and immersion in the world of their unflinching punk ethos and deconstructive, progressively caustic sound. A resonating start to the tour.