Certainly, one of the most memorable shows we’ve ever seen at Fuji Rock was Death Grips after midnight at the Red Marquee back in the early 2010s. Though we were familiar with their material up to that point, the manic energy of the performance was so disorienting that we couldn’t get a handle on the song, but the visceral impact was powerful. We left it shaken and somehow wanting more.
The trio returned this year to the more conventional White Stage during a lull in the rain of the day. Though the group had effectively called it quits in 2014, they somehow kept going, and the White Stage show proved just how far they’d actually progressed since their retirement. MC Ride, the group’s rapper and front man, has always come across as a purely performative figure, an artist whose whole being is invested in the moment, and for one full hour on the White Stage he never seemed to exit his own head. Naked from the waist up, he was the classic hip-hop MC, but with a personal grudge against the universe, inveiling against the social and systemic rules that marginalized him, but since the music itself is so dense and abrupt, it’s almost impossible to understand what he’s saying. But the crowd picked up on the desperation, despite the conventional lack of melody and structure. Zach Hill, equally topless, matched DC Ride’s emotional extravagance with drumming that seems almost superhuman in its capacity to keep things going, but it was programmer Andy Morin, who with his bizarre set of evil scientist expression behind the board who kept the set moving forward.
How do they do it? I mean, playing a full hour without a pause, shifting from one “song” to another with impeccable timing and without acknowledging one another. How do they compile their set lists and memorize them. Is there some instinctual connection that makes it all possible? All I know is that, for the full hour I was complicit in their violence, and unlike the previous night’s Arca show, there was not cynicism evident in their transgressive music. It was as honest as the drizzle that occasionally fell, afraid to interrupt. The best show of the festival, so far.