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On: Death Grips - Jenny Death

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

On: Death Grips - Jenny Death

Andrew Ryan

I’m listening to the latest Death Grips album, Jenny Death, second half of a double album, released in the last week or so. Each track is in a properly ordered playlist on youtube, and scrolling through the comments is more fun than most bands- it reads like shitty 4chan threads, full of idiots, trolls, attention seekers and die-hard enthusiasts. This is the first band since learning of and falling in love with Radiohead as a 14 year old where I have been aware of the fact that I am entering cult territory.

On the Death Grips reddit page, the threads of comments read like people working out a puzzle. Clues, so many clues seemingly left within the music and the videos and the social media spaces for the fans to busy themselves with, to nut out the answer to an unknown question. Whether or not it is intentional, it’s an interesting strategy in contemporary music business, because they certainly are industrialised, it is unavoidable when you’re playing the kind of crowds that they do, they have to work with labels and all that, it is a business, it’s their job now. Death Grips is work.

One commenter on youtube attempted to define the particular formula that Death Grips uses to suck the money out of their hipster market, something about references to Satanism, amongst other things. It was a cynical call. Not entirely untrue. But they’re not setting out to actually make cash. They wouldn’t have done so, it was a purely artistic thing at the beginning. They’re still doing it like that, no method or formula, or the appeal would be lost.

They deal in experimentation, which is not a business brain’s rational choice, and I find it a little surprising they got to this big stage in the first place. The gamble on extreme experimentation is huge, and for most musicians would not be worth the risk. They get more and more freaked out the longer they go, more extreme within a still mostly listenable context, for the initiated listener at least. It’s for people with minds tied to computers, connections with electronic and mixed cultural movements from the last couple of decades. This album projects a sense of enraged, yet comfortable isolation, and it works because that is what many experience in contemporary life+society. Internet children, all of us Death Grips fans, I reckon.

“Centuries of Damn” and “On GP” are of my preferred flavour created by these guys, because they are experiments with a style I am a sucker for, the deep lull of heavy psych rock, AND IT’S REAL GUITAR, NOT SAMPLES! Noise/punk/psych/hip-hop. What a head fuck, and it’s so satisfying. The completely banal accompanying music video drives home that aforementioned feeling of comfortable isolation. The band are in a room that looks like it has been covered in a layer of tile paint, a large tub of mis-tint from a hardware store. All dressed in tight-black-cool-weather-casual, they are alone in the room save for a big piece of stereo equipment; they hunch over in various parts of the tiny room, mostly motionless, as the track plays, filmed presumably by webcam. That’s it.

That’s all they are, that’s all they have; that’s what I’m reading from this aesthetic and conceptual choice. I wonder if Death Grips cultists will be looking for clues in this? Poor cultists, getting all reverent instead of actually engaging with the ideas put forth. I can see why the group have such a love hate relationship with “their fans” as a separate mass group apart from themselves. This video could definitely act as a Fuck You to the fan who believes their needs as a consumer are the most important thing, ie: the fans who tore up a drum kit in 2013 because Death Grips cancelled their show.

The members of the band are all visual artists, and many artists struggle with the relationship between artist and viewer/listener/fan. The judgment that exists on both sides directed at the other is a dark batch of energy, but what else can you do with it in a time such as this, a time of near-constant information fatigue if you attempt to keep up with what’s going on in the world outside of your own family and social circle, buffeted by waves of nihilism and cynicism on the reg, you gotta get cheeky on that shit for some amusement, get artistic because you’ve got not choice, or else the validity of that game –and it is a game- crumbles, and you can’t have the kind of freedoms you have when an audience isn’t pissed off at you.

I think I get Death Grips better now, and I dig it too, even more. Power. Fucking practical magicians, all three of them. Of course they have developed a cult following.