SXSW: Grimes proves she's the real deal by enchanting people and robots alike

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Image Credit: Heather Kennedy/Getty Images

Somewhere in French Canada, there’s a lab where art-school-educated engineers wearing white smocks by A.P.C. and protective Ray Ban-designed goggles have built, out of blond hairs and buzz, the continent’s most hype-friendly artist. Her name is Claire Boucher, but she goes by Grimes.

Thing is, she really is good.

Thanks to her splendid new album Visions, an airy, arty record marked by looped vocals and avant-pop beats, expectations for the 23-year-old Montreal musician reached such great heights recently; her surreal, DIY videos have made her all the more prone to online adoration.  Check out the clip for her single “Oblivion” below:

So, how does this translate live? Awesomely, that’s how. Granted, when I caught her yesterday, it was a beautiful afternoon, and the sunbathed, Spotify-sponsored rooftop she played could make pretty much anyone with a pulse seem like the best artist ever. But I’m pretty sure Grimes could’ve played the old Emo’s bathroom and still charmed everyone’s raw-denim jeans off.

If everyone at the party was excited to see her play, she seemed even more excited for us to see her play. Seeming a bit childlike in her oversized camo jacket, she appeared at the microphone sooner than expected and excitedly asked, “Can I go?”  Since nobody protested, she jumped right into her set, with help from a shirtless Calvin McElroy of Born Gold.

Boucher started off things a bit slow and low-key, pulling cuts mostly from Visions, but the show ratcheted up when she started grooving into the album’s standouts, like the blog-favorite “Genesis” and hazy pop song “Vowels = Space and Time.”

Surprisingly, her live performances replicate the tracks on the album pretty seamlessly. It doesn’t hurt that she really is a talented singer, and a resourceful musician to boot. There was a moment during “Oblivions,” for instance, when a squelch of feedback drowned the song; Grimes recovered quickly by looping the feedback down to a serviceable beat.

Perhaps the best part of the show came towards the end of her set, when a small, helicopter-like robot — imagine if Michel Gondry had directed Transformers — started flying ominously above the crowd, diverting everyone’s attention.

After about a minute, the strange machine simply drifted away, and everyone turned back to Grimes, who hadn’t missed a beat. I’m still not sure if this was a coordinated act of whimsy or a random accident, and honestly, I’d rather not know.

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