In March 2011, the world got its first taste of Death Grips, and it tasted like pure cyanide with the mouth feel of ground glass. At a time when Odd Future was just breaking out with a somewhat darker brand of hip-hop, Death Grips’ “Full Moon,” the debut song and video from the three man experimental hip-hop outfit, was louder and harder than any rap music to date, bringing back the feeling of Rage Against The Machine’s first release in 1992.
Since then, Death Grips has delivered a barrage of songs and videos that convey the same vibe in various permutations. In every instance, front man Stefan Burnett’s screaming intensity paces frantically over chaotic, overdriven, destructive beats by Zach Hill and Andy Morin. The visual elements are lo-fi as hell, finding the band in empty lots, office parks, and hanging off the sides of buildings, and even making the seatbelted passenger seat of a car look like a menacing stage for an MC. The collection of apocalyptic vignettes culminated in their lauded 2011 mixtape Exmilitary.
No one has seen or heard anything like Death Grips before because it is a project that begins from scratch, ignoring the established palates of both hip-hop heads and fans of noise music alike, and venturing into this newly discovered avant-garde bridge between the two. While every new song is an experiment of sorts, the finished products are very deliberate pieces, forged from the shared musical ideologies of the band members.
We recently spoke with Death Grips about the band’s process for creating audio and video. But first, we’re bringing you the premiere of their new video, which is actually 109 videos. Retrograde is a collection of clips that can be played simultaneously or in sequence any way you like, allowing you to play an integral part of the listening and viewing experience. Here is the first RETROGRADE video. Below that, the band explains. Check out the full experience on the Death Grips site.
We created a deconstructive musical piece called RETROGRADE, conceptualized and executed by Death Grips and coded by Jacob Ciocci (Extreme Animals). It’s an infinite GIF sampler. There are 109 loops that you can start and stop at will. Depending on the number of loops you trigger and the way you time them, an infinite number of visual/audio combinations are possible.
It’s inspired by Mercury being in retrograde right now (until April 4, 2012). The piece is an expression of the infinite/fractal nature of every moment in time. When creating music, we are sticking/unsticking ourselves to endless time snakes—the idea that the smallest/tiniest of moments contains everything in the universe—Progress/becoming UNSTUCK.
The piece itself is a musical instrument. Our real performances are disassembled, mangled, and thrown back together in a renegade way. We recommend the “PLAY ALL” button. This is exactly how we create our art. It’s dirty, chaotic, and constantly on the brink of catastrophic failure. We encourage others to deconstruct our ideas and this piece in similar ways. We are excited about people creating their own content out of this device. It’s not about the machine itself but the process of exploration.
The Creators Project: What are your individual backgrounds in terms of working with video?
Death Grips: Not too extensive. We’ve spent time documenting our individual experiences around the world and personal lives. Our literal backgrounds influence and naturally direct our video work. We do a lot of experimenting with the enhancement of a simple idea, altering the states of raw footage when we edit.
What equipment do you use to shoot?
Generally, two cameras and an iPhone, and sometimes a webcam. The cameras are fairly inexpensive. I bought one of them in Japan for $200 and I don’t think it ever came out in the US. We’ve used flashlights, bike lights, foil, black lights, car headlights, strobes.
The same mentality and processes apply to how we work on both video and music. That’s how they relate. We often work backwards, by starting with pieces of something that we purposefully destroyed.
How do you scout your locations for videos? Does spontaneity play a role in your motivation to go out and shoot a video?
We shoot and work on things intuitively, which forces improvisation into the work. Sometimes it’s similar to when you go out bombing graffiti—you might’ve had your eye on an overpass prior but you see a lot of other shit on the way.
Coupling so much of your early work with video seemed very deliberate, and had a lot to do with how you broke out. Is the visual element along with the sound essential to the concept of Death Grips?
Being visually active has been intentional from the start. We had the idea to create this group as an entity or an overall feeling, the music being at base level. Technically, this relies on all the senses to be fully realized. That’s what makes the visual aspect second nature to the sound.
What are some of the themes that inspire the abrasive sound and imagery of Death Grips?
Anxiety and acceleration, identity and spirituality, fear of spirituality, genetics, spirituality based on fear, identity out of fear, fear of identity, destruction and transformation, social agendas, civil war, the universe, sexuality and death and drugs and desperation, digital utopia, chaos, ownership.
There seem to be clashing themes of electronic futurism and deconstructive primitivism that permeate every sensory aspect of Death Grips. Can you speak to the use of that theme and what it means to you guys creatively?
We’re inspired by the future primitive life. We talk about experiencing the cusp of the digital age. Seeing it accelerate literally everyday is very influential. To experience everything becoming rapidly techno and simultaneously knowing this is still medieval times is strange. It’s interesting to think about what you hold onto from the past and what part of the oncoming unknown you embrace, on all levels.
Does the energy of your live performances translate over to the imagery conveyed in your videos?
For sure. The footage we use in videos obtains the same energy as the live show. There’s no immediate audience there, but when expressing ourselves it’s just real and genuine. The context doesn’t dictate the energy behind the performance in our videos.
You guys had a very grassroots come-up and recently signed to Sony leading to some internet chatter about how that would affect your sound and your overall aesthetic. Do you feel that Death Grips will change in any way by being on a major label?
Theres no difference. It’s only going to change what we want it to change, naturally. We have a lot of ideas. We look at how we can expand our work and have more time to make the music itself.
Can you tell us a bit about what you have planned for this year?
Our new album The Money Store comes out April 24th. We are releasing a second album titled NO LOVE in fall 2012, most likely in October. We’re imagining and seeing a lot of things that we don’t want to talk about yet. We’ll be playing and touring all throughout the summer in the u.s and europe.
Brain seized yet? No? Here’s another one.