Grimes has been on a roll lately. Her latest album Visions has been on the top of every critics list for the year so far. The 24-year-old, who was known as Claire Boucher when she was growing up in Vancouver, has just been nominated for the prestigious Polaris Prize. But can her dreamy style take on enough weight to charm a dubstep crowd waiting for a heavy hitter like Skrillex?
Sunday night’s final stop on Full Flex Express Tour saw the pop electro ingénue being the sole Canadian voice amongst of roster of some of the most talented DJs in North America.
Los Angeles DJ Skrillex brought this 6-date Canadian tour together as a tribute to a similar 1970 tour featuring Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and the Band. Although the evening’s music would probably make most of the original fans of those three bands cringe, by the end of the night it was clear that Full Flex Express is similar in its focus on camaraderie, artistic collaboration, and the massive audience experience of seeing a handful of very talented people all in one show.
Vancouver video game designer turned DJ Blood Diamonds joined Grimes for her entire set, spinning while she supplied her signature airy vocals. Clad in a furry chemise that glowed green in the light and with her pink hair in long braids, she started with an excellent rendition of Vanessa. There were a few technical glitches but she took it like pro, poised and confident.
Then she was joined by a gaggle of dancers who seemed to step out of her various videos. There were women and blindfolded shirtless bros all dancing in a loose choreography around her in a dreamlike landscape filled with fog and blue light. It was definitely clear that she’s been rethinking her stage act since last year’s somewhat lethargic performance opening for Lykke Li.
By the time she slid into the catchiest tune on her most recent album, the lush, layered Oblivion she had the crowd eating out of her hands. Although she lay off a few of the high notes because she claimed to be sick, she didn’t hold back with the crowd. She danced and cheered on the crowd through the rest of her one-hour set.
She closed her set with a warm tribute to the dubstep fans in the audience that probably won her a few new devotees. And she walked off with a proud thank you to her brother and her fellow performers on the tour. Now holding her own onstage, Grimes has proved that she can play with the big kids of the North American electro scene.
The evening took a masculine turn with Philidelphia’s Diplo taking the stage right on schedule at 8:10. Diplo heavy sound is influenced by Jamaican dancehall music. He is recognizable as one-half of the duo Major Lazer, whose catchy repetitive “Pon de Floor” served as the framework for Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” last year, and in his collaboration with British hip-hop diva, MIA. His set Sunday night included a well-received Bob Marley mash-up and an ode to late-90s party staple, Song #2 by Blur.
Pretty Lights then blew the stage open with his epic, symphonic style. The Colorado-native drew together samples from classic R&B and funk and mixed them into layered choruses that swelled through the building before breaking into twitchy electric beats.
His set reached its apex with a heartbreakingly beautiful rendition of Finally Moving drawn from his most recent album, Taking Up Your Precious Time. The incredibly prolific DJ, whose real name is Derek Vincent Smith, also stood up to his DJ name with some of the most artistic stage lights of the evening—undulating freeform landscapes projected on 3-D tours around him.
Like the train that ushered artists between dates of this tour, everything at the show went exactly according to schedule. A countdown clock heralded the arrival of the biggest name of the night and the tour organizer, Skrillex. Sonny, Moore who began as the lead singer for the post hardcore group From First to Last, has grown his DJ reputation through mixing of Lady Gaga and Snoop Dog with some of the noisiest, hardest digital samples. But he is perhaps best known for “Scary Monsters and Nice Spirits” from the album of the same name which features a woman screaming “Yes, Oh My God,” before the track devolves into belly rattling bass.
Skrillex appeared onstage in a lit replica of an anime spaceship to the rapturous applause of a crowd that now swelled to fit the entire floor of the Coliseum. Though his beats are best described as aggressive, Skrillex doesn’t inspire his listeners to be the same. The audience just danced themselves into a writhing sweaty mass, following him through darker soundscapes with a few gentle moments, including his own mix of the Benny Benassi classic, “Cinema.”
As the crowd left the Coliseum with Skrillex’ beats still rumbling in their bellies, it was clear that this experiment in group touring achieved its goals and given electronic music fans across the country a night to remember.