Photo of MC Ride of Death Grips by Bryan J. Sutter
Death Grips, the experimental hip hop trio of rapper Stefan Burnett (AKA MC Ride) and producers Zach Hill and Andy Morin, made their first appearance in St. Louis in a little over a decade with a show at the Factory on July 26th. Known for their chimerical hybrid of rap, hardcore, and industrial music, the group’s uncompromising (and often aggressively weird) music has made them one of the most distinct and enduring forces in the modern indie scene.
Death Grips fans are a passionate bunch, and that passion was on full display the moment I pulled into the Factory’s sprawling parking lot, which was about as packed as I have ever seen it. Well, at least since the week prior, when I went to see The Smile with my fellow Arts STL contributor (and twin brother) Rob. In contrast to the suburban concert-goer attire I saw at The Smile, most people in the Death Grips crowd substituted sensible footwear and polo shirts for Doc Martens and, uh, no shirt at all—possibly taking a cue from the perpetually shirtless MC Ride.
There is no opening act for Death Grips’ current tour, with the group instead performing a single set that clocked in at a little over an hour and a half. Although I was not personally bothered by it—getting home before 11:00 PM is a pretty welcome reprieve when covering a show on a weeknight—I could see some being annoyed at paying full price for a single act.
The closest point of reference for the energy of a Death Grips crowd would be a hardcore or death metal show. As soon the band stepped out to the bass slams of “System Blower” and the elbows started flying, I could tell it was going to be “one of those shows” and casually assumed my typical spot at the periphery of the general admission mosh pit. In addition to the usual hardcore crowd shenanigans—moshing, crowd surfing, wasting an entire cup of beer by throwing it into the crowd—there were also some delightful oddities on display, including someone showing off their light-up platform shoes and a guy prominently recording the show on a Nintendo DS.
As was probably the case for some of the “OG” fans in the crowd, my only previous exposure to Death Grips live was at the now-closed midtown venue The Firebird in June 2013, which was, until last week, the group’s only performance in St. Louis. For better or worse, Death Grips’ stage show has remained largely unchanged in the decade since then. MC Ride is as magnetic and hypnotic a performer as ever, convulsing and screaming as he delivers lines like “I’m doing hand-stands in a Trans Am” with utter intensity. Zach Hill plays drums during their live shows, showing himself to be as talented and dynamic a percussionist as he is a producer, which should come as no surprise to those who have been following him since his tenure in the math rock band Hella. Andy Morin played bass throughout the show, although I could barely make it out through the rather muddy and garbled sound mixing.
Just like when I saw them a decade ago, there were no props, no visuals, no backdrop, nothing else on the stage—just Death Grips. That kind of minimalism came across as raw and intense in an intimate setting like the Firebird, where you could literally feel the sweat and heat from the performers. But in a cavernous venue like the Factory, with a capacity in the thousands, it comes across as rather bare bones and dull, which is the last thing you would describe their music as. The only visual flair was the red stage lighting, which remained unchanged throughout the set. Although members of Death Grips have expressed in interviews that they keep their stage production intentionally minimalistic, at this point in their career, when they are drawing stadium-sized crowds, it seems like a missed opportunity. At the very least, they could be screening clips from their music videos in the background (which are also very “DIY” and minimalistic).
Although the production value of the show (or lack of it) was rather disappointing, that is no way a knock against the quality of the performances, which are uncanny in their intensity. In keeping with their cryptic approach to interacting with fans online, there was no bantering with the crowd, no “make some fuckin’ noise, St. Louis”—just a pummeling performance of their best-known songs. Given the no-frills nature of their shows, I can’t say I would recommend Death Grips live to someone other than the fully indoctrinated. But if you love a good mosh pit story, or regularly find yourself pantomiming the hooks to “No Love,” I am confident you would leave feeling like you got your money’s worth. I myself will gladly be there when they eventually play St. Louis again in 2033 (or hopefully much sooner).
Death Grips will continue to tour North America from August through early October, including a set at Chicago’s Riot Fest on September 16th. | David Von Nordheim
08.07.23 | Pittsburgh, Pa. @ Stage AE
08.08.23 | Washington, D.C. @ The Anthem
08.09.23 | New York, N.Y. @ Terminal 5
08.11.23 | Raleigh, N.C. @ The Ritz
08.12.23 | Charlotte, N.C. @ The Fillmore Charlotte
08.13.23 | Asheville, N.C. @ Rabbit Rabbit
09.13.23 | Minneapolis, Minn. @ The Filmore
09.16.23 | Chicago, Ill. @ Riot Fest
09.17.23 | Detroit, Mich. @ The Filmore Detroit
09.18.23 | Toronto, Ontario @ Danforth Music Hall
09.20.23 | Boston, Mass. @ House Of Blues
09.21.23 | Brooklyn, N.Y. @ Brooklyn Steel
09.23.23 | Philadelphia, Pa. @ Union Transfer
09.25.23 | Nashville, Tenn. @ Brooklyn Bowl Nashville
09.26.23 | Atlanta, Ga. @ Buckhead Theatre
09.28.23 | Orlando, Fla. @ The Vanguard
09.29.23 | Fort Lauderdale, Fla. @ Revolution Live At The Backyard
09.30.23 | St. Petersburg, Fla. @ Janus Live
10.02.23 | New Orleans, La. @ The Filmore New Orleans
10.03.23 | Houston, Texas @ The Bayou Music Center
10.05.23 | Austin, Texas @ Emos
10.06.23 | Dallas, Texas @ South Side Ballroom
10.07.23 | Austin, Texas @ Emos