I’m just going to go ahead and say the NPR/WNYC Soundcheck showcase at Le Poisson Rouge was the hottest showcase of CMJ this year. Just about every media outlet was there, and it was broadcast live. Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest DJ’d in between sets, remarking that we were a tough crowd. It was definitely an interesting transition, going from opener Buke and Gase’s experimental acoustic set to Death Grips’ noise rap onslaught. He asked what we wanted, getting the loudest response to “old school hip hop,” but what everyone wanted were the two latter acts of the night: Death Grips and Flying Lotus. I think it’s safe to say that want was fully satiated.
Buke and Gase certainly did their thing. Their name comes from the fact that they use home-made instruments: the buke being a baritone ukulele modified to have six strings, and the gase (formerly “gass”) being guitar/bass hybrid. Both members Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez have feet buried deep into pedal boards, and use a few other jingle jangles attached to their extremities and a kick drum. They’re like electric gypsies, and since they’ve created their own musical inventions, they have a unique sound that no one else is doing right now. That uniqueness is the common thread they share with Death Grips, and probably the only reason that the two bands back to back made much sense.
Death Grips had two large Apple desktop monitors set up sideways showing visuals, and clips of their videos in place of producer Andy Morin. Rapper Stefan "MC Ride" Burnett came out of the shadows all menacing-like, went hard with his intense rapping style from there on out. Most of the time he was leaning over the crowd at the front of the stage, getting right in everyone’s face and pumping his arms, successfully hyping the center into a small mosh pit. Zach Hill pounded the drums so hard he needed an arsenal of drumsticks at his disposal. He probably went through at least a half dozen pairs. Together, Hill and Burnett were like gorilla warfare noise rap. It was threatening and provoking, in a way that made everyone feel excited and alive, albeit maybe a bit blindsided and disoriented. People had their hands up and their heads down, as this was so hard hitting it was better to simply live in the visceral experience. The hands in front were up pretty much the whole time, but the crowd seemed to especially relate to the last song of their set, “Lock Your Doors,” with MC Ride spitting, “I got some shit to say, just for the fuck of it.”
Shortly after, Flying Lotus came on stage to bust out his beats and general bad-assery. The hands in the air stayed up for him, as he rocked back and forth behind his console with a huge grin on his face, pumping out those smooth jams that seamlessly blurred the lines between hip hop, jazz, dance, and ambient. I was vibing hard for some time when I suddenly realized he was sampling Scorpion’s “Get over here!” line from Mortal Combat. Whoops that I even know that, and props to FlyLo for slipping that in there so smoothly.