Death Grips: Performance Art or Idiocy?

Experimental hip-hop sensation Death Grips is either a revolution in a world of bland, homogenized music created by manufactured pop stars, or absolutely annoying, loud, obnoxious tripe. There is no in between, nor a middle ground to be found with the band, a trio that consists of MC Ride, Flatlander, and Hella drummer Zach Hill.

That doesn't really matter, though, as Death Grips are rapidly becoming less famous for their musical output, while becoming far more well known for their increasingly erratic behavior. The group has stunned the general public with their baffling decisions -- decisions that would be unthinkable for most musicians -- decisions that could potentially wreck careers, but yet they continue to grow.

Death Grips also leave their motives -- like their career decisions -- as ambiguous as possible, which begs the question as to whether these guys are brilliant artists, or just what they seem to be -- which are absolutely pompous douchebags.

Score one in the "artist" column for Death Grips, a point awarded when they refused to be dominated by record labels on the release of last year's album, No Love Deep Web. They instead took the Radiohead/Nine Inch Nails approach and put the thing out for free on the internet.

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The only problem? They didn't have legal right to do so, which meant that they essentially pirated their own recording, which their record label had the distribution right to. Even if breaking the law in the name of artistic freedom is a bit admirable, it's important to remember what a great opportunity these guys had by being signed to Epic Records in the first place.

Yeah, it's punk to stand up to the label, but they essentially spit in the face of every band desperately trying to achieve the status they had, and then they pissed it all away. They might as well have smoked a joint rolled with a hundred dollar bill in front of some starving indie bands.

Plus, the "album cover" is just a picture of Zach Hill's dick. Death Grips claimed that this was not "graphic content," but rather "art." They also gave a bizarre, nonsensical explanation about how it related to homosexuality to SPIN, and that it was chosen because it was a "great photo."

Sorry guys, but that's one tally for the idiocy column. A dick is just a dick. You're really pushing the boundaries of art by describing it as such. Should I have taken a shit, snapped a photo of it, and put it in this article? Would that make this article art?

If it is, Death Grips would probably be pleased. Nevertheless, the friends of Beyonce and Robert Pattinson weren't content with their record label fiasco being their sole source of irascible antics. They also needed some zaniness to accompany their live shows.

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You see where that black bar is? It's covering up a dick. Yeah.
You see where that black bar is? It's covering up a dick. Yeah.

Like DOOM before them, Death Grips decided to schedule a bunch of tour dates which they had no intention of showing up to. It all started just before Lollapalooza, where Death Grips had a show booked, along with an adjoining tour to follow it.

On the first night of the tour, fans showed up to seean empty child's drum set, a projection of a purported suicide note written by a fan of Death Grips, and a PA system, which blared a couple of Death Grips songs and managed to rile up the audience even further.

There was no show. Ride, Hill, and Flatlander weren't in the building, or even in the same state. They had flaked out of the gig, and the audience was pissed. They tore down the set and took refunds from the venue, who claimed ignorance as to the band's actions.

Unlike DOOM, Death Grips were very open about their intentions here. Promoters soon got word from the band that this was the show, and it was all they had ever intended to present to fans upon booking the tour. Consider it performance art. Or not, but either way, this one is another check in the idiocy column.

There are a lot of ways to provide an artistic experience for fans during a live performance. Talking Heads perfected it on Stop Making Sense, and Nine Inch Nails is doing something similar right now. What Death Grips did isn't artistic -- it's a rip-off. It's also a statement on how ignorant they must think their fans are to believe they aren't capable of telling the difference.

The fact is that Death Grips promoted their live show as a performance, and then gave their fans an entirely different thing in the name of some harebrained art project. No wonder fans wrecked the stage. They got conned by a classic bait and switch.

The only reason anyone can even argue that this is art is because Death Grips have said it's art, or at least tried to present it with the illusion that it's art. Imagine if Axl Rose claimed his persistent lateness was all in the name of art. Think that would have quelled any riots in 1992?

It's a shame that truly inventive musicians are out there working their asses off to provide actual artistic experiences for their fans, while this is passed off as art by a band. Death Grips have been handed every opportunity in the world on a silver platter, and they have proceeded to very purposefully and wholeheartedly shit on it. It's idiocy, plain and simple.


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