Mel D. Cole


death grips bring the noise to brooklyn

August 29, 2019
65 Picks

Punk rock is a thing of dingy basements, dive bars, and makeshift spaces. As a result, performing it at an outdoor festival presents some challenges. Thankfully the energy and temper of the music are enough to give the feeling of aggression and attitude that contrasts with the sunshine, open-air, and good vibes. But often something gets lost in the translation when punk is taken out its small-room context. At AFROPUNK Brooklyn, Death Grips were having none of that.

As their sunset performance started the trio of MC Ride (Stefan Burnett), drummer Zach Hill, and keyboardist Andy Morin, flooded the stage with so much smoke and red lighting that they appeared as just silhouettes on stage. There was no fanfare, no stage banter, no “Hello Brooklyn!” during their onslaught. The songs switched up on a dime; some were played from beginning to end like crowd favorite “Guillotine” while others barely got a verse. The sound was drenched in processed reverb; frontman MC Ride’s screams sounded endless.

Ride’s rants about mental illness and suicide — sprinkled with important public service announcements like “Fuck a Nazi!”— hit hard because the rage is universal. And the crowd was right there with the band; since the music never stopped the audience didn’t. For the entirety of their set the audience was a scene of non-stop moshing, crowd surfing, and screaming of lyrics right back to the stage.

On stage,  drummer Zach Hill was the nucleus at the center of all this atomic rage. Speaker monitors are usually placed liberally around a stage so a performer can reference their sound (“Are we loud enough? Are we in tune?”). But Hill surrounded himself with them like cocoon positioned about a foot away from either side of his face. With all the sound flooded into his direction, it was guaranteed he couldn’t hear anything but the sound of his own drums multiplied back at him. He didn’t bother to replicate the songs as they were recorded. He kept his head down and soloed away while never looking at the audience lost in the anger of his own drumming.

The sound was both unsettling and transfixing. It was feel bad music in a feel-good festival. It was punk rock as fuck.