Looking for Montréal’s Ghislain Poirier is always in vain. Just as his 10th album’s title states, he is in constant Migration. In the past year alone, he’s played in Geneva, Berlin, Paris, Glasgow, Grenoble, Toronto, Edinburgh, Rennes, Lyon, Milan, London, Tunis, Marseille, and Belgium, to name just a few! But the man is also in perpetual artistic motion. Since the 2007 launch of his No Ground Under album on the prestigious Ninja Tune label, he’s produced a series of EPs under the moniker Poirier (which were compiled and “retouched” for 2010’s double-album Running High); he co-produced Face-T’s album Tuff Like Stone (2012) as well as Boogat’s El Dorado Sunset, which went on to win two Félix awards for Best World Music Album and Best Production in 2013; he was at the artistic helm of the Tout égratigné project, a collection of re-mixes of Robert Charlebois’ repertoire; and he produced two more experimental albums under the moniker Boundary (2013–2014).
Add to this impressive list his soon-to-be launched electro-dancehall album Migration, which got heads turning and bodies moving even before its release, and his first film score for Denis Côté’s Boris sans Béatrice, both of which launched on March 4, 2016, and what you get is the massive track record of a man who’s managed every aspect of his career for the past 10 years.
“I booked my own tour last fall,” says the man who dropped by our Montréal offices for this early morning interview. “Right now I’m producing Face-T’s next release and working on the launch and promotion of Migration, as well as planning my next live appearances. I even send my press releases myself. But there’s nothing exceptional in the fact that I do all of that stuff myself, a lot of people I know do it, too. It’s a blessing and a boon. It means less creative time, but if we didn’t do it, we might not be where we’re at now. Or maybe we wouldn’t have gotten there in a way that we enjoy.
Rhythm and Politics
“With Migration, I feel I’m making something that’s a lot more like songs, something more hooky,” says Poirier. “I made a conscious decision to increase the melodic side of things without compromising on the usual, signature way I work on textures, rhythm and structure. It was a lot of fun. But I’ve never been a virtuosity buff. I’m not a show-off. I really wanted to avoid the album sounding like it was made only for people who know music. I wanted an album that everyone would like, whether it’s to dance to or to listen on your own. It’s an inclusive album. I wrote the words “sweet reggae music” on a post-it note that I stuck to the wall above my computer. It was there to help me stay focused on the goal.”
“I’ve always thought that the composer can be as opinionated as the singer. I don’t want to make a big thing out of it, but it’s undeniable that it affects the way I think, and therefore my work and the content of my music.”
Even though Poirier has once more surpassed himself in the sound texture and rhythm departments, he’s also now grafted on a social and political discourse that permeates Migration. The press release for his latest album began with a statement about migrants – “a problem that cannot and must not be ignored in 2016” – immediately setting the tone for a politically conscious album whose main goal is to make you dance. Poirier sees absolutely no reason why pleasure and socially-charged themes can’t co-exist on an album. “We’re all seeking a better world because of persistent inequalities, and that’s what’s at the root of large migrations,” he says, before launching into a list of examples of how governments are transferring their responsibilities to corporations, at the loss of the people’s power. He severely criticizes Enron, Nike, Québec Prime Minister Pierre Couillard’s austerity, the corporate ties that both Pierre Karl Péladeau and François Legault maintain, and, finally, enjoins us to read Alain Deneault’s Gouvernance: Le management totalitaire and La médiocratie. There not even the shadow of a doubt for him; his music is not just meant to make you swing your hips, you also need to use your head.
Poirier’s tendency to look around himself and beyond has been characteristic of who he is since he was a teen. He’s always been very careful to preserve it intact, and has never hesitated to shop his music around to international labels. One such label, the London, England, imprint Nice Up! Records has taken up the responsibility of marketing and promoting Migration internationally. “I doubt I would have the career I’ve had so far if I had restricted myself to Québec,” says Poirier. “I’m not saying I’m ‘bigger’ than someone whose career is entirely in this province, I’m just saying I’m part of a different scene. I want to have an impact here, but elsewhere too. I want to be part of a global dialogue. That’s why collaborating with labels in different territories opens up different opportunities. Like my song ‘Jump,’ which has been played a few times on the BBC. I don’t think that if my album had been released by Audiogram or La Tribu or Bonsound, all excellent labels, it must be said, they would’ve worked on promoting it in England, because they’re not distributed there. It’s a simple market equation. The BBC is right in Nice Up!’s backyard. And I couldn’t be more thrilled, because the guy playing my song, David Rodigan, is at the very top of the world’s reggae scene. If I don’t travel, no one will come knocking on my door.”
On Migration, Poirier once again tapped his partner in crime, Face-T, but also used his Rolodex to call on prestigious collaborators such as Machinedrum (a go-to American electronic music producer), Red Fox (a key player in New York’s dancehall scene and part of Shaggy’s entourage), Chicago’s MC Zulu (back for a third time on one of Poirier’s albums), as well as Toronto’s Dubmatix (who’s nominated for a 2016 JUNO Award and has already won a few of the trophies, whose popularity in Europe is undeniable). “Collaborating remotely is not as simple as sending your track to someone so they’ll record their voice to it,” says Poirier. “There are many back and forth [cumminications] to add, adjust, fine-tune, sometimes even re-record entirely, before we have a final product… It is, however, a process that allows everyone to truly express themselves, instead of getting a kind of coitus interruptus feeling.”
Boris sans Béatrice
To anyone who’s paid attention to Boundary, Poirier’s electro incarnation, it was obvious that one of these days a movie director would have the sense to use that very cinematic music. In the end, it was Québec director Denis Côté (Curling, Bestiaire, