You know the story by now, but in case you don’t: On Monday, 10/1, Death Grips gave away their highly anticipated new album, NO LOVE DEEP WEB, ostensibly against the wishes of their label Epic Records. Call it a victory for Internet-freedom cheerleaders. Major-label artists — Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, for instance — have given away records before, but The Slip came after Trent Reznor left his contract. In Rainbows came on a pay-as-you-want basis — it was still sold, and with the permission of Radiohead’s label. NO LOVE DEEP WEB, by contrast, was leaked by the artist on purpose. Torrent lovers and independent musicians have foretold the end of the label system for more than a decade, and those same people might see this as the first big crack in the castle wall. But this is not the end of capitalism in music. Death Grips gave their new album away, but they are still selling something.
A quick recap: When they dropped The Money Store on Record Store Day, it was already public knowledge that Death Grips planned to release a second album within the year. Expectations ran high. Death Grips unceremoniously abandoned a US tour to write the album, then silence. Death Grips released a fact sheet describing NO LOVE DEEP WEB. After another month of silence, Death Grips took Twitter and Facebook by storm late 9/30, posting ominous hints: the words ’October 1st’ copy and pasted over and over, a photograph of MC Ride standing on a roof with his middle fingers up, the time 12:00 AM PST. And the already infamous tweets:
The label wouldn’t confirm a release date for NO LOVE DEEP WEB “till next year sometime”
— Death Grips (@DeathGripz) October 1, 2012
The label will be hearing the album for the first time with you
— Death Grips (@DeathGripz) October 1, 2012
The album was released that evening, as promised.
Soon afterward, Death Grips’ website went down. (Download mirrors had posted and remained active.) Death Grips claimed their label was responsible; their label claimed otherwise. It would appear Death Grips were modern-day Robin Hoods, caught mid-robbery by Epic, who denied everything in efforts to not appear like the wicked King John. That may be true, but real life rarely falls into easy categories of good against evil.
If Death Grips won’t sell records, they will sell their story. The band already proved their mastery of social media — the toolset necessary to open-source acclaim. And with NO LOVE DEEP WEB, the band hits every possible button in the history of musical anti-heroes. The album’s cover — a picture of an erect penis — evokes the phallic art poster that came with Frankenchrist byThe Dead Kennedys, but with HR Giger supplanted by an iPhone picture. On “World Of Dogs,” MC Ride repeats, “It’s all suicide,” echoing his impromptu promotional pic and the self-loathing of big-money rap-rockers like Linkin Park, but his Baphomet tattoos and the band’s evasive interviews are ripped straight from the Norwegian black metal playbook. Elsewhere, such as on “Stockton,” Death Grips embrace the old gangsta rap tropes of misogyny and violence, just more cryptically. Read the song titles in a row and it sounds like a terrorist threat run through a paper shredder then re-constructed. This is the group that self-shot a music video of themselves taking drugs and tossing them in a dryer — everything about the band is calibrated to make disaffected teenage boys go apeshit. NO LOVE DEEP WEB fits that story, scandal and all.
If — as the story goes — Epic Records was not privy to Death Grips’s plans, then the label just missed an opportunity at progressive marketing. Conceivably the label could write off the entire cost of creating NO LOVE DEEP WEB as an advertising experiment, and judged the free-music business model for themselves. Remember, Amazon loses money on every Kindle sold, expecting to make that money up with apps and e-books. By following the same logic, Sony’s Playstation 2 wiped the Sega Dreamcast off the face of the earth — Sega hasn’t made a console since, and Playstation still represents the videogame market standard.
Epic now has on its roster one of the most talked-about bands on the planet, a commodity of incalculable value. Death Grips have their moneymaker: Excitement for an upcoming tour can only rise after this stunt. Now the band has a sizable catalog to draw a set from, as well as a quality release to support. NO LOVE DEEP WEB is a worthy successor to The Money Store and Ex-Military, though the pop factor is substantially reduced (perhaps all those Bjork remixes rubbed off). This release plan ensures, at least, that people will put the album on their hard drives. Falling in love with the songs can come later, just in time to buy a ticket. As for the leak, time will tell if Death Grips are dropped by their label or litigated against. Either way they’ve proven themselves adept as ad execs as well as musicians.
UPDATE: Looks like Death Grips have just announced tour dates!
10/27 – Asheville, NC @ Moogfest
11/01 – Berlin, Germany @ Festsaal Kreuzberg
11/02 – Brussels, Belgium @ Magasin 4
11/03 – Paris, France @ Pitchfork Music Festival Paris
11/05 – Bristol, England @ The Fleece
11/06 – Manchester, England @ Sound Control
11/07 – London, England @ Electric Ballroom #
11/08 – Amsterdam, Holland @ Bitterzoet
11/10 – Lyon, France @ Riddim Collision Festival
11/13 – Washington, DC @ Rock and Roll Hotel
11/14 – Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church
11/16 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
11/18 – Toronto, Ontario @ Wrong Bar
11/19 – Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick
11/20 – Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge
11/21 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
01/18 – Sydney, Australia @ Big Day Out Festival, Sydney Showgrounds
01/20 – Southport, Australia @ Big Day Out Festival, Parklands
01/25 – Adelaide, Australia @ Big Day Out Festival, Adelaide Convention Centre
01/26 – Melbourne, Australia @ Big Day Out Festival, Flemington Racecourse
01/28 – Perth, Australia @ Big Day Out Festival, McCallum Park