Wild, quirky and certainly not afraid to speak her mind about an industry that is mired by sexist ideas and habits, Claire Boucher or Grimes as the world knows her is a tomboy-spirited rebel who is changing the music industry with more than just her crazy music.
There is no musical lovechild that can describe the manic musical experimentations of Toronto native, Claire Boucher or Grimes as she is known in her fantastical alter-ego world.
She is building her own Grime-tastic world similar to what Kate Bush, Bjork, PJ Harvey and Tori Amos did when they were at the peak of their careers. With Grimes however, she throws a few more crumbs on the Hansel and Gretel trail to the witch’s cake and confectionary house. Whatever happens after that is anyone’s guess.
Since 2009, this tomboy-spirited rebel has been producing and singing home-brewed electronic music that is irreducibly weird but insistently pop, a term that describes both its sound and, increasingly, its reception. She fills tents at festivals, and her music videos have amassed tens of millions of views on YouTube. What more could an indie artiste signed on to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation management company ask for? Except more studio space?
Fiercely independent about producing and creating her own music, Boucher says she has experienced incredible amounts of sexism in the music industry. “I’ve been in numerous situations where male producers would literally be like, “We won’t finish the song unless you come back to my hotel room.” If I was younger or in a more financially desperate situation, maybe I would have done that. I don’t think there are few female producers because women aren’t interested. It’s difficult for women to get in. It’s a pretty hostile environment,” she says in a Rolling Stones interview.
Online, she has received a lot of flak for being open about her methods and her accusations of sexism in the music industry. “It started getting extremely hostile,” Boucher says of the online atmosphere. “And then men would get weirdly colonial and condescending, offering to ‘help’ me produce my next record, trying to take my shit.”
In retaliation to such a negative experience, Boucher has become a unique anomaly in the industry, quickly turning the situation around for her by becoming a one-woman show where she writes, produces, engineers and performs her inventive pop. One thing is clear – Boucher is determined to change the music production world which is dominated largely by male producers.
In an interview with The New Yorker, she says, “It’s like I’m Phil Spector, and then there’s Grimes, which is the girl group.”
She doesn’t seem to give a rat’s rump about whether she will achieve this thing called “pop stardom” because she doesn’t view herself as a “pop artist” in the first place.
“Pop music is made by teams of people,” she explains. “I make independent music. Not just because I want to exist in the alternative, but because I think it’s important not to be artistically indebted to anybody if you want to stand for something. I want people to start thinking of me like Trent Reznor.”
Not being a pop star has also worked out quite nicely for Boucher because so many of her fans are indie-rock lovers anyway that have bought a ticket to her kooky world of avant-garde’ness.
On her first commercial release “Visions” which was recorded in a month, the overall sound feels like one is taking a swim in a lava pool with heavy, viscous liquid sounds. It feels like one is wading through thick mud, while Boucher’s voice haunts each piece in dreamy reverb.
However, it is one of the best “pop-like” indie albums in a long time. One that is not afraid to blast any creative limitation out of its atmosphere.
In her subsequent album, released in 2015, “Art Angels”, the production is even more slick and industrial, where the music ebbs and flows into any available musical space long dried up or otherwise in order to create a new genre no one really knows how to describe.
But isn’t that how all the best musicians alive today began? They went to places they would not compromise on which is exactly what Boucher is doing. She cites in a Rolling Stone interview that the band Tool has been a big influence on her because “…instrumentally and vocally, they go to a ton of weird places. And I love the dynamic range, too. They’re so artsy, but also populist. I try to live by the sonic principles of Tool.”
Showing off her unshaved armpits, maintaining her candour both off and online, public and private and standing up for what she believes in, Boucher may be an oddball in the equation now but she has already started breaking down walls not only in her music, but for an industry mired in old sexist ideas and bad practises.