The lights went down. Someone shoved me. I was in a mosh pit.
Green and red laser beams scanned screaming faces. Shadows of the band flickered onstage. The crowd was already deafening, already jumping. Someone pushed me forward into the back of some guy’s already-soaked shirt. MC Ride stalked the stage with an uncanny gravitas, shirtless, looming. Drummer Zach Hill was a pummeling blur.
We were in the chute. There would be no breaks, no pauses, no greetings, no it’s-so-great-to-be-in-Minneapolis. There would be no cover of “Purple Rain.” It would be loud, aggressive, sweaty.
This was a Death Grips show.
The first half of the experimental rap group’s set at the Skyway Theatre happened in complete darkness, save for the laser beams firing from the fingertips of the odd gloves that the trio wore. There was no designated mosh pit—the entire crowd moved like a single-minded entity. Strangers shared an unreasonable amount of sweat with each other.
The second half had more traditional lighting—strobes, solid colored backgrounds—that revealed a raw setup, but the pace remained tenacious. The band took no breaks between songs, most of which were abbreviated for impact. You weren’t listening to music. Music was happening to you.
During “Takyon (Death Yon),” MC Ride arched backwards in an impossible way and let out a scream that will stay with me until death. At the end of their set, I stumbled wide-eyed into the lobby, dazed, not sure what I’d just experienced, somehow cleansed.
Co-headliner Ministry was good, too, though the industrial metal legends should have been the openers—about a third of the crowd left between sets. But these guys can still rock.
Ministry’s stage was the exact opposite of Death Grips’ austere setup. A pair of 12-foot white chickens crowned with golden Trump hair and emblazoned with anti-Nazi emblems flanked either side of the stage. Three horned skulls adorned the center mic stand.
“These guys are so Gen X,” my friend said as they launched into their second song, “Punch in the Face.” Behind the band, a kaleidoscopic video showed Trump getting clobbered repeatedly by a cartoon boxing glove.
He was right. Ministry is from a different era, a time before the global financial meltdown, before Trump, even before 9/11. Their staging felt cobbled together, weird, unfocused—Antifa chickens + sculls + goofy videos + industrial metal = ???
In the 20th century, there was space and time to be loose, a little silly. Today, it feels like there’s no space and no time, and would we really be surprised if it all ended tomorrow? This is what Death Grips is chasing. They burrow toward the deep trauma at the heart of our culture—a thing that can’t be addressed or drawn out by everyday methods. A Facebook post won’t save us. 12-foot Trump chickens don’t help much either.
Sometimes we just need to let someone burn the fever out of us.
The crowd: Mostly men, mostly white. Punk kids, bearded guys in hoodies, fierce looking women, older dudes who showed up when Ministry did. Big burly dudes (and one incredible titan of a woman) in the Ministry mosh pit.
Overheard in the crowd: “I don’t need a tattoo memorial for my people who are dead. I need them to stay dead.”
Random notebook dump: I watched someone get “crowd-tossed” (as opposed to crowd-surfing). My friend witnessed a woman in a white dress get shoved from behind. She turned around and punched the guy in the face. If you’re out there, woman in the white dress, my friend wants to marry you.
Critic's bias: I am a devoted member of the cult of Death Grips.
More from Music