Crimes of Dispassion, Death Grips at the Showbox in Seattle June 19, 2015

Death Grips at the Showbox in Seattle on June 19, 2015. Photo taken by Cassandra Bermudez-Lopez (@casskittie).

Um I don’t get it. I thought at first, “How can any woman really go see the Death Grips and not defend AC/DC?” And then I began to wonder how can any human person go see the Death Grips and not defend AC/DC, or for that matter defend sexual violence?

There were woman in the audience, so it was all right, wasn’t it? It wasn’t a secret male hate rally against women kind.

There is a thread of sexual violence toward woman by men (and a rare and occasional response from women such as Geechie Wallace nearly 85 years ago in “Skinny Leg Blues” (1930):

I’m gonna cut your throat baby, gon’ look down in your face
I’m gonna cut your throat babe, gon’ look down in your face
Ah, I’ll look down in your face
I’m gonna let some lonesome graveyard, be your restin’ place

(Lyrics / Song)

She was obscure in the thirties and nearly forgotten today. This lyric is probably a set of tropes that are explained by Paul Oliver in his great book Blues Fell This Morning: Meaning in the Blues, which looks at the odd, repeated phrases of African American folk songs. These songs were often built from chunks of lyrics and melody that carried coded meaning often with sexual meanings and often violent meanings.

For instance Leadbelly’s version of “In the Pines” from the 1940s:

Her husband, was a hard working man
Just about a mile from here
His head was found in a driving wheel
But his body never was found

(Lyrics / Song history)

This aspect of music was picked up by the early rock musicians. I think the dichotomy between that was perhaps initially invented by the Rolling Stones to distinguish them from The Beatles was how The Beatles took up the sunny side of rock music (Let it Be) and the Stones answer (Let it Bleed). In actuality this duality is not accurate; the Stones had sunny songs; The Beatles had raunchy songs (“Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” or “Want You (She’s So Heavy)”) yet both of these songs are not about power dynamics but simply getting it on or about carnal desire. The Stones made sex about power. This was not without precedent, but rather part and parcel with the history of American muisc. Here is the Stones 1966 song “Under My Thumb.”

It’s down to me, yes it is
The way she does just what she’s told
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb
Ah, ah, say it’s alright

(Lyrics / Song history)

And then here are are the Death Grips in “Two Heavens” in 2013:

Pressin down the pillow till I can’t hear you breathin
For no reason
Five rings on my hand
Faces gag
Where the fucks my true ones at
Wavin high burnin freak fuck flags

(Lyrics / Album Review)

In between the Stones and Death Grips there is rap among other things, but I see rap as extension of rhythm and blues and rock rather than a ground zero event. Death Grips themselves are rap but can also be classified as noise rock, as electronic music. But whatever your call their genre they are deliberately reaching out to touch the live wire of sexual violence.  Where Jane’s Addiction calls attention to this thing as a thing, Death Grips use it as a gesture, a coloring, as an element in their music lifted in the same way as they lift Syn Barrett’s “Interstellar Overdrive” riff or an other sample.

The thread of sexual violence (and in particular sexual violence against women) is very old. I was thinking about something Thurston Moore said in an interview about hearing Nirvana’s In Utero demo tape that it was deep rock music. There is at the core of rock music, roots music, American music folk or blues or rap or rock a rotten part that is sexual violence against women, and it is a kind of molten core. The logical extreme of this violence are the war crimes committed by armies such as the raped corpses of children in the ditches in the road to Berlin left by both American and Soviet armies. It assumes male bodies as having completely control over female bodies. The female body in the equation becomes a disposable vessel.

But sexual violence is not just a riff or coloring.

There was in the 1970s an outcry of a Hustler cover of a woman in a meat grinder that still ranks as one of the most iconic image of sexual violence against women.

What is sexual violence though? According to The International Criminal Court’s Elements of Crimes, the “Crime against humanity of sexual violence” is:

The perpetrator committed an act of a sexual nature against one or more persons or caused such person or persons to engage in an act of a sexual nature by force, or by threat of force or coercion, such as that caused by fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or abuse of power, against such person or persons or another person, or by taking advantage of a coercive environment or such person’s or persons’ incapacity to give genuine consent.


I suppose you might say the Death Grips are being provocative. They are making us think! Here I am thinking then.

