If you know who Death Grips are then you’ll know exactly what they’re like and what they stand for, if you don’t then my word are you in for a treat. So kick back and enjoy this factfile on the most polarising music act of the 21st century and some of the insane moments that gave them such a title.
Somewhere in Sacramento, California in 2010, a beast was born. Stefan Burnett, otherwise known as MC Ride, Zach Hill and Andy Morin joined together to form an experimental rap group that go by the name of Death Grips. Now just the name alone should be enough to make you realise these guys aren’t making music about roses and all that’s lovely in the world, they have messages and concepts in your music that could freeze hell over, but their popularity is incredible.
The members were basically completely unknown entities when they started, apart from Hill who was previously the drummer for punk-rock band Hella. Incredibly, Stefan’s age is unknown and he refuses to disclose it; just one of many utterly fascinating things going on with the mesmerising figure of MC Ride. In a Pitchfork interview, Ride announced that despite his on-mic presence, he is “reclusive” and “super private”, as can be seen by the group’s largely anonymous interview presence, only really featuring for media on a very select few occasions. In the same interview Ride is heard to have stated that he isn’t “that fascinated by human achievements” and listing influences is “boring”.
One of those occasions was with NME in 2012 and if you thought the case of Ride was curious now, wait until you hear this. The group turned up to the building to conduct the interview, but sheer minutes before they were scheduled to begin, Ride decided to opt out of the interview as he didn’t feel it was his style to do this sort of thing; leaving Morin and Hill to do it. In that interview we hear the group talk about influences and how they write their music in a typically bizarre fashion, referring to their hometown of Sacramento as “the UK or something in the medieval times; the monarchy and then you have these peasants right next to it.”
Building a hardcore fanbase from their very first release Full Moon (Death Classic), which was actually recorded on the very first day of the group’s formation, Burnett provides maniacal vocal deliveries in the form of aggressive raps, Zach Hill is the immensely skilled punk-styled drummer and co-producer while Andy Morin is the wacky sound engineer responsible for some of the group’s most outlandish sounds.
Just over a month after the release of Full Moon (Death Classic) as a single, Death Grips brought out their debut mixtape Exmilitary on April 25th 2011. The single did not feature on this tape but the reviews were in, and it was sheer widespread acclaim for the group’s audacious sound and daring attitudes while tackling dark and twisted concepts. As their stock rose the group decided to bring out Guillotine as the mixtape’s lead single and it became a staple of the group’s image, the music video garnered millions of views and was proper mental (don’t believe me? Just see for yourself).
The group were becoming an increasingly big deal in the underground rap scene now and were eventually approached by Epic Records in 2012, a huge moment for a group that had barely existed two years. It is rumoured that upon signing for Epic in February of that year, MC Ride signed the contract and proceeded to smash up the building’s toilets, destroying everything in his wake; nobody knows why.
With the signing to a label came the release of a debut studio album with the now widely hailed The Money Store and while it did not perform well in the charts, obviously, it received huge acclaim and was recognised for its abrasive attitude as well as it’s intellect. Part of the signing with Epic was that Death Grips would go on to release a second album that year titled No Love Deep Web.
The tension between the group and label soon reached boiling point as Death Grips released the album for free, against the will of their label, as well as giving it a controversial cover to say the least. Basically, it is a shot of drummer Zach Hill’s penis with the title written across the shaft. Yep. They were subsequently dropped by Epic Records but this didn’t really seem to concern the group, with Ride stating that “it’s nothing personal but everything we’ve done is what we feel like doing and that’s pretty much what we will continue to do.” He later went on to describe the experience with the label as “lateral movement” rather than “moving forward to make things better”.
It gets even more peculiar after this, however, as the band go on tour following the release of this album but are a man down, with Andy Morin going entirely AWOL for a while and not appearing at any shows, with one source claiming he flew over to Iceland to make beats for the next album. That next album would come a year later in the form of Government Plates.
In the build up to this release, in true Death Grips fashion nothing could be simple. They performed at SXSW in March 2013 but Zach Hill’s presence wasn’t felt in person, instead deciding to play the drums for the performance over Skype while he was working on the next album.
Months afterwards they were scheduled to perform at Lollapalooza in Chicago but had their show cancelled after not turning up to an “after party” show the night before; instead deciding to play a playlist of pre-recorded stuff. Hang on, I am not finished there. On the back of their stage set-up for that show was the suicide note of a fan that had bee wrote to them in the form of an email, but the band were nowhere to be seen. Out of protest to this, fans of the band stormed the stage and trashed the equipment. All of this was in fact an ultimate Death Grips hoax. The band stated that they were never planning on showing up, claiming that the drum kit, pre-recorded music and suicide note ‘was the show’, with it later being discovered that the drum set that was destroyed was in fact a children’s learner kit.
