As the guillotine slams down in three successions, Death Grips starts off ‘Guillotine’ (Yeah) and it feels like the M train had derailed and landed right into our bodies at Market Hotel, the first movie theater in Brooklyn. After that it goes, it goes, it goes; it’s unstoppable. The three men on stage are as driven as if performing is their only chance of survival, with no safety net underneath. Tonight that rings especially true, since the stagnant 130 degree air inside Market Hotel, also once a 19th-cemetery bordello, makes it difficult for any to breathe, never mind thrust out a brutal show that could knock down walls. Yet the fearsome three fire on, each a leader in his own art, with singer Stefan Burnett stalking the stage, sinewy tattoo-strewn torso bare and gleaming, a starving lion about to tear off heads.

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Photos by Nate Dorr, checkout his tumblr, some lurid photos of Texas right up top

The crowd feeds on the fury, the pain and the life inferno within, in a frenzy of thrusting arms and moshing; fans sing almost every line as they do at the best of hardcore shows. Most are drenched with sweat two songs in, but two in the crowd have it right, having shown up in bathing suits. Another girl with pigtails is oddly on roller blades. There is also at least one professor from Princeton, at least one man about town, many gorgeous people, and musicians who make the ear sweet.

Midway through the set, the industrial fan keeping the drummer Zach Hill from lighting on fire peters out, prompting the Death Grips tour manager to step in and splice live wires and hold them together, spewing sparks but making the fan operational.

“Zach quipped that his goal was akin to making torture devices with music”

Earlier in the night as the band was setting up, Zach quipped that his goal was akin to making torture devices with music, which ties in perfectly with a ten-foot guillotine glaring from stage right. And just take a look at one of his cymbals, the copper frayed and torn; that’s power.

To parallel Zach’s tornado drumming, the keyboardist, Andrew, dances with infectious movements to let out the harsh bass synths and melody, acting as a conductor (watch his moves on ‘Beware’), rallying the crowd, some of whom are swaying and are beyond any ability to speak toward the end of the set (again the Bikram yoga heat + moshing take their toll).

As soon as the cathartic show ends, the group reforms on stage, sitting in silence, unapproachable in exhaustion, recharging, a bucket of ice in the center, a few bottles of beer that they still do not touch. They do not ask for anything, “are we accepted?” or “are we liked?” are not a part of their vocabulary. They are a hybrid of imagination and force. Later on, we are left to muse and remember what it was we became a part of tonight, that “part human and part insane art”*.


“He’s a one-man Theatre of Cruelty for the new urban age”

To ease us into the heat of the room a little past the strike of 1am, DJ Dog Dick, aka Baltimore-based Max Eisenberg, writer of filty manifestos, lurid fanzines and creator of hard-wired, noise-making analog synths, basement-built musical gadgets and bleak hip-hop, climbs on stage with a startling soliloquy. He rattles off such notions as “I’m the real deal,” before burrowing into his world of delicious, slimy experiments of noise, charged incantations and cruel beats. He’s a one-man Theatre of Cruelty** for the new urban age.

During Death Grips’ set, I notice Dog wandering around the backrooms of Market Hotel, lost in his own sweaty, cynical reverie while tugging on his moustache, perhaps as a comforting reminder that a little pain, felt and dealt, is always a good thing.

*Thomas Mann
**Antonin Artaud

  1. Guilty! Good to know Hella Hill is involved.