I don’t think for instance it is the duty of women or people to beat down the mouth breathers. However, as soon as I arrived at the show I was sucked into a mealy, throbbing mass of geek male bodies being worked into a frenzy the jugga jugga Death Grip rhythm. And one the things that was unnerving about the event was how these young guys were working themselves up and while the “moshing” had rules — for instance if they used their arms overtly the flashlight wielding bounders would kick them out — they wanted to smash things, and so they were stuck having an epileptic-style fit where they would use hit themselves in the face or violently writhe causing much utilikilt mayhem. 

My thought about female musicians was how do you confront that?

I wondered what it would be like while watching the show what it would be like to have a woman performing and replacing every “bitch” spit take bark with “cock.” Imagine the force of all female band with lyrics such as “cut off his cock.” The closest I think we’ve heard is the 7 Year Bitch song “Dead Men Don’t Rape,” but even there that is just a kind of objection, a defensive position against sexual violence. Liz Faire’s response to the Stones was an accommodating and dissociated, the response of enduring and absorbing the violent history of American music rather than finding the rotten core and removing it. How would a female band be greeted if they went on the offensive?

My wife pointed out, “the lead singer would end up raped or killed.”

Oh shit.

Until I went down this pat of thinking about the history of music and sexual violence, I had regarded the Death Grips as a guilty pleasure. I didn’t really want to think about the poison wrapped up in the bacon. Although I had thought of them as some questionable suburban concoction, 7-11 moonshine or something, rather than an industrially calibrated guilty pleasure like the Avenger Movies or Pringles. A food scientists wasn’t involved. But neither was were their albums the result of a singer song writer. I had difficultly of thinking there was a person was thinking: I have to let the word know my feelings! Instead I imagine the moment of gestation coming over a laptop in a suburban rambler ruminating on the question of how can I distill that slap in the face moment from a rock song into an hour long riff? The Death Grips are more algorithm than song.

On record it work well. In a concert, however, it is like watching a badly scratched copy of Exile on Mainstreet skip for an hour. Add strobe lights and the silhouette of a menacing lead singer holding a mike and dripping the index finger of his other hand, and bam: Death Grips.

And then there was the audience.

So much pot. As long as there are humans who will see the Death Grips count me out. I went in thinking I loved the band. And I discovered I hated the people loved the band or whatever you want to call the sound organized under the label Death Grips. It wasn’t a concert so much as an engineered sound event that lasted a certain amount of time.

The image of spastic gerbil neckbeards “moshing” will take a while to leave my head. So many men who will never have sex with actual, non-inflatable women.

I’m not sure why the band sounds the way do. MC Ride sounds like Red-Dye-40-dosed toddler having a fit into a broken microphone. Backed by a drum machine. For some reason listening to their albums I thought there was a real drummer at least, and probably a guitar. (According to the reviews and bio online those shadowy figures in the back of the stage were actually playing music.) Their energy on album is far more rock than electronic, but the show was more like a very tired cover band of The Prodigy than Big Black. You can hear the idea now, stoned and gorged on questionable quesadilla in a Sacramento garage:

“Hey man lets do skin head rap with an African American front man and a drum machine! No one even has to understand your words. You just say duck dick a hundred times with feedback and echo and I play the same snare drum loop for everything. Sometimes I turn up the volume. Sometimes, man, it goes down low. And bam! Every pasty West Coast white boy will throw down their Android and hop around like hobos attempting to masturbation themselves through their pants in a cattle car on the way to a detention faculty in Butte.”

“Shut the fuck man. There is no place called Butt.”

That’s my review of the show. Titled: “death drips” Five and a half stars. Would have been six but a neckbeard took it dropped it because he thought it was acid. He burped and looked concerned. “Can you burp acid?”

I am also against humans who smoke pot and sweat and then want to rub their slick, oily skin on others on public. It’s like a mass of warm blooded banana slugs. I do not think they understand that it makes a massive stink pit. It is worse than football practice in terms of human reek. Literally hobo orgy.

At one point some pasted faced baby giant shook my hand. As if to says, good for you. Or he was so stoned he thought I was him. And he was like, I am going to shake hands with myself. Fancy meeting you here.

The last rock and roll show I went to at the Showbox was  Guided by Voices. Different crowd.

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