MOSSING ABOUT: DEATH GRIPS LIVE (2016)

Review by: Jonathan Moss

 

Part 1: The Build-Up

On Tuesday I had seen the Swans and now on Friday I was seeing Death Grips. I was pretty noided, to use the terminology of the group. I was so excited that leading up to the concert in the Only Solitaire group chat I proclaimed Death Grips “The Beatles of my generation” which I, uh, wouldn’t necessarily agree with now. Still, that I was willing to make such a statement and stand by it at the time shows my esteem for Death Grips. I mean, fuck, I love the Swans, but I was excited for this in a way I wasn’t for them, this was like losing my virginity all over again.
Well, perhaps not.

Not to be too mundane, but I got to the concert by bus. I got off near the Science Centre and BBC (this won’t mean much to cunts who aren’t from Glasgow) and walked the rest of the way there, to the SWG3 Warehouse, where the concert was held. This was located in an industrial estate, and as I looked at it I of course thought what a great location it was for a Death Grips concert. I stood there, thankfully one of the first people in the cue (the audience, white hipsters of course), and listened to a gang of friends discuss Death Grips, amongst other things. I interjected into the conversation a couple of times, which I was happy with, being somewhat socially anxious. I didn’t mind waiting that much, with Swans the people I eavesdropped on ended up being Trump supporting alt-righters, but this group were friendly and plenty excited. It gave a probably inflated sense of DG camaraderie. Death Grips are known to cancel, so obviously there was talk of that, but it was enthusiastically agreed that even a cancellation by Death Grips would be better than most gigs. At one point we heard what sounded like Zach Hill’s drumming and MC Ride screaming, which assuaged our fears.

It didn’t take that long for the doors to open, where I was frisked, which I found odd, having never happened to me at a concert before. After that I swaggered into the warehouse. I saw there was an area where you could give your bags and jackets, amongst other shite. I decided not to do that, having brought a jacket and a backpack. That was a mistake. Being one of the first people in the cue I was one of the first people to get into the venue. This was great, allowing me the second row in the warehouse. And Christ, though I saw someone on reddit call the venue “shite”, I thought it was fantastic. It was cold, dark and misty. It felt like a proper warehouse (because it was). And there the stage was, with Flatlanders synthesizer and mac, Zach Hill’s minimalistic drum set and Ride’s mic on the floor. The stage was small, which indicated the upcoming intensity of the concert.

Some really eerie music was playing, it was a mixture of droning keyboard sounds, random noise and what sounded like a high pitched American nervously rambling. This made waiting about pretty tense. And wait about we did, we were let in around ten past seven and the group didn’t perform until about quarter to nine. There was no supporting act so during the almost two hours we waited all there was was the intimidating looking stage, the frosty atmosphere and the eerie music. At this point I alternated between excitement and frustration. This was especially true during the parts of the soundtrack playing where the music would seem to lead to a climax, making me think “okay, this must be their entrance”. Aye, right. There was also points where people would appear on the stage, but they were just setting it up, the cunts. About an hour in people started mumbling that maybe they had cancelled, but the way I saw it they were trying to build suspense, and it was fucking working. Well, when it wasn’t fucking tedious. The biggest highlight of the pre-gig was when the music Death Grips were playing over the PA had a bit of synthesizer and a large portion of the audience got excited, thinking it was the group, despite their clear absence on the stage. This caused one of the older security guards (he looked like Jonathan Banks of Breaking Bad fame) to smugly smile and shout “it’s not them!”. Nonetheless an enthusiastic Scottish chant of “HERE WE, HERE WE, HERE WE FUCKING GO” began (personally I think “DEATH GRIPS WHEN” would have been cleverer). I got pretty excited when I saw a man with a beard walk up to the stage, he looked like the way Ride looked on the Niggas On The Moon album art. No idea if it was him or not, but several others seemed to think so. Just I was starting to accept my fate of standing in this warehouse with a large group of strangers for the next three hours waiting, Death Grips appeared on the stage, but not before a group of annoying metalheads barged their way to the front of the stage and started loudly and arrogantly talking. Macho dickheads.

Part 2: The Concert

Seeing MC Ride appear on the stage was one of the most exciting things in my life. It answered for me the age old question, did he come on topless or did he strip off at some point? He came on gloriously topless. One thing I noticed which I had never before in interviews, music videos and live performances on youtube was how diminutive he was. Nice, muscly body though. Flatlander looked menacing as fuck behind his synth and Zach Hill appeared like the stoned hippie I assume he is. The stage was dark and misty (whether it was artificial or hipster cunts vaping I don’t know) with dark, purple lighting. The band didn’t waste anytime, Ride said “hi” and then they launched into “Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)”. Earlier on I had speculated on what they would open with, and had settled on either “You Might Think He Loves You For Your Money But I Know What He Really Loves You For It’s Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat” or “I Break Mirrors with My Face in the United States”, but Fuck Who’s Watching was a good choice, a nice energetic dancey number. It also helped immediately set the tone for the concert, both in terms of the loudness and the audience. Death Grips are way more intense on stage than they are on record, which is saying something. Like, Flatlander’s playing was overcharged to the point where certain parts of certain songs were made unrecognisable. MC Ride has always seemed to me to be the loudest thing on record, but he certainly wasn’t on stage, though he did his best to be heard. It made for a terrifying visage.

