Death Grips’ Austin Show Proved They’re Anything But Broken Up
Known for intentionally confusing publicity stunts and canceling shows, Death Grips proved again that, yes, they’re worth the frustration.
By Rachel Rascoe, University of Texas at Austin
My best friend and I won sold-out tickets to a Death Grips show through a Transmission Events Instagram contest, an experience we described as “the best day of our lives” on social media.
I looked at the tickets as an emotional buffer: by getting them for free, we avoided investing in a show that would likely be cancelled.
Death Grips’ track record of bailing on appearances is a critical part of the group’s carelessly crafted don’t-give-a-fuck mystique. Letdowns like Lollapalooza in 2013 and a cancelled opening for Nine Inch Nails in 2014 add to their hype, but only those unaffected by their caprice appreciate the theatrics.
When they cancelled their Fun Fun Fun Fest appearance for the second year in a row I found myself pissed off and disappointed, emotions which unfortunately make me want to listen to Death Grips.
The histrionics of the experimental hip-hop group and their publicity strategy—not having one—cater perfectly to modern social media. Death Grips’ drama makes for delicious clickbait.
Reposting an article titled “Death Grips Announces Collaboration with Björk” or “Death Grips Visit Disneyland” guarantees likes and insider music credibility. Ironic references to the band’s Facebook-announced breakup, like “R.I.P. Death Grips (2010-2014)” t-shirts, fuel the hip hype machine.
But from their stream of media insanity arises the question—Do people still care?
Do die-hard fans still exist for a group whose album releases have surprised and at times disappointed over the past two years? Factor in their disorienting actions, seemingly intended to confuse fans, and the resulting product is a band that makes itself difficult to like.
The sold out show in Austin answered that question with an emphatic yes. Fans were greeted with metal detector wands and pat-downs outside the venue, failed security efforts that were justified by the fireworks and smoke bomb set off during the set.
The line for the show stretched down Red River, past Cheer Up Charlies and around the corner, an unusual sight for Mohawk outside their free SXSW shows.
Fitting to their nature, Death Grips had no opener. Frontman MC Ride was shirt-off from the very beginning, looking as demonic and round-eyed as expected.
The group’s infernal red backlighting really screwed everyone over Instagram-wise, but Ride sure did look evil.
In the words of an Ina Garten meme: “If you can’t summon the flames directly from hell, store bought is fine.”
Flashes of light from phone cameras illuminated the sweat-glistened tattoos covering the contorted figure of Stefan Burnett. The strobing intensified as fans’ attempted to capture old favorites like “Hustle Bones” and “Guillotine.”
Death Grips wrote in their July 2014 breakup note, “We are now at our best and so Death Grips is over.” The letter ended with a wish: “To our truest fans, please stay legend.”
I would say that The Lovely Bones Craigslist lookalike buying my friend’s extra ticket minutes before the show and the lengthy merch line swirling into the pit both prove that the group’s wish came true. Death Grips remains living legend to hoards of devoted fans willing to bear MC Ride’s screaming image across their t-shirted chests.