Friday, 17 May 2013


Coalition, Brighton, Fri 3rd May

Shortly before the band came on, I observed the typical Death Grips fan to be a youthful hipster, busily texting and tweeting while sporting ironic facial hair. “These young people of today,” I thought to myself, my mind imagining their idea of watching the gig would consist of updating their live feeds while waxing lyrical of hardcore gigs of old.

Scant seconds after the band came on, a huge wave of arm-flinging energy erupted across the crowd - which didn't seem to abate until well after the whole thing was over.

Good for you, young people of today.

If I were so foolish as to reduce the live Death Grips experience to a sound-bite explanation, it would be something like 'hip-hop and drum-and-bass beats, cross-bred with full-on noise then set to attack mode.' Though it's not at all the same type of music, they chiefly reminded me of another band I saw in this very venue – Sunn O))). There's the same single-minded dedication to taking one frontier of music and pushing at it, never pausing even for such a lunch-is-for-wimps moment as a gap between tracks. There's the same deranged decibel level, music so loud your bones almost shake along to it.

Except Death Grips' accessory of choice isn't dry ice but strobes – fired at us pretty much incessantly, and perfectly matching the abrasive, rapid-fire beats. The performing duo are backlit to the point I'm not even sure they actually existed in three dimensions, the singer a perpetual motion machine of aloft arms and jutting elbows.

Live they're considerably less sample-centric than on record. Tracks are stripped right back to their elements, much the way robbers do with shotguns. But there's also a deranged kind of invention to it; things will become almost psychotically metronomic, only for some curve ball to be thrown in. Much like Fucked Up they throw such a dizzying punch live you can't imagine it working on record. Yet when you try them on record you find they're richly rewarding.

Things climax with a good few minutes of squalling white noise. Then the first thing my punch-bagged ears pick up on stepping outside is a security guard talking to another. “They had more rabbit than Sainsbury's.” Which they did.

Like so many styles of music before it, hip-hop went mainstream many moons ago. Rappers present a puffed-up parody of black street life for a mostly white audience, while name-dropping brand names for product placement cash. But at it's inception it was about taking music forward by taking it apart, reassembling it then giving it a kick out of the lab door. (In methods not so different from Krautrock outfits such as Faust.) And it's alternative acts like Death Grips, far from being some wayward offshoot, that are keeping that spirit alive.

In what seems an increasingly common step for hip-hop acts, the 'CD stall' held no actual CDs – just T-shirts and hoodies. (Like Fugazi in reverse.) Their first release, 'Ex-Military', put up on torrent sites, opened with a Charlie Manson quote calling the music biz “a bigger jail than I just got out of.” (On a track appropriately titled 'Beware'.) I didn't believe the promoters' claim that this had become the most legally downloaded piece of music, and yet it seems it's so. After signing to Epic and being told their next release wouldn't appear for over a year, they promptly torrented that as well. (They are, to no great surprise, no longer signed to Epic.)

The first one being free and all that, you could do worse than check it out. This is the opening track with that Manson intro...

West Hill Hall, Brighton, Sat 4th May

These warm-ups/ fund raisers for the (hopefully still forthcoming) Colour Out of Space festival seem to be becoming stalwarts of the local scene. (Though the bohos were too cool and laid back to plug the night even on their own website!)

As usual, things were pretty unusual. Tuluum Shimmering played a succession of folk and ethnic instruments, laying each upon the others like some totem pole of sound. It probably rests upon a formal feature of folk instruments, that their open tunings are closer to drones than modern instruments. Which means each new layer could grab at your attention, as if bursting into the room like a surprise witness, only to quickly flatten down into the shimmering sea of sound as soon as it was usurped. It was like you perptually felt yourself at the pinnacle of something, only for the totem pole to grow another step higher.

Getting carried away as usual by this virtuous combination, I started to conceive the piece's internal harmony as evoking the ongoing folk tradition – growing like coral, building upon itself. Of course us commie types should eschew such notions of smooth historical continuity, and I should probably have introduced an element of rupture and struggle by invading the stage. Luckily there wasn't one, so I could just sit back and enjoy it. I also loved the way that, after such a mesmerising set, they immediately stuck Slayer on the PA. That's the way to do it...

Another of the edited highlights was Avarus (pictured, but from another occasion), a Finnish free psychedelic outfit with a floating line-up involving ex-members of Pylon. Despite those geographic origins to me they most resembled a latter-day Krautrock act, improvising inventively around a metronomic groove like the spirit of Ash Ra Tempel still lies over us. True they took a little while to really hit their stride, and alas they were restricted to a fairly short set. (The venue is in what's known as a “residential area” so curfews are firm.) They showed every sign they could have kept going all night, something I'd very much like to see. Check some out (albeit from another time, another place)...

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