After that they performed “Bubbles Buried in this Jungle”, the first song they done off Bottomless Pit. It was a good performance, suitably intense, but the song is nowhere close to being one of my favourite Death Grips song, so I can’t say it made that much of an impression, outside of the general excitement of the experience of the concert. This lead on to “Get Got”, which was absolutely thrilling. While as the opener to The Money Store it’s the quietest song on the record, and one of the quietest in their catalogue, on stage its performed with the same amount of venom as anything off Jenny Death. The opening part, sampled from Music From Saharan Cellphones, almost entirely obscured. The catchiness of the song was pretty much gone as well, replaced by the frazzled, electronic vibe of No Love Deep Web. Speaking of that album, it was followed by one of the songs from it, “World of Dogs”. While some people have complained that the line “it’s all suicide to me”, is pretty cheesy, which I somewhat agree with, it absolutely isn’t in concert. It’s scary as fuck. It was also one of the songs I could sing along to, and I did, along with a lot of others.

I’m not going to do a boring track by track review, so I’m just going to do my personal highlights now. Well, first off, there was “No Love”, which, holy shit. It’s easily in my top five Death Grips songs and in concert its an absolute monster. Flatlander’s synthesizer and other sound effects sounded like a malfunctioning robot, Zach’s drumming made most metal and punk drummers sound like pansies and MC Ride rapped/shouted with conviction and energy. So, like a deranged sociopath. The sheer intensity of the song, the insanity of the way he shouted “you’re fit to learn the proper meaning of a beatdown, madness, chaos in the brain, let me blood flow, make my blood flow through you mane, you got no business questioning a thang” (fun as fuck to sing along to), followed by this repeated with more noise and intensity, like being punched in the face then stabbed in the throat. And the part where he screamed the “SPIRAL STAIRCASE” bit by himself- though Zach did add some drumming- Jesus Christ. It was one of the songs which really got the audience active and for good reason. Belter. 
 
The performance of “Inanimate Sensation” was a right sing along as well, though I wouldn’t say it was a highlight. The song loses some of its impact when the subtleties are removed, as they are live. Still pretty great though. I LIKE MY IPOD MORE THAN FUCK-ING.

Unfortunately the band only performed one song from Niggas On The Moon, which I think is a really underrated album. And they didn’t even do the whole song! They done the first verse of “Up My Sleeves” then segued into “Lock Your Doors”. Not that I particularly cared, the brief moment they did do “Up My Sleeves” was exhilarating and “Lock Your Doors” is a great song. Really paranoid sounding. Scary! Then they did “Why a Bitch Gotta Lie”, which was WHOO! Ride used the funny robot effect on his voice and sounded as angry on the chorus as he did on record. Probably angrier. “I’ve Seen Footage” was another highlight. On record it was a nice house inspired song, but live it just sounded like a full on house synthpunk rave up. So energetic and so LOUD. Like an exorcism in a cyberpunk setting. Oh fuck, and when they did “Come Up and Get Me”! Another really frightening performance. The version of “Guillotine” they did was interesting as well, sounding updated for the Jenny Death era. The pulsating synth bit near the end of the song sounded so much more frayed and broken as well, giving it a proper edge. They done a great “Bitch Please” as well, pretty close to the version on the album, but it was really fun getting to hear Ride’s faux-Jamaican accent in the flesh. “Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighbourhood” was staggering, even if I didn’t recognise it immediately. It was really fun getting mad at those upper class pricks all over again, like I did when I first heard the song on record (even if once again it was followed by the twinge of recognition that I myself live in a three bedroom house in a lovely neighbourhood).

The band ended with a performance of “The Fever (Aye Aye)”. The song doesn’t in particular have a feeling of finality (why oh why didn’t they do “On GP”?) but it was a great performance anyway.

The absence of songs like “Hacker” and “Beware” was pretty surprising to me. I was hyped as hell to shout along with “I AM THE BEAST I WORSHIP”.

Oh well.

If I have any other criticisms its that Death Grips only seemed to focus on one side of their themselves. Like I said earlier, they didn’t perform “On GP”, which is their most depressing song. They didn’t do any of their other sad songs either. They didn’t play “Eh”, which, as my favourite Bottomless Pit song, was a bitter disappointment. But that’s probably because it was too lowkey and weird, hence the absence of “Pss Pss” as well. In general the weirdness, humour, sadness and quietness of the band was missing, fuck, even when they did “Get Got”, it was transformed into a banger (though that was great). I remarked at the time it was like they had “sacrificed a bit of their personality” but yeah now I pretty much see it as them just choosing to concentrate on their aggressive side, which, for a concert, makes total sense. So yeah, ignore the bitching, this is a minor complaint.

