The Medicine We All Need. (Grimes @ 170 Russel St 3 feb 2016)
The young women in the line to enter the venue for Grimes’ show, are very interesting to me. They are interesting because they have all taken much effort in their respective appearances. The effort is interesting because it is not for the male gaze. It is for the style queen and self made icon of production and elecro wonder: Claire Boucher. The woman in front of me is wearing a purple bra under a black lace long sleeved top and a black skirt. Her long tresses are in the musty pink and strawberry blonde hues that Grimes herself has worn for past albumns and music videos. This young woman has done her make in a similiar fashion to her idol: the hot pink cats eyes and black mascara look stunning. I am in awe. Her boyfriend is in a blue tie dye monstrosity. He is cold but does not want to spap places with his girlfriend. ”I am not cold, would you just swap already.” She says not charmed by his desire to maintain some abstract idea of his masculine ego. She is exasperated. Eventually he concedes and they swap places to she is on the outer of the line and he inside and closest to the chinease restaurant that the line has snaked out and past. Behind me are another couple they have an ear bud each that is connected to an ipod, held by the stunning young asian girl in a black and green check mini skirt, knee high black socks and black boots. The conversation between them fluctuates between loving and kisses to barely contained frustration and resentment: the usual.
”Are you deliberately turning up the music, to drown me out?” The boyfriend says.
”Yes.” The girl in knee high black socks says.
I learn from eavesdropping that she is the one responsible for this gig date. It is she that is excited to see Grimes. She went to see some gig with him last week. Now it is his turn to return the favour. I am desperate to know what band was his choice. But, they murmer that part to each other. I like to think it is because his choice was lame. ”Just so you know.” She says to her boyfriend. ”I will probabley scream, thats how excited I am going to be.” The desire to bond with her is to strong to stamp out so i turn and smile into her face and ignore the boyfriend. ”I will scream too, you will be in good company.” I say.
I was not very quick on the Grimes bandwagon. To quote my initial response when someone mentioned her, ”Im not a big fan, I don’t think.” I put up a wall of disinterest straight away. I was not going to get into a band simply because a partner was into them. I have a bratty contrary mind most days and this recommendation to get into her, even though made by someone close to me, was no exception. I wanted to come to love things on my own terms ESPECIALLY with something as important to me as music. The person in question purchased me a ticket to the show. In case I changed my mind about Grimes.
That was until I listened to her latest albumn; Art Angels and saw the record art work and the many artworks that came with the record. It is so beautiful. The obvious manga art influences mixed with a darker and more orboding quality that cut through the cuteness to create something both bright and slightly deranged. Grimes has included an artistic response to each of her songs on Art Angels. I got lost in the magnitude and scope of each image. She has said in an interview that though she dislikes metal music, she quite likes the fonts they use. This can be seen in some of her images. This is how i came to fall in love with Grimes: not just by listening to her new album loud on repeat. I learned to love her by being inspired to move around the room to her music. In moving my body unselfe consciously and giving it all up to the pounding and throbby beats, the playful voice that cooed and squealed and licked its lips and swallowed audibly. That was Taiwanese rapper Aristophanese, who wrote the track Scream and sang it in her mother tongue. I watched videos of Grimes in interviews and loved how excitedly she spoke about her work and the work of other women. I watched gleeful and drunk on the love girls show for other girls as i watched her and Aristophanese chat over Skype. They spoke of the sexism they encounter on a regular basis and this as well as the mutual respect for ach others work, cements the friendship.
I did, of course, go backwards and listen to her past albums. Geidi Primes (2010) Halfaxa (2010) Visions (2012). I fell in love with the do it yourself feel of the music, a real girl just teaching herself how to create the sounds she wants to create. The freedom she found in using elecric and computer generated sounds frees you from the drudgery of having to worry about lugging huge amps and instruments around.
I did not want to be out of step with anything she may drop in her live set as a surprise. My companion arrived an hour after i had started standing in line and was quite grateful for my efforts. As an out of work writer/dreamer, it is the least i can do. Once the doors were opened and we were let inside. It was a quick step to gain a position in the very front and only slightly to the right of the stage. I was handed a gin and tonic and it was decided that this would be the only drink consumed before the shows end. There was no way i was loosing my spot or dulling any of my senses for the experience that was about to occur. It is so freeing not to feel the need to get smashed at gigs. I have done this and learned from the crushing reret that still hits me. It is also incredibly dark in the venue with many steps. For someone with blind level eyesight, it is too risky to wander of alone.
I am in between a tall woman in a THE FUTURE IS FEMALE t shirt. I get excited. ”That is an awesome shirt.” I say. She looks up from her phone and smiles at me. The smile is a mere movement of the face and in no way expresses kindness or a willingness to bond. That is ok. On my left is a guy in a white t shirt. He introduces himself as Jason and he chats with my companion and I easily. He and I bond instantly as he is also seeing two other bands that I love: Purity Ring and Chvches. ”Did you know that Lauren Mayberry started a feminist webpage called TYCI Which stands for Tuck Your Cunt In?” I say as i sip my drink my drink, Jason says he did not know that. ”But, I knew that she was quite a big feminist.” He says. His tome is not scathing or judgmental. I hate how grateful I am for that small curtesy. That nugget of understanding and a show of not feeling threatened by the word feminist.
