Ghislain Poirier is not just a DJ from Montreal; he’s a DJ who is quintessentially of Montreal. Born here, grew up here, studied here, dropped out and made music here. Francophone but at ease in English, speaking always with a spirit, earnestness and seriousness that belies the utter, floor-level fun of his work. “It’s all about the bass,” he’s been known to say, an assertion that seems vindicated by his sprawling musical curioisty. Ragga, dubstep, soca, crunk – all of it’s part of his vocabulary, finding its way in mongrel form onto the dancefloors over which he holds sway.
Poirier’s present reputation is entirely self-generated, almost miraculously so. He continues to think of himself primarily as a composer, as a maker-of-tracks, but things began to heat up when he ceased trying to convince other people to play his songs and instead started making it happen for himself. A few years ago he launched a monthly series called “Bounce Le Gros” (which translates as a more affectionate version of ‘Bounce, fatty”) at Montreal’s sweaty Zoobizarre club. The emphasis was above all on dancing, not on being seen or being cool. Alongside the bangers du moment he played obscurities from Africa, the Carribbean, and indeed greater Quebec; what tied them together was not genre or popularity, but rather “the bass”, the ability to make the dancers bounce, the chance to surprise the sweat out of every single pore.
Bounce Le Gros was an enormous success, a big-deal success, becoming one of those pack-the-house club series where people start coming to the city just for the chance to partake. Bigtime guest DJs would show up, balk at first at the size of the room, and then by the time it was done were begging to return. Most amazing of all was the way Poirier promoted the shows on his own – they had become the hottest thing in town on the back of one DJ, one promoter, one vision. And a whole lot of bass.
By the time the final Bounce Le Gros was held this summer, Poirier’s reputation here had expanded well beyond the city borders. He had released a couple of EPs with American outlets, but more important still were the two Bounce Le Gros mixtapes that had leaked to the streets. The first, especially, was unabashedly ballsy – remixing the biggest hits of the year, including “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, “Whispers” and M.I.A.‘s. “Sunshowers”, stripping everything away and replacing them with hot-and-icy beats. (The other standout: a reimagining, nay, vindication, of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”.) Lady Sovereign loved his stuff so much that he was dragged along for her first American invasion, opening those shows. And then finally in October of this year Poirier dropped his first album for the famed mtl electronic label Ninjatune. No Ground Under is all originals, but the mongrel aesthetic remains just as prominent: anglo, French and Quebecois DJs; riddims and crunk; even, on “Exils”, the looped-and-reconstructed performance of Moroccan violinist Abdelhak Rahal. All of it cut up and reassembled by Ghislain Poirier’s silvery, slippery knife.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Québec
390 Ave De Bernieres, Quebec, QC
Friday, November 30th
$20 advance/$25 doors
AjiSignal is a magazine
about new music in cities.