The first Death Grips album cover

Warning: This article may contain vocabulary inappropriate for the kind of asshole who works at Epic, votes Romney and possibly children although I hate to associate the innocent with the two prior examples.

Death Grips have got rather a lot of negative feedback for their recent actions concerning their own personal leak of their new album which their label paid for. It seems that disrespecting a major label in the music industry is considered childish by a lot of the people writing comments under the various articles on the current situation. That it amounts to theft seems to be a bridge to far for many of the children of parents who may have been less judgemental in the 1980s OR their parents are all tedious suburbanites who would also prudishly disapprove of a cock on a cover. However, Death Grips are a breath of fresh air in what seems a rather bland time for music that actually sells well. Career suicide is one interpretation, ‘it’s better to burn out than fade away’ is another.

To recap, Death Grips appeared in 2011 with a free mixtape which was also sold over iTunes called ‘Ex-Military’. It was a raw slice of hardcore rap or hardcore and rap. It featured samples from Pink Floyd, 13th Floor Elevators and many others which would presumably be impossible to clear for an official release. It seemed surprising to me that Epic, the label which brought us Wham, would take a chance on the group. This music was an abrasive noise that may have caused me no end of delight, but was hardly going to translate into massive sales. Surely someone at Epic must have realised that this was a high risk situation? Surely they realised that the music was fiercely anti-commercial? Maybe, someone at the company actually realised that a lot of the current options for an alternative to the mainstream sounded quite bland and here was something fresh and violent that demanded to be heard? Or maybe, they noticed that there was a trend for major labels to pick up black music after a mixtape had appeared and picked up momentum underground to the extent that more people seemed to like the free music on offer than that offered for money. If tap water tasted better than bottled, you’d be a fool to buy the bottle, right? But if you can take that tap water, put in bottles and then sell it to people you’re laughing.

The second Death Grips album cover.

In February of this year the group signed to Epic records and announced that they would release 2 albums in 2012. Did a major label approve the marketing 2 albums by the same artist in the same year but separately? Surely this would not run smoothly and surely a major record label would realise this. The first album appeared at the end of April with Bomb Squad production. If anything, it sounded less commercial and even more abrasive than the mixtape, possibly a result of not being able to humanise some of the relentless noise with familiar 60s samples. I for one still prefer the mixtape but enjoyed and still enjoy the album on regular rotation. Again, surely someone at Epic must have realised that it sounded like a step further away from commercial success in terms of sound and therefore classified Death Grips as a problem or a potential loss that may need adjusting. At some point in May, the people at Epic must have been wondering how to get out of their responsibilities to Death Grips in such an uncertain economic climate in the industry. They were doomed after that first album failed to take off and both the group and Epic knew it. Epic weren’t going to bust their balls for this lot and Death Grips would know that they stood a good chance of being buried as has happened to so many groups in the past. ‘The Money Store’ is a very good album, it did get a lot of attention on the various alternative music blogs but that doesn’t really generate enough dough for a greedy paymaster like Epic, just ask George Michael.

By October, I was still slowly wondering when ‘The Money Store’ would lodge in my consciousness to the extent that ‘Ex-Military’ did. In fact, I’d pretty much figured that it wouldn’t. What better time to hook the wavering fan with a sudden rush released album for free appearing on October 1st. It seems Epic had funded ‘No Love Deep Web’ but even without the press, it was fairly obvious that they would not want to see it given away. Even if they had, it’s unlikely that they would have approved of the cover art which is basically a penis with the album title written on it with a Sharpie Permanent Marker. Sharpie may not want this free promotion either unless of course they wish to corner the market for temporary penis tattoos. Like the cover star, Epic quickly realised that they wanted to remove it but no amount of bleach or scrubbing would do that, yes, I’m mixing up talking about the cock with talking about the album. I think that may be the point. However, it seems that unlike the cover star’s penis writing, this would not go away after a couple of showers. Corporate types were not pleased to see 3 cheeky cocks wasting their money on albums promoted by a photo of a cock; if they made anything from it then they would be sucking that cock like a golden teat. Hmm…now the metaphors are getting mixed. They may also have remembered the Dead Kennedys’ ‘Penis Landscape’ obscenity law suit of the 1980s. However, that lawsuit was brought against Jello Biafra of the band rather than the label and the label wasn’t corporate to begin with.