The support act is a young woman who goes by the name HANA. Her music has been gushed about by Lana Del Rey, Lorde and Grimes (obviously). she has released word under the name Hana Pestle. worked with producer/Beck’s father David Campbell (Alanis Morissette, Green Day, Michael Jackson). But as simply HANA she is as yet to release her EP. After her performance on this particular night, I am excited to purchase it when it comes. She enters the sparse decorated stage wearing black leather look legging and a nlack halter. Her hair is pulled back and she commands the stage within seconds f starting her set. Her music is dreamy soundscapes mixed with a voice that could fill venues much bigger than the one filled to capacity at this very moment. Her set is the stuff of dreamy candle lit make out sessions. The kinds that don’t have an end game but are happy simply hovering in the sensation between desire and finally grasping at something tangible. Her voice and the feelings it evoked, made me want to curl up in an armchair with the lights dimmed and nobody around. Her sexy and enui splashed cover of the Eurythmics song Like Lovers Do, had the same affect on me as the whispers in an ear from a sweetheart too far to touch. She wanted what we can all understand wanting: someone who may not feel the same way. The nostalgia for a person I no longer was, welled inside me for a moment, then the swelling went down like the ocean. The song Avalanche showed of her vocal range and kept it all in the basket of understated sass and self assured independence. The sticky drumbeat and backing vocals a testament to her ability to put you through your emotional paces while inspiring you to nod your head and sway like branch in a breeze.
The space in time between HANA ending her set and Grimes starting, seemed to span a few lifetimes. I stood firm and was making myself seem as small as possible so as not to impinge on the space of the people on either side of me. HANA thanked us all and said that as she would be on stage for Grimes. ”Helping her out. so its not goodbye.”
Classical music played over the PA. A clever juxtaposition of sound that coincided with the overall anticipation that throbbed throughout the crowd. It was so thick that you could have grabbed the air with one hand and proceeded to eat it. I stood firm and resisted the felling of wanting to sit down. Grimes was a live show that required I see as much as I possibly could. It was not a misguided assumption.
When the roadies started setting up the stage with equipment for Grimes, the audience started to get excited and there was excited murmers and exclamations. The lights dimmed and the show began. Two dancers scrawled onto the stage and took position, one on either side of the stage. They were dressed in legging and high tops and loos asymetrical deconstructed jackets. There were LED lights on thier shoes and around thier necks that glowed in the dark. They dance and sway and jump energetically. This seems to allow Ms Boucher the freedom to concentrate on fiddlin with nobs and buttons. She fluctuates from producer to performer before my very eys and it is thrilling to see the live version of her songs unfold. At point the dancers are sitting together on the edge of the stage closest to me. So close I can see them mimic having a conversation and tossing their heads with smiles fit to crack through glass.
”I don’t like talking much in between songs as I get nervous.” Grimes is being Ms Boucher in this moment: honest and fettered with doubts. Her shyness is there in the way she speeds up her speech in an attempt to get the sentences out as quick as possible. It s refreshing to see someone be so honest. It is an advertisement to the girls in the audience: be who you are. It will not always be easy.
Grimes performs the song she does not consider her own (as she did not produce it herself). It is the song that was made (with Mike aka Blood Diamonds) to be purchased by Rhianna but was rejected. Go is the favourite of my gig companion, who was at that moment lost in the throng of sweaty bodies giving over control of their limbs to the unapologetically catchy and dance heavy track. HANA stands near the deck of to the side of the stage in solidarity with her musical partner. The dancers procure long ribbons and twirl them around thier bodies as the music pumps and swells. It is a smogasboard for the senses and it is thrilling to be in a position that allows such close proximity to the action as it unfolds. The dancers seem to have limitless energy as they make use of the stage. Grimes dances and flits from one side of the stage to the other and never colides with either dancer.
”This song was written by an amazing Taiwanese rapper by the name of Aristophanes. Im just going to make it up as I don’t speak Mandarin.”
Grimes launches into Scream and not knowing the language takes nothing away from the energy and intensity of the song. Have you ever wanted to simply scream at every god awful humiliating thing that has ever happened to you? Have you wanted to simply tear everything to pieces just so you could sit in and kick your legs amongst the remnants and destruction? Grimes and her Taipei based collaborator have the perfect song for you. Grimes jumps and sways as the music pounds out of the huge speakers a reimagining of what the original song on the record sounds like. Here and live, the song reaches a cacophony as Grimes pours her heart and soul into screaming into her microphone. She kneels on the stage before jumping back up and screaming over the heads of adoring people. We scream with her and the sound gets lost in the reverb and distortion. The aggressiveness is comforting and cathartic, it is for me. I like to think I scream the loudest. If anyone had tried to hug me from behind at that moment ( or any moment during the show) I would have punched them.