Government Plates arrived after all of this confusion and has often been described as a challenging yet intriguing listen, toying with the themes of electronic dance music as well as metal at times. It was a real turning point in the careers of Death Grips who now seemed to be more uncontrollable than ever.
2014 saw a deal struck between the group and Warp Music Publishing, who promoted the release of a double album titled The Powers That B, containing side A N***** on the Moon (uncensored by the group themselves of course but who am I am in no position to type that word out) and side B Jenny Death. The first half consisted of beats made up entirely of chopped up Bjork vocal samples, something which has been hailed by many fans of the group as a pioneering move for them; so much so that it is believed Bjork herself recorded the vocals and sent them to the group personally and even thanked Death Grips on her credits for 2015 album Vulnicura.
After being scheduled as support acts for both Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden over the summer of 2014, Death Grips had a shocking revelation to share with the world; and they had written it on a napkin and posted it to their Facebook page. It read:
“We are now at our best and so Death Grips is over. We have officially stopped. All currently scheduled live dates are cancelled. Our upcoming double album The Powers That B will still be delivered worldwide later this year via Harvest/Third Worlds Records. Death Grips was and always has been a conceptual art exhibition anchored by sound and vision. Above and beyond a ‘band’. To our truest fans, please stay legend.”
Could this really be it for Death Grips? Was the turbulence and unruly attitudes becoming too much? Of course not.
In January of 2015 the group released an unannounced piece of work titled Fashion Week, a instrumental project in which the song titles began with “Runaway” and were then followed by a letter. Each letter spelled in order formed the phrase “JENNY DEATH WHEN”, teasing the release of the second disc of The Powers That B.
After a nine month break from all contacts, Death Grips returned in October 2015 with a YouTube page titled Bottomless Pit, a title that would soon be confirmed as the band’s fifth studio album title. Tracks like Hot Head and Giving Bad People Good Ideas were downright terrifying and gave the impression that whatever new era of Death Grips we were entering, it was going to be darker than ever; hence the album title perhaps.
2016 brought a new, strange project for Death Grips titled Interview 2016 but it wasn’t an interview at all, it was more unreleased instrumental tracks. The visuals, however, were the band being interviewed by Matthew Hoffman with all audio replaced by those instrumental tracks.
The year after that Death Grips were relatively quiet but did find the time to bring out a 22 minute release titled Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix) which was one full song of experimental madness, but in a good way. This coincided with a co-headline tour alongside metal band Ministry that autumn.
2018 has brought plenty of excitement for Death Grips fans, mainly because of the band’s announcement that they will be bringing out their sixth album, titled Year of the Snitch. The album cover is bonkers and something equally as crazy is their collaborators for this project. They have called upon the hugely talented bassist of Tool, Justin Chancellor, as well as the director of Shrek Andrew Adamson. This is going to be a fever dream isn’t it. So far the tracklist is out and three singles have been released, titled Streaky, Flies and Black Paint so the album should theoretically only be around the corner; but nothing works in theory with Death Grips.
“So who really honestly likes these guys?” is a question you could easily find yourself asking. Well, some huge names as a matter of fact. It is well reported that Bjork is indeed a fan of the group after the situation with N***** on the Moon but she isn’t the only one. Twilight actor Robert Pattinson is a huge fan of their music and even played the guitar on Birds from Government Plates; hence the bizarre photograph used as the header of this post with Pattinson, Death Grips and Beyoncé of all people. David Bowie was believed to have been inspired by the group when making his final album Blackstar, as was Serge Pizzorno when creating Kasabian’s 48:13 album. Perhaps the most bizarre of all comes from veteran actor William Shatner, who tweeted lyrics to No Love out recently.
I have tried really hard not to swear on this but I feel as though I am now no longer able to contain it. These lot are fucking mental, but I absolutely love it. The sense of intrigue you get from these three incredible personalities is something you very rarely find not only in the music industry, but on this planet as a whole. They couldn’t care less if you like them or not, they make music for them and if you don’t like that then you can step aside and listen to something else; simple as.
So in answer to the question ‘Who are Death Grips?’ I shall give you this answer. They’re a group who don’t want to be labelled with anything, they refuse to be put in a lane and will do things on their own accord. They are three incredibly versatile performers as well as people, demonstrating an almost satanic performance vibe while being entirely reserved and muted in their regular lives. Above all, they have made some of the most unique and interesting music I have ever listened to, and remain the most intriguing band of their generation.
If you want to read through some of the group’s utterly gripping interviews then you can do so here: I highly recommend it.