Death Grips performing in Berlin in 2012
|Origin||Sacramento, California, U.S.|
Death Grips is an American experimental hip hop band from Sacramento, California, formed in 2010. The group consists of vocalist MC Ride, drummer and producer Zach Hill, and recording engineer Andy Morin. Their sound, paired with Ride's aggressive performing style, draws on punk rock, electronic, noise, and industrial styles.
The band released the mixtape Exmilitary in April 2011 and their debut studio album, The Money Store, almost exactly one year later, both to critical acclaim. Shortly after signing to Epic Records in 2012, the group leaked their second album, No Love Deep Web, for free download in breach of their contract and were eventually dropped from the label. They released their third album, Government Plates, in 2013. Following several broken performance commitments, the group announced their "disbanding" in July 2014 along with the release of their fourth album The Powers That B. However, in March 2015 the group revealed that they "might make some more" music and later announced a world tour. Later that year, they announced their fifth official studio album, Bottomless Pit, which was released in May 2016. Their sixth studio album, Year of the Snitch, was released in June 2018.
2010–2011: Formation and Exmilitary
On the first day of their formation they recorded their first song, "Full Moon (Death Classic)". It was released on March 8, 2011 together with a video and a free self-titled EP which featured "Full Moon" together with five other songs. On April 25, 2011, Death Grips released a free mixtape entitled Exmilitary, containing three tracks from the EP along with new cuts.
Throughout the spring and early summer in 2011, Death Grips played small live shows while Exmilitary was spreading steadily throughout the Internet and received favorable reviews from music critics. During this time the band members were largely elusive, the only known member being Hill.
2012: The Money Store and No Love Deep Web
In February 2012, Death Grips signed with Epic Records, under the recommendation of Epic's then-executive vice president of marketing Angelica Cob-Baehler, and announced the release of two albums in 2012. Their first studio album The Money Store, was released in April, and debuted in the Billboard 200 chart at number 130. Termed as "avant-rap", The Money Store is "confrontational, abrasive, and chaotic", according to a Pitchfork review. Los Angeles Times would also call it "punk rock with a hip-hop face-lift".
October saw the release of No Love Deep Web. It was described as a darker album by NPR, saying that the group creates a “soundtrack to modern urban living” with lyrics that describe “constant paranoia”. The album contains heavily edited vocal performances from MC Ride. Its cover art drew attention and controversy for featuring Hill's erect penis. The album was recorded within four months in Sacramento. Prior to that, an international tour was scheduled to support The Money Store, but was immediately cancelled in order to complete No Love Deep Web. This caused conflict between the group and their fans, as well as their label Epic Records. In particular, the album was self-released for legal download via BitTorrent as an effort to bypass their label's original intent to release the album in 2013. Death Grips was cut from their recording contract as a result, and would launch their new label Third Worlds in the following year from "a unique relationship with Harvest/Capitol”. Material would then be distributed by Caroline Records.
The band remixed two Björk songs from her album Biophilia, "Sacrifice" and "Thunderbolt", after receiving an artist-to-artist note of support. The re-workings were featured in her 2012 remix album Bastards. A non-album track titled "True Vulture Bare" was issued in October 2012 and was accompanied with an animated video by Galen Pehrson. This project was created for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
2013–2015: Government Plates and The Powers That B
In March 2013, the band released a series of videos to their YouTube account, called "No Hands". On March 20, 2013, a music video for "Lock Your Doors", which was recorded on a live show in SXSW was released. Zach Hill did not attend the show physically, but played the drums via Skype. Hill wrote and directed an original feature film in May, with the involvement of Death Grips in the soundtrack. During this period, Hill was currently working on the group's album.
Death Grips were scheduled to perform at Lollapalooza in Chicago in August, but their performance was cancelled after the band failed to show up for an "after party" show the previous night at the Bottom Lounge, instead putting on a playlist of pre-recorded tracks. Draped on the back of the stage was a huge printout of a fan's suicide note, written to the band in the form of an email. Fans at the Bottom Lounge show destroyed the band's equipment after being informed of the cancellation. Their subsequent performance scheduled for Montreal's Osheaga Music and Arts Festival on the next day was cancelled, as well as performances in Boston and New York. The group however, never planned to actually appear at Lollapalooza, with the band stating that the drum kit, suicide note and pre-recorded music 'was the show'. The drum kit that was destroyed was revealed to be a children's learning kit.
Government Plates (2013) was released for free download on their official website. An NME review called the record, “a challenging listen”, but dubbed the album along with Slant Magazine as “transgressive”. The album “[pushes] further away from typical hip-hop.” and “[toys] with electronic dance music of various eras”, according to The New York Times.
In January 2014, Warp Music Publishing signed an exclusive worldwide publishing agreement with the group, covering previous and future releases. In June, Death Grips announced a double album titled The Powers That B, along with a download of disc 1, Niggas on the Moon. The second disc was announced to be titled Jenny Death, with a full release scheduled later in the year. Niggas on the Moon features chopped up samples of Björk's vocals. The double album's first half received mixed to positive reviews. Pitchfork called it the group's least intense effort in their entire catalog. A review by MusicOMH stated that it had less of Hill's percussion and claimed that Morin lacked direction producing the album. Death Grips were scheduled as a supporting act to tour with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden in July; but the group announced an abrupt disbandment, thus cancelling their appearances. An image of the following message, posted on their Facebook page, was written on a napkin:
"We are now at our best and so Death Grips is over. We have officially stopped. All currently scheduled live dates are canceled. 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."
