Last Thursday night, Club Soda rollicked to ex-McGill neuroscience student Grimes’ ethereal dream-pop, darkly catchy stuff with high-pitched and often-incoherent lyrics breathed over vintage-toned synth hooks. Grimes, also known as Claire Boucher, couldn’t have invented a more sympathetic audience. When not gyrating freely, fan-girls draped themselves over the balcony, imploring Grimes for attention as she bounced around happily in front of her mixer. Refreshing for a POP Montreal show, everyone seemed unaffected by the sort of painful self-awareness that characterizes so many new bands.
As an aspiring alt-pop star making the transition from blog-buzz to general fascination, Grimes’ personal style is as important as the quality of her music. On both accounts she delivered, playing a continuous, medium energy-level set with a good mix of new material, as well as hits such as “Genesis” and “Oblivion.” Boucher herself came onstage dressed like a perky teenage goth-punk, surrounded by her tour mates. Myths, the first of two openers, backed her up on the mixers, while Elite Gymnastics cavorted energetically along with a couple flamboyant male dancers. The stage itself featured a screen (which showed John Waters’ 1998 film Pecker throughout her set) and a huge piece of translucent fabric hung in the shape of a vagina. By the standards of Pop Montreal, the staging was elaborate, giving the impression of a post-apocalyptic and post-heteronormative fantasy.
Following this year’s release of Visions, Boucher’s universally well received third LP, the future looks bright, if treacherous. Does the enormous hype around Grimes exceed her obvious talent? Will she and other similar-sounding acts be the dark, industrial inheritors of the blog zeitgeist, now that Chillwave has been around for several years? Judging by the performances of her opening acts, Myths and Elite Gymnastics, the answer is no. Myths, consisting of two women from Grimes’ hometown Vancouver, opened the show with a wince-worthy half-hour set that saw them alternately screaming into microphones over tribal rhythms, and cavorting awkwardly around the stage in all-white costumes. Elite Gymnastics, which is supposedly a duo, ambiguously introduced themselves as “Elite Gymnastics and Magical Clouds,” although “Magical Clouds” soon left the stage, leaving one Ariel Pink-looking band member to mess around with his laptop and sing self-consciously. At one point, he rambled to the audience about how difficult it was for him to perform live, due to social anxiety, and then engaged in a bizarre meet-and-greet with the front row of the audience in the middle of his set. A few minutes later, he admitted “technical difficulties” and displayed his laptop’s screen via the overhead projector onto the wall behind him. In concert, as it turns out, Elite Gymnastics uses Ableton Live (a program usually used only by DJs to mix tracks.) This shouldn’t come as a surprise, explained Elite Gymnastics to the mostly bewildered crowd, because “every band on Pitchfork does it.”
There’s a lot of truth to Elite Gymnastics’ admission. Caribou, Mouse on Mars, and Cut Copy have all openly said they use Live. And Grimes admits freely that she made Visions on Garageband, a consumer program so simple that it is provided free with every Apple computer. If the mid-2000s were defined by the popularity of post-punk throwback bands like The Strokes and Interpol, we have since witnessed successive years of reference to the more electronic side of the 1980s. Openly admitting that one uses Garageband or Ableton Live to make music is new, however, and while some might bemoan the simplicity and supposed lack of skill necessary to use computer-based instruments, it has allowed many bedroom-pop-producing university students to embrace a musical career that might otherwise be available only to those who’ve spent a lifetime developing their passion.
Another point to remember is that lack of inspiration, unlike lack of technical skill, can’t really be masked by a computer program, as Elite Gymnastics demonstrated Friday night. Grimes’ beguilingly gothic image, her psychedelic self-drawn cover art, and her weird-pop sound is stranger than any other would-be pop star of recent times. If using Garageband is the best way for her to create the appealing sound her fans love, then why not.