Not the third album cover!

The group also stated that they had finished the album, no-one at Epic had heard it but they had pushed the release date back to 2013 and so they declared that both Death Grips’ fans and bosses would hear the album at the same time. You know, that could become quite a revolutionary idea in itself. After all, didn’t A&R people hear Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and Death Grips through self-released mixtapes that had already created a buzz? The public had already scouted out these artists and guaranteed a certain level of exposure for them before they had even signed a deal.

Initially, numerous people were sceptical about what was happening. After all, a tour had been announced around the same time and the album was getting free promotion all over Twitter and a considerable amount from the band themselves. Surely this was just a publicity stunt? I was a little suspicious as I downloaded the album without paying attention to the cover, but then, as a cock appeared in my iTunes cover art, I realised that there was no way a major label was going to get behind that…so to speak. This was clearly a move born out of either frustration or complete and utter disdain for major labels and the way they expect to do business based on the laws that they had created to protect themselves. This album was funded by money from a big business and the group turned around and told that big business to go fuck itself. This makes a change as over the past 4 years, it has become apparent that big business has fucked everybody else. This is why this is no mere childish gesture, it certainly is childish and all the more powerful for it. Whether this statement was intended or not, it has certainly hit home and reminds us that we can all control our own music. However, surely Epic would get lawyers involved over such a flagrant breach of contract?

A month of silence ensued while passive aggressive emails were sent to the band which makes Epic sound like the handwringing parents of out of control ASBO youths. “What can we do about our Death Grips?” they wailed, but to be fair, he never seemed like a particularly nice little boy, did he? “Epic has done nothing but wholeheartedly supported the band” – translates as we gave them everything, we were very loving parents, “Epic is extremely upset and disappointed” – again, we are ashamed of you for getting caught smoking crack at school, what will the neighbours think? I wonder who Epic’s neighbours are. How many other helpfully supportive music nurturers live on Madison Avenue??? You can still see this email on Death Grips’ Facebook page. They posted it with a comment: “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA NOW FUCK OFF” – if only Prince and George Michael (third reference in an article about Death Grips!!!) had gone about things this way in the 90s. Mind you, it must be said that Death Grips have neither crashed their car into a corner shop (4!) nor become Jehovah’s Witnesses yet. That’s still to come!

Anyway, Thursday 1st November was the day that Epic announced they had dropped the band. Well, ‘working to dissolve their relationship’. What could this phrase mean? Are Epic looking for a return of the recording costs? Are Epic seeking guarantees that Death Grips won’t just pull a Sex Pistols and end up on a rival label? Will they sue? Or does this situation suit both sides and, if Epic are honest, the group have given their label every chance to justifiably get rid of them allowing the group to return to the freedom they previously enjoyed. Maybe the group just wanted to go out with a bang at the end of their current tour. Epic also stated that “when marketing and publicity stunts trump the actual music, we must remind ourselves of our core values” which certainly sounds very sincere. I for one have always felt that music publicity never, ever seems to come at the expense of quality music and can think of no examples where the promotion of an album is not levelled out by the quality of the music recorded. Did that last sentence come across as a tad sarcastic?

Either way, precedents may be set and boundaries broken. Neither Epic nor Death Grips come out of this leaving a bad taste in the mouth. For me, the attitude of numerous people grumbling about contract abuse belongs in business and should stay the fuck away from the glorious noise that music can make when set free of common sense. Only time will tell if this was intended as a political gesture of protest or whether it was just an extended bout of stupidity. However, I feel intention and effect may work in harmony even if they are not aware of it. Maybe Death Grips’ collective sub-consciousness was at work here to get them out of turning their talents into a grim slog through major label hell. I wish them luck in everything they do. I wish the guy who signed them luck in his Monday morning meeting with his boss, I hope this person starts their own independent label but would recommend that they might want to avoid Death Grips for a little while at least.

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