The Future? Maybe Not, but Grimes is Certainly Right Now

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Why should people care about Grimes?  “Because it’s the future of music”, or so claims the Montreal-based artist in a recent interview. A bold claim for sure, but this is not the first time that her audio-visual project has been likened to something forward-thinking. The CBC included her song “Vanessa” in a countdown of the top ten songs that sound like they are from the future, and Grimes herself has described her sound as “post-internet”, meaning that it is the product of being a part of the first generation to grow up without needing to look beyond Google to find anything and everything.

Whether this statement is true or not really depends on your definition of the future of music. Do I think that Grimes is producing something that will be the sound of mainstream music in ten years? Will we look back and remember her songs for decades as something that pushed the industry forward? Since the answers to these questions will only become clear in hindsight, I think that it is not possible to make such a claim about any type of music. Grimes may not be the future of music, but she is certainly the present.

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Her recent video for “Oblivion” places her in the middle of a stadium surrounded by cheerleaders, football players and spectators. She stands out visually; her pink hair, oversized coats and skeleton gloves contrast with the t-shirts and hoodies of the people around her, much in the way that her chirpy voice and off-kilter, bass-laden instrumentals stand out from today’s pop music. But this is exactly what is happening in music right now: with the mass availability catalyzed by the internet, mainstream music has melded more and more with indie, allowing weirder sounds to be accepted by a wider variety of people.

Another effect of today’s young musicians growing up with access to a digital encyclopedia of all recorded music is the genesis of collage-like songs, drawing from huge varieties of influences. Grimes exemplifies this: you can hear the mark of K-pop, industrial, noise and dance instrumentally, and the impact of Mariah Carey on her vocals. She is also extremely prolific, never seeming to run out of inspiration: in the past week, recordings of improv-drone act Membrain featuring vocals from Grimes have surfaced, adding to her impressive resume of collaborations, including lending her voice to acts like Majical Cloudz and Sean Nicholas Savage, and acting as a producer on a Cadence Weapon track.

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The creation of indie buzz bands is certainly a modern occurrence. In just a few short years, she has gone from learning which samplers to use from friends in Montreal’s DIY music scene, to opening for Swedish indie-rock sensation Lykke Li on her North American tour, to selling out her own shows and creating a significant amount of SXSW press. She played to a delighted audience at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern on March 27th, a show for which tickets ran out months in advance. The show itself was impressive: she samples her own voice and layers thick bass lines while dancing and shouting out her lyrics. Adding a backing band in the form of Edmonton noise-pop outfit Born Gold helps her achieve the grand, layered sound of her newest record Visions.

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Visions has already been on many critics’ watch-lists for 2012, despite only coming out in February (there is talk about a Polaris nomination, Pitchfork and indie taste-maker Gorilla vs. Bear are firmly on board, and even media outlets outside of the music industry have started to take notice, with her being featured on Vogue’s culture blog). I think that Grimes does not have to worry about being the future of music at all, she is already making an impact right here and now.

By Elena Gritzan

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