There's one very particular reason why Death Grips were SPIN's 2012 Artist of the Year — virtually everything they do is unexpected and boldly cathartic. On Saturday night, the twosome found themselves on one of the strangest bills of the week at one of the strangest venues. To start, the night's most anticipated act was teenaged Chicago rapper (and Internet debate topic) Chief Keef, who was just released on Thursday from a 60-day jail stint for violating his probation from a former drug-charge conviction. But Keef didn't show, and much of the crowd bailed from the vast venue, an airplane-hangar-ish space outfitted with cameras in order to live-stream the event, sponsored by Ray-Ban in conjunction with the Boiler Room, a famed London website that throws invite-only parties at secret locations featuring underground DJs, and then streams them online.
But a whole new mob of people refilled the place for tremendous sets by an experimentally abrasive Mount Kimbie and a typically animated Lunice, who brought out guest rappers Flatbush Zombies and Mykki Blanco. But it was Death Grips, the former major-label shit-stirrers, who made the room their own. Performing on an in-the-round stage, MC Ride's mad-prophet rants were accompanied by a barrage of both digital beats from an elaborate stage set-up as well as live, Skyped-in(!) drums from the duo's driving force Zach Hill. It appeared that Hill himself was wearing some sort of camera, since anyone watching one of the many large video screens was beamed directly into the middle of his frenetically rattling kit. It was a wildly powerful gimmick, and along with Ride's gruff, code-red barks and incessant flailing, it created a scene of chaotically thrilling what-the-fuckness. Once Death Grips finally wrapped up, the room emptied again, but an entire new wave of (much younger) faces flooded in for Bauuer of "Harlem Shake" infamy. SXSW in 2013, it makes absolutely no linear or conventional sense whatsoever, and maybe that's its primary strength.