In January 2015, without any prior notification, Death Grips released a free instrumental soundtrack, entitled Fashion Week. The song titles, follow as: "Runway J", "Runway E" and so on; spelling out the phrase "JENNY DEATH WHEN", in reference to what would be their second disc of The Powers That B. The album was released in its complete form in March and reached the Billboard 200 chart at number 72. In the same year, Zach Hill and Andy Morin formed a side project called the I.L.Y's, and issued their debut album titled I've Always Been Good at True Love through Death Grips' official website; initially released with little information about the project.
2015–present: Bottomless Pit and Year of the Snitch
In October 2015, the group uploaded a video to their YouTube page titled Bottomless Pit. It features footage from 2013 of American actress Karen Black reciting lines from a film script Zach Hill wrote months before her death. They also posted on their website and Facebook that this would be the title for their fifth studio album. The band published a 32-minute video to their YouTube page titled "Interview 2016" in March, which shows the band being interviewed by "Tuesdays With Matthew" host Matthew Hoffman with all audio replaced by 22 minutes of unheard instrumental material from the band. Death Grips uploaded another 22 minute release titled "Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix)" to their YouTube channel in May 2017. Following the release of "Steroids," Death Grips co-headlined an autumn U.S. Tour with the industrial metal band Ministry.
In March 2018, Death Grips posted images on social media outlining that they were "working on the new album" titled Year of the Snitch with Australian noise artist Lucas Abela, New Zealand film director Andrew Adamson and Tool bassist Justin Chancellor. In April, Death Grips uploaded a video to their YouTube channel writing the track listing for the new album with text messages.
In May 2018, Death Grips uploaded the singles "Streaky", "Black Paint", and "Flies", which are the 8th, 3rd, and 2nd tracks for the album respectively. In June, Death Grips uploaded a single titled "Ha ha ha", as well as an accompanying tweet announcing the release date for Year of the Snitch as June 22. A week after the band released another two singles: "Dilemma", featuring Andrew Adamson, and "Shitshow". On June 21, Year of the Snitch was systematically made available on streaming services after the time reached midnight on June 22 in New Zealand, subsequently leading to listeners spreading versions of the album hours before its full scheduled rollout. The band also tweeted the album being "leaked". The following day, Year of the Snitch was officially released.
Death Grips' music combines a variety of styles including hip hop, punk, electronic, noise and industrial, and has been categorized as experimental hip hop, rap rock, electropunk, industrial hip hop, and punk-rap. The group is known for MC Ride's bleak and cryptic lyrics and aggressive rapping style, and their noisy, often chaotic production. They have also received attention for their wild physical performances and stage presence. Their live performances are notable for occasional destruction of instruments; their absence at one of their scheduled shows; Zach Hill drumming to the point of severe injury, or, on one occasion, in handcuffs; MC Ride's intense and violent stage persona; and Andy Morin's use of live sampling, improvised synthesizer flourishes, and violent, spastic movements on stage. The band is also notable for engaging in extended periods of live musical improvisation interwoven into their set as bridges between songs, typically performed on the fly by Morin and Hill. MC Ride has been known to adopt many different vocal styles on record and during live performances and such as shouting, screaming, spoken word-style talking and even whispering. Andy Morin's unorthodox style of production and sampling and drummer Zach Hill's noisy, fast and unconventional drumming styles and patterns are also distinct features of Death Grips' unique sound. The band is also notable for their distinctive and low-fidelity visual style, often made clear in their music videos, performances, and releases.
In popular culture
Björk is one of the most notable fans of the band. Death Grips remixed two tracks for Bastards, a collective album of remixes of tracks from her Biophilia album. Björk allegedly recorded original vocal samples for the band which they used on every track of Niggas on the Moon. Actor Robert Pattinson is also another notable fan and one-time collaborator of the band, making a musical appearance on the song "Birds" from Government Plates, on which he played guitar in an audio recording he sent to the band himself, and then which they later on sampled and altered onto the song itself. Pattinson has also appeared with both two-thirds of the group (Zach Hill and Stefan Burnett) and famed pop vocalist Beyoncé, all posing in a photo together. Sergio Pizzorno of Kasabian is also a fan of Death Grips and cited them as an influence for their album, 48:13, a UK Number 1 album. According to his collaborator Donny McCaslin, David Bowie was inspired by Death Grips whilst creating his final album, Blackstar. Actor William Shatner acknowledged the group on his Twitter, posting lyrics of their song No Love.
The group's song "Hacker" is featured in the video game Battlefield Hardline. Their songs have also been used on various commercials and TV shows like Waterloo Road, Animals, and BoJack Horseman. The song "You Might Think He Loves You For Your Money But I Know What He Really Loves You For It's Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" was used on an Adidas Predator advertisement. The song "Giving Bad People Good Ideas" was used on the Season 2 Teaser for the TV show Animals., as well as "Hot Head" for the Season 2 premiere of Atlanta.
- Stefan Burnett – vocals, lyrics
- Zach Hill – drums, electronic drums, production, keyboards, programming
- Andy Morin – production, bass guitar, audio engineering, keyboards, programming
- The Money Store (2012)
- No Love Deep Web (2012)
- Government Plates (2013)
- The Powers That B (2015)
- Bottomless Pit (2016)
- Year of the Snitch (2018)
- Exmilitary (2011)
- Death Grips (2011)
- Live from Death Valley (2011)
- Fashion Week (2015)
- Interview 2016 (2016)
- Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix) (2017)
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