You can look to the rumour-baiting, the social media stings, the release day fan frenzies for evidence, but under the red alcoves and long gothic shadows of the Roundhouse, Death Grips have never looked more like a cult.
Just like an initiation ritual, the anticipation ahead of their appearance is agony. The steady rise and fall of white noise over the PA hours before the band take to the stage is mental preparation, the circular logic of the prang-out, and is just another form of the Death Grips tease. It’s maddening, and if their aim is to get people noided, it’s worked.
Convention dictates that a Halloween show calls for costumes, and Death Grips respond with polished boots and pressed suits. The effect – Zach Hill unleashing fills from beneath Saville Row shoulder pads and tie – is more disturbing than any Ray Harryhausen creature. What follows is a claustrophobic rattle through the ribcage of their back catalogue, starting with a breathless ‘Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)’. The results of the release of this tension are dangerous. MC Ride bristles with frustration; sexual aggression, suicidal thoughts and drug distortions are all stepped to, stared down and winded away in his contortions, and it’s a pleasure to join in his desperation.
The set is frontloaded with Death Grips at their most palatable. ‘Get Got’, ‘No Love’ and ‘Inanimate Sensation’ are gifts for the uninitiated, intersected with seething renditions of ‘World Of Dogs’ and ‘Hot Head’. ‘Up My Sleeves’ and ‘Lock Your Doors’ meld together in their violent nihilism, before the pummelling bass of ‘Come Up And Get Me’ slams with a kind of rage paralysis. It’s rabid. For all its pop sensibility, ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ can’t dilute the wild energy in the room, and as ‘Hustle Bones’ bleeds into ‘Guillotine’ the show becomes less about music and more about glorious mass trauma. It’s hardcore, it’s hip hop, it’s arthouse, but under the weight of ‘Lord of the Game’, MC Ride shirtless and twisted, it’s hard to care about labels.
For all the hype surrounding Death Grips and the artifice they build around themselves, it’s undeniable that they are worthy of the adoration they receive. Six years in, Death Grips have become essential listening.