Capitol Hill Block Party: Rolling Down the Mississippi With Grimes
Posted: Jul 22 2012
Photo: Jim Bennett
A crowd of partiers surged along Pike street. They numbered in the thousands, some with cigarettes, some with canteens, most with sunglasses. A crowd of youths instigated a Monster-shotgunning circle in the line. The air was thick with humidity, tobacco-smoke, and battle cries. These patrons were bustling to see just how much music could be crammed into one day. In a few hours, bummed-out twenty-somethings would be roaming the perimeter, begging for extra tickets.
Photo: Jim Bennett
Capitol Hill Block Party kicked off with Absolute Monarchs a little after two o'clock. Their true-to-Seattle grunge was a worthy starting gun. Bassist/keyboardist Joel Schneider ravaged his vocal chords with long hair flying. A frantic bass drum incited partiers to crowd the stage in droves. The white-knuckle rock explosion matched the enthusiasm of Block Party early-birds. East Coast hip-hop legend Aesop Rock spouted rhymes with eyes bugging out. Jay Inslee came out in support of Referendum 74, and professed his love of the song “Same Love” by Macklemore. Bass frequencies exploded out of every corner of the block, almost covering the frenzied buzz of the party people.
By the time Grimes hit the stage, the festival was a writhing sea of people. A roar rose from the crowd as Grimes pranced out to her keyboards, draped in a massive black tunic with an anarchist “A” on the chest. She looked somewhere between a teenage Tim Burton protagonist and a cheerleader in Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Grimes bounced around stage, grinning hugely and twiddling knobs on the synthesizer. The sound she produced proved too much for the sound-system. Massive bass sounds exploded from the stage, and her on-stage monitors bounced clear into the air. The event's owner, Jason Lajeunesse clambered onto stage and duct-taped her monitor down.
Photo: Suzi Pratt
Grimes's set was punctuated by lush interludes of layered vocals. Swoops of modulation warped her voice as she twisted knobs. Rising from the wash of vocals was the brooding, gurgling beat of “Oblivion.” The crowd rejoiced hysterically. Grimes's live sound was decidedly different from her studio sound. Songs evolved (and devolved) into smeared synth texture and reverb-drenched wails, all to the vehicle of the beat. The frequencies of Grimes's set were extreme lows and extreme highs, with raving partiers covering the mid-range entirely.
The story of Grimes is as unlikely as her music. Her real name is Claire Boucher, and she is Canadian. She was a neuroscience major at Montreal's McGill University until she was expelled for missing class. Boucher started a double life as a punk-synth artist during this time, and earned some attention for her innovation. Her eclectic taste in music led her to combine clashing genres of music, from analog-synth-based industrial to Gregorian chant. The extreme variety in her music has prompted critics to label Grimes as a “Post-Internet” and “Witch-House” artist. In 2009, Boucher sailed the Mississippi River in a home-made houseboat. She went by the alias “Varushka,” and maintained a chicken coop on the boat. In her possession was a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
“Visions,” her latest album (4AD), was included in Pitchfork Media's “Best New Music” category. Grimes is the poster-girl for a brave new era of music: infectious dance-pop accessibility tinged with dystopian synth-futurism, with the strict independent philosophy of punk. Her performance was a preview of her meteoric rise to indie-stardom.
Contributed by: Tim Mechling