Saturday, 16 June 2012

Oh Canada! (The expansion of the music scene, and the role Grimes has played)

The Polaris Prize 2012 Longlist has just been announced and it’s safe to say that Canada always brings forward some of the best music as this year’s nominees include Azari & III, Drake, Grimes and The Weeknd amongst many others. Last year’s winner was the obvious choice with Arcade Fire taking the title whilst two of our favourite bands to come out of last year, Austra and Braids, received recognition through the prize. However, this year it looks like it could be a closer race as you’ve got the massive, universally appealing Drake record against the critically acclaimed Grimes album as well as electro-house group Azari & III and The Weeknd all vying for the title. 

Undoubtedly the rising Canadian artist of the year – despite releasing two other albums, ‘Geidi Primes’ and ‘Halfaxa’ which all garnered considerable acclaim – Grimes has managed to gain a pretty solid fanbase since her first 4AD release, ‘Visions’. Whilst many have sat up and started to listen to Grimes’ music and take an interest in her as an artist; they have also been paying attention to the artists that Grimes affiliates herself with. One of the positive things about artists having Twitter apart from the rants we get treated to from Kanye ever so often is the ability to promote music that they’re into. Just a couple of days ago, Grimes posted a tweet about Montreal based band Solar Year, calling them a ‘really sick Montreal band’ so naturally we checked them out and their song Lines is in the same vein of Grimes’ music, to be listened to late at night with good headphones on.

Another Montreal artist who has gone under the radar is Mozart’s Sister. Sounding similarly oriental-pop inspired as Grimes and featuring the same hypnotic beats with punchy drums – although a lot of Montreal based artists’ sound palettes come from similar places, they’re all equally enjoyable and show the multi-faceted nature of electronic and experimental music. Mozart Sister released an EP last year titled Dear Fear but an extract from it, Don’t Leave It To Me, an abrasive song with odd-pop sensibilities, was recovered from the past and posted on Pitchfork at the start of the month, bringing it to my attention. Whilst its textural grooves are akin to Grimes’ music, Caila’s vocals are less shy and indirect than Boucher’s and more in-your-face.

Grimes mentioned the Montreal scene in a recent interview with The Quietus – commenting, “I think Canadian music - especially in Montreal, songwriting is really important, but everyone makes electronic music. I guess that's what's really distinctive about bands like Purity Ring and Grimes, or Blue Hawaii, Mozart's Sister... It's electronic music and it has those pop-dance elements but I think the songwriting is really strong across the board. And that's not something you see so much in blog music these days. I know texture is really important, but I think texture and stuff precedes songwriting a lot of the time these days.” It’s definitely true that it seems that ‘everyone makes electronic music’ as labels such as Warp, Tri-Angle and Hyperdub are so in demand; with new signings such as Mount Kimbie, AlunaGeorge and Laurel Halo all generating a lot of interest. However, as Boucher says, Canadian artists are creating something different – and this is true in all cases but especially with Cadence Weapon, who makes rap with attitude over hip-hop beats but also brings in experimental elements and has had Grimes produce his track ‘88’ as well as remixing his material.

More commonly associated with Grimes are d’Eon, Doldrums and Blood Diamonds, all of which have had Boucher lend vocals to tracks of theirs. However, they all have distinctly different sounds. d’Eon’s recent sound lends to a wholly religious theme whilst also playing on the idea that technology rules our lives which such songs as ‘My iPhone Tracks My Every Move’ and ‘I Look Into The Internet’. Doldrums is completely different, whilst I first expected my ears to be hit with overblown tinny bass-heavy drums from the name alone; I was at first surprised to hear otherworldly melodies accompanied by Animal Collective-esque vocals. Although I have grown to enjoy his sound; especially on new song ‘Egypt’ which takes a new direction, sounding more house-y whilst still keeping the vocals in line with earlier material.

Most recent offering from Blood Diamonds is ‘Phone Sex’ featuring Grimes and whilst it’s pretty strange lyrically for a song called Phone Sex, the steel drums accompanied by Boucher’s delayed vocals [sounding like her KEXP live set] give the track a Balearic feel that makes me wish that the sun would stay out for more than a couple of hours. Another notable electronic Canadian artist is Majical Cloudz who featured on Grimes’ song Nightmusic, one of my personal favourites from ‘Visions’ – also having collaborated with Boucher on ‘Dream World’ and ‘Song For Ric’; a part of the Ad Hoc campaign. Boucher has also lent her dancing and vocals to Kuhrye-oo’s ‘Give In (For The Fame)’ which showcases a wispier and more fragmented version of her voice than usual as snippets that only last a breath are dispersed throughout the 3 minute period. This also shows how multi-talented Grimes is as a brand, able to sing, produce, draw artwork, dance and have mostly creative control over her music videos – as the original version of the video for ‘Crystal Ball’ from her Darkbloom split with d’Eon was removed from her Youtube as she expressed a dislike to it and vowed to have more creative control over future videos.

A little less serious piece of music to finish off on, is ‘Don’t Smoke My Blunt Bitch’, a song that surfaced early in the week under the moniker ‘L$D’ featuring ‘Kreayshawn x Tragik x Grimes x Blood Diamonds’, a song written in 10 minutes and a video to accompany that took an hour. You can pretty much believe it as lyrics ‘I be that Grimey motherfucker’ and ‘Don’t smoke my blunt bitch’ are repeated throughout as the video accompanying features Grimes in trousers and a coat both covered with a marijuana leaf pattern and drinking Corona on the hood of a car with Kreayshawn, as well as chilling out in a heavily graffiti phone booth as Boucher playfully dances around with the phone in her hand.

Grimes’ stays true to her Canadian heritage when collaborating and whilst there is already a thriving Canadian music scene every year, providing some of the most diverse and exciting artists out there – Claire Boucher has created a tight knit group of artists that are definitely all worth your attention. Although blogs and the music industry often group artists together in terms of how their music sounds like, think about Toro Y Moi, Washed Out and Neon Indian in the whole ‘chillwave’ tag. As Alan Palomo said in a Pitchfork interview, “I think somebody might have this image of all of us sitting around watching Back to the Future Part II, but that doesn’t really exist.” However, in the case of these Canadian artists, they all seem to genuinely hang out together a lot and work together on material through their love of making music.

Aurora Mitchell

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