Again and only because she has to in order to explain, Grimes addresses her audience in order to apologize. ”The next song is one that I keep forgetting the words to.” She tells us. She fiddles with her decks and then comes out and stands closer to the lip of the stage. In her left hand she is clutching a piece of paper that has the lyrics to Butterfly on them. During the song the audience watched enraptured and cheered their encouragement as she tripped over stanzas of verse and rolled her beautiful eyes to the ceiling and at her self perceived incompetence.
Oh, then, get lost
Take his shit, maybe not
Let’s sing good, he’s fine
Everything you know
And everyone should go
Making use of what tiny space i have managed to carve whilst pressing up against the barrier, I jump up and down and shake my head in ernest recognition of the song’s final lyrics.
If your looking for a dream girl. I’ll never be your dream girl.
The tone is plaintive but perfunctory all at once it is a promise and a threat sung with unapologetic femininity. Seeing Grimes live is like seeing the merger of more than a couple of extremes. As Grimes said herself in The New Yorker, last year. Her live shows must hold a ”Bite of bull shit” whilst not mutating into bullshit in its entirety. An aim that she achieves quite brilliantly on a Melbourne summer night in February. All five women on the stage had imperative jobs to do for the show to go well and it was such a euphoric and exhilarating experience: seeing a group of young women working and creating together. It was hard to decide which I wanted to take in more. The experience of seeing a girl gang of such stupendous talent and variety, or, to give up the visual feast for the effort it tool to move my body and head as I shouted along to the songs. The serious THE FUTURE IS FEMALE t shirt wearer, was choosing to drink it all in and not moving at all. She was standing with her legs slightly apart and this was making it difficult for me to dance as her foot was like a big brick. It got to the point where i simply danced and orchestrated it so my foot landed on hers, and simply stayed there. It made me sad that she seemed so intent on ‘man spreading’ me with her legs. At a Grimes show no less. I was desolated that a person wearing such a t shirt was being so indifferent to one of her own team mates. Are we not on the same side? I thought. Then she moved her foot, and I wanted to kiss her cheek in gratitude. That last line only had a bite of bullshit to it.
As she stands at the lip of the stage right in front of me, I am struck by how gangly and thin she is. I feel a kinship with her over this. Had we been in the same country AND high school, would we be fellow misfit weirdos together? Did people in her class start rumours that she was anorexic? Did the other girls avoid sitting next to her in school pictures? Did her grandmother slip raw eggs into her milkshakes, to attempt to bulk her up? I smile up at her as she sings. From my vantage point her legs seem to go up into infinity.
When the opening soundscape and snare drum kick in to signify the beginning of her track Oblivion. The crowd goes nuts and heads start to sway as we all sing the jaunty and playful lyric: See you on a dark night. Later I will read that Boucher wrote that song about an assault she experienced and almost didn’t include it as she did not want to be so morbid and melancholy. I had interpreted the song as a nocturnal themed ode to walking home alone and not being afraid, of being blissful and determined. The la la la’s delivered in the song hinting at an emotional or verbal cold shoulder. A screw you to an invisible threat. That turns out to not be so invisible. I wish that the singer herself could enjoy the song as her avid fans do: a jaunty and devil may care sounding tune. The music video for Oblivion has her listening to the song on headphones as she dances around.
Instead of going through the rather cliched spectacle of making people clap and cheer and wait for an encore, Grimes says in a breathless rush . ” I don’t have enough self esteem for the whole encore thing.” She says quickly. ”So, can I just do it and call it the encore?”
A resounding cheer of approval and unadulterated rapture is released from the now very drenched crowd. The entirety of the show the gentlemen standing next to me, had being going full thrasher. At no point during his enthusiastic dancing, had he so much as brushed me with his hand. It was quite an accomplishment and much appreciated.
”This is my favourite song on the latest album.”
The final song is started and we all jump and throw our selves into it for the glorious finale that is Kill VS Maim. A song I have danced to so many times whilst listening to it on record, careful dancing so the needle does not skip. Here amongst fellow fans, my dancing can be less precious. It is time to jump and sing with all the might that is left inside me. At first few hundred listens I always sang along to the chorus as
”Wait! oh don’t be hate.
Oh, don’t be hateful.
Wait! Oh don’t be hate!
oh don’t be hateful.”
That is wrong but miss hearing Grimes lyrics is part f the fun of listening to her often indecipherable lyrics. I was better equipped at the show to sing along the words as written.
Eh, oh, don’t behave, oh don’t behave, oh
Eh, oh, don’t behave, oh don’t behave, oh
Eh, oh, don’t behave, oh don’t behave, oh
(You’re goin’ to the party and you’re goin’ to the show)
Cause I’m only a man, do what I can, ooh-woah-oh
Cause I’m only a man, do what I can (do what I can)
Who are the men in this song? Is it snippets of overheard conversations, turned into a electro thumping call to arms?
When the song ends there is a swell of cheering and clapping as Grimes thanks her professional dances and HANA. They exit stage right and the house lights go on. My gig partner finds me and we hug Sweaty arms and faces and chests.
I walk to the tram stop with a wobbly legged swagger. I cannot help but think that Claire Boucher would have been proud and pleased that I had come to love her work, in the way that I had.
Alone and feeling my way.
Just like her.