Deconstructing: Death Grips

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 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

Comments (47)
  1. If it were a publicity stunt, it so coherent with the music that I truly don’t mind.


  3. “Epic now has on its roster one of the most talked-about bands on the planet.” That’s a stretch… unless the planet not consists of only music blogs.

  4. I was wondering when the slightly cynical articles would start creeping up.

  5. Michael_  |   Posted on Oct 3rd, 2012 +3

    After I listened to NO LOVE DEEP WEB, my initial reaction was, “This is great, but even in 2012, I can’t believe that Sony Epic would have never green lit this album to be released to begin with. It’s too complicated to market through traditional major label means.” As stated in the article above, the pop factor had been reduced this time around. I hate to over-think this stuff, just take the music for what it is and enjoy it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was some greater back story about this album that involved both Death Grips and Epic knowing full well that the music here was best left to either be shelved by label or self-released by the band.

    • Michael_  |   Posted on Oct 3rd, 2012 +8

      P.S. They just announced a full fall tour on Twitter. That’s some interesting timing for all this to come together nicely…

  6. Didn’t we just get that Grizzly Bear post about how there is so much overhead that comes with a tour bands don’t make as much money touring as some people think and the real money was in record sales which don’t exist when music is given(or taken) away for free? The playstation 2 analogy totally contradicts that. Which is it?

    • As “cool” as it is to purposely leak your album and give the middle finger to the man seems… Didn’t Godspeed You! Black Emperor pull off the MUCH MORE impressive album release one day later?

      But actually, they may have more overlap than we think. GY!BE announces their new album (1st in 10 years) while ON TOUR. We’ve always talked about album releases and touring as two separate means of income for bands, but never considered them as something that could go together. The idea to release your album on tour, available at the merchandise table, seems genius to me. Don’t bands make more money off a record they sell on tour than at a record store?

      So now for the remaining GY!BE dates, the shows attendees will make an effort to hit up an ATM before the show so they can buy the brand new album of one of their favorite bands. That seems like a bulletproof strategy to me!

      On the topic of Death Grips, I think they could learn something from this. First off, they need to make plans to sell a physical release of NO LOVE DEEP WEB on their tour. Penis artwork and all. Selling the record on tour bypasses the cover art dilemma (doesn’t it?) and also opens up that avenue of greater revenue.

      Hypothetically, what if Death Grips “leaked” NO LOVE DEEP WEB while on tour? Or better yet, what if they leaked the album and already had a Fall 2012 tour lined up? Leak the album and the tour poster at the same time. Let’s pretend Epic was on their game and was ready to print copies of this album to send on tour with them. Imagine the record sales? I’d imagine anybody buying tickets to a Death Grips show would also want to pick up their newest controversial album, no?

      In my mind, there is more to learn from GY!BE’s method of record release. Death Grips pulled a neat stunt. I think selling an uncensored album cover version of NO LOVE DEEP WEB at shows is the best way to monetize this release.

      tl;dr Don’t Bend! Ascend!

  7. Im hopeing NO LOVE DEEP WEB will hit me like a tonne of bricks, it took me a multiple listen to fully appreciate The Money Store. So far though the only tracks jumping out are Black Dice, Lil Boy, Lock Your Doors and Deep Web

  8. Death Grips give no fucks…

  9. Wait, since when an act of rebellion is different from a publicity stunt?

  10. Death Grips didn’t just let people downlad their album for free, they let anyone make money with it:

  11. my dick is way bigger than the one on the cover

  12. So apparently I’m the only one who thinks this band is absolute garbage?

  13. Fuck a nazi!!!!!!!!!

  14. I miss Power Stone :(

  15. i think its obscene to even suggest Epic/sony had knowledge/okayed/was behind any of it. They lost money as a result of how DG released this, they couldnt promote it, or make money off it, what major label would ever be supportive of something that would lose them money? Second, as for the controversial cover, that too is the same. Major retailers of the physical cd, which is all Sony/Epic cares about, will flat out refuse to carry the album simply because of the album cover. Again, you’d have to be crazy to think any major label would be okay with that

    As for it being a publicity stunt manufactured by DG, I think it probably was, but thats how they released Ex military. Just put it up for free on their website.

    I think they were smart. They have been growing in fans exponentially, they know they have a ton of hype and praise following their every move.

    Its always been a mystery why epic/sony even got involved with DG in the first place. I have a hard to thinking that the label wouldnt be skeptical of Zach and Stephan and their content, and two, that DG itself wouldnt just burst out laughing as they were signing their contracts. After all we know they graffitti’d the Sony bathrooms minutes before signing their contracts. What major label wouldnt know that they were dealing with artists who wouldnt tow the company line?

  16. additionally, i agree they are marketing/hype geniuses (DG that is), but i dont think Sony thinks of them like that. Im sure they were furious when they released it for free online, without any advance knowledge. A major label isnt cognizant of how the “new modern” band can drum up hype and ticket sales and merch sales from doing what DG did. They just dont think in that manner. All they know is that DG didnt allow them to hear the album first, and then DG proceeded to give away the album for free. Sony, or any of the other majors just are clueless about any of it

  17. Yes but will we ever know whose body goes with the penis? This information needs to go public……. or PUBIC amirite???? DICK JOKES.

  18. quoting amour & dicipline website:
    “Death Grips have now changed the Creative Commons Attribution licence into an Attribution-Non Commercial one. It means you can share or remix the work, but NOT use it commercially without permission. Several explanations are possible:

    - They didn’t know what kind of licence they took in the first place
    (I doubt it, as it wasn’t their first Creative Commons release and Death
    Grips themselves shared this A&D post via Twitter).

    - They changed their mind.

    - Epic/Sony made them change the licence, so the Major Company can still
    have exclusive commercial rights on Death Grips music. As the Major
    Company has paid for the recording of No Love Deep Web, this scenario is
    quite likely.”

  19. I take it MC Ride will grace the cover of the 12″.

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