Part 3: The Vibe

Well, like I said earlier, MC Ride entering the stage and making his presence felt was amazing. In general his stage presence was great. The way he moved about, the way he sung, the sweat dripping off his body. At one point I got a good look at his eyes and they looked completely fucking insane. Flatlander looked really scary as well but in comparison to Ride it couldn’t help but feel forced. Zach Hill had a fuckton of energy, but I’ve got to admit, for most of the concert my eyes were transfixed on Ride. He was terrifying.

The gig was loud as fuck. Not Swans loud, but still deafening.

As for the intensity, in terms of the audience, there were times where I literally felt like I was going to die. And I do mean literally, we were all packed together like a volatile jigsaw puzzle and several times I was almost pushed over. I would have been moshed to death! Like I said earlier, I chose to keep my bag and jacket, which was a huge mistake, the concert got hot as fuck (speaking of hot as fuck, I unbuttoned my shirt to the severity that my nipples were on full display, ladies) and my jacket didn’t help. As for my bag, the being squashed together ended up breaking it. Goddamnit, that was a good bag. The security guards were kind enough to hand out cups of water to us at regular intervals, probably to stop us from fainting.

About halfway through I got a terrible headache, resulting in me failing to recognise several of the songs, even though I knew I’d heard them before. Christ, the performance of “Pill-Box Hat” was fantastic, but I couldn’t call it a highlight, because during it I just wanted to collapse and sleep. Maybe that was a highlight actually. This made the audience at the Swans concert seem really gentile, where at one point a guy politely chided me for accidentally standing in front of him and I caught a guy reading a Nietzsche book in the audience.

So yeah, it was like a proper punk gig.

Part 4: Conclusion

Best gig of my life. 10/10

SEEN LIVE: VASKO VASSILEV – Concert in Sofia (29/02/2016)

Review by: Nina Anatchkova

It is interesting and perhaps very cool that in the year 2016 a classical violinist (a performing classical violinist, not just a classically trained one) can be considered as something of a rock star. Sure, the cult status of the first Concert Master of the Royal Opera House (joined in 1993) helps and a season as a judge on the Bulgarian X factor has made Vasko Vassilev a bit more well-known to the general public in his native country (which he now, obviously, rarely visits) but still – a large sports arena, the largest indoors venue in Sofia – was filled to the very brim of its capacity on the night of February 2016 and the expectation of something special and truly unique is, well, if not tangible, then at least quite apparent.

Vasko Vasilev has risen to fame internationally not quite by chance – he is an excellent musician. Talent and passion go without saying, of course, and we do love to hear him play but I am sure the audience was expecting not only some virtuoso playing but also an interesting production and one suitable in scale and ambition for the big sporting venue Arena Armeec.

Which is, broadly speaking, what we got.

The performance opened on a grand scale indeed – an epic reworking of the opera Turandot of the variation “Turandot in 15 minutes” complete with a brief but dramatically read synopsis courtesy to Pamela Nicholson (dressed for this occasion as a true oriental princess) and drums and electric guitars. The delightful and intelligent and somewhat rocking arrangements suited the epic story of prince Calaf and the unattainable princess Turandot.

Next up came what Vasko had promised and had come to do – play Paganini in front of 12 000 people in Sofia. The famously difficult solo work for violin Caprice No 24 by Paganini showcased the virtuosity of his playing and also served as the most intimate moment of the whole evening.

Two more operas Madama Butterfly and Carmen got the same concise reworking treatment, which I was later informed was a new project for Vasko Vassilev and his crew – introducing Japanese people to Opera in an engaging way, because this artform is apparently not popular there.

The highlight solo arias of each opera were, of course, reserved for Vasko’s violin, while the choir competently provided some of the more memorable lyrical moments and served to establish the theatricality and sense of drama that are so important for the operatic artform.

The rest of the evening saw a variety of performances and a host of guests – from boogie woogie pianist Keito Saito to the musicians from Chambao, who performed some of Paco de Lucía’s pieces together with Vasko. Iana Salenko (from StaatsBallett Berlin) and Steven McRae (from the Royal Ballet) provided dance interpretation to Libertango, Le Cygne (from The Carnival of the Animals) and the now signature Czárdás collaboration.

Perhaps more remarkable than the performances themselves was, however, the ecstatic reception by the public. The applause rivaled the one you’d expect at a high profile rock concert and the audience clearly hung on every note and every word that Vasko spoke between set numbers. It is commendable that he managed to put together such a production for the audience of his native country, and it is significant not only because we have some sort of a duty to keep the general public interested in the “dying inaccessible art of classical music and opera” but because talent, a great vision and some daring can keep an audience invested and perhaps even produce a cathartic effect by the end of the evening, and when music does that, I am all up for that.