At a recent reading/séance/celebration of his new book Supernatural Strategies For Making a Rock 'N' Roll Group, D.C. punk provocateur Ian Svenonius touched on the idea of the rock band as a unit reflecting the national and global psyche, rich with subconscious ideology and sociopolitical context. The successful rock group, he argued, knows how to channel this subtext and power, whether cynically or naively—and if the group is fully cognizant of its place in the zeitgeist, the "rock" part might not even be necessary.
"Did Whitehouse ever even have any songs?" he asked. "Of course not. The music was never remotely the point with them. They offer an entire way of being, a fully-formed worldview you align yourself with. The music might as well not exist at all."
Svenonius, who's played in bands since 1988, is operating in the higher echelons of a game in which a band runs n-dimensional chess moves on the audience and critics—the sort of thing that the notorious "noise-rap" outfit Death Grips have shown themselves to be proficient in over and over again. These maneuvers aren't so much a cynical grab for attention (though sure, that enters the equation) as they are a cultural terminus: There's nothing there; there is no band.
From the beginning, the very idea of Death Grips felt like a set of prefabricated pieces that just needed to be pulled together. The group formed in December 2010, about two months after the taboo-smashing hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All got their first Pitchfork writeup. "Talented, hilarious, villainous, immature, precocious, and viral," the site breathlessly proclaimed. "They are at the vanguard of modern hip-hop."
Death Grips' music, with its floating signifiers for the "raw," "disaffected" hip-hop that so excited critics, sounds like a direct response to a glassy-eyed viewing of the blood-and-spit-drenched video for Odd Future's "Earl." It's noise fun...