Bird's Eye View

Society of the Trash Receptacle: The Situationist Agenda of Death Grips

Birdie Hall  |   Tuesday Sep. 30th, 2014

Society as we know it has entered an era of inescapable false-representation and the total commodification of everything. Anything you could possibly imagine, from ideologies to drinking water have been manufactured into fiscally attainable products. Almost all the mass quantities of information absorbed cognitively in this culture is, essentially, a lie.

I recognize that this is not the sweetest or most entertaining way to approach the subject of alternative music, but sometimes social critique proves quite relevant when submersing yourself into a conceptual hip-hop group. Particularly Death Grips, the freshly separated California trio who released a handful of brilliant albums in their brief three year life span. Not only fronted by the abrasive MC Ride, the group also boasted a killer drummer and master electronic musician, sampling everything from Charles Manson to Arthur Brown. Each member brought their own musical concepts to the table. Their aesthetic and attitude toward art music resulted in the most subversive sound available to the mainstream in more than a decade. It’s not very often that commercially successful musicians bring serious technical and philosophical themes to the public, Death Grips did.

If you genuinely love something, especially music, it’s necessary to approach it with the attitude that there is a time and place for everything, from Gregorian Chants to Blondie. This means that every idea belongs in the musical aesthetic, including philosophy and Critical Theory. The ideologies of French Post-Modernist thought (don’t run away with bleeding eyes yet) have influenced me more than any band or Neil Young song I’ve ever heard. In 11th grade I was gifted Guy Debord’s textual masterpiece “Society of the Spectacle”, a Situationist exposé of post industrial life in the late 20th century. I had no idea how to approach the material at hand. It was dense and incredibly difficult to read as a seventeen year old, although upon understanding, it changed my entire life. The intellectual movement of Situationist International spurned in mid-sixties France. Put simply, SI was a collective of artists, student activists, writers, and political theorists collaborating on a new evaluation of Marxist dialect, or “Advanced Capitalism”.  I know the whole thing might sound verbose and absurd, but I promise it’s not. Situationist critique argues that although capitalism (the only political structure we’ve ever known) has changed drastically since Marx’s time, the “capitalist mode of production” remains fundamentally intact. In other words, our current economical state is far worse than what poor Marx and Engels could have ever imagined. Social alienation and commodity-fetishism have made themselves inescapable in modern life. Separation between the new middle class (what Marx called the Proletariat) and the rich (Bourgeoisie) permeates every aspect of our lives, from the economic sphere to the all-devouring pop culture/spectacle. We are united only by our separation from a world dictated and defined by images. Modern man is shaped by surroundings, and in the 21st century, most of our reality is based on the digital landscape: Images and filtered information. The romantic ideal of what it means to exist in the world as a sentient being is gone. Thoreaus and Whitmans do not exist in modern American culture, these figures have been replaced by wealthy, plastic Kim Kardashians and reality TV shows about everything from cooking to rich housewives. Is that reality? Is Miley Cyrus a valid representation of life on this planet? Maybe, if our identities revolve around product placement, a lack of critical thinking, and disgustingly expensive clothing.

We are living in a post-industrial nightmare, which is precisely why I’m writing about Death Grips’ and their first mix-tape “Ex-Military”. MC Ride seems to enforce a strong distrust toward capitalist society, and that band is living testament to existence outside of “the Spectacle”.

The opening track begins with a sample from an infamous Charles Manson interview, in which the condemned man vehemently speaks out against the American work ethic of petty jobs for worthless salary. Manson goes on to proclaim victoriously that he has overcome this monotony, that the “game” is his. After the sample finishes, the abrasive electronic noise explodes. MC Ride spews what can only be described as a viciously existentialist war cry against the stupidity of modern existence. “Nature knows not of mercy, to pray is to accept defeat.” Watch the music video and you will find him running shirtless through the desert, a sort of disheveled, modern-day Sisyphus; To endure the punishment of being cast unwillingly into the cesspool of American life. The point, however is not to simply endure, but to learn and overcome one’s surroundings. Search and destroy. Every track on the album/mix tape is perfect - if you like experimental hip hop, industrial music, and merciless social critique. Let the music speak for itself, don’t allow my opinion to get between you and Death Grips; not that they’d give you any extensive information to go off of anyway. The band was notoriously reclusive and distrustful of the media. When Epic Records pressured them to delay the release of their second album until 2013, the band leaked it free to the public with the help of information-sharing websites like The Pirate Bay.
Coincidentally enough, the album cover depicted monstrous male genitalia and the work was titled “No Love Deep Web”. Everything they ever created had clear concepts, relentless impatience towards mediocrity, and genuine hatred toward following social or musical trends. In America, where intelligence and self-made identity are the enemy, kids have a friend in Death Grips.

As stated relentlessly before, in this “Advanced Capitalist” society there is no room in pop culture for the modern soul to transcend advertising and the ethics of modern social structure. Death Grips managed to turn musical politics over its head with the use of brilliant sampling, anxiously insightful lyrics, and of course killer live drum beats. Instead of reveling in commercial success, they were repelled by it, canceling shows and distributing all of their material for free. Everything they could do to infuriate record labels and trendy fans, they did. MC Ride maintains intellectual freedom in a digital age of mass spectacle, even disarming it. As Albert Camus wrote more than 50 years ago, “The only way to deal with an un-free world is to become so absolutely free that your existence is an act of rebellion.”    

All of the moral ambiguity of their lyrics and imagery aside, Death Grips will remain supreme in their deconstruction of frivolous society. Maybe this year, instead of buying your loved ones more stupid crap doomed for planned obsolescence, print out a free PDF of “Society of the Spectacle”, and pirate the Death Grips discography instead. The special side of your suppressed consciousness that desires breaking bank windows and reading actual books will thank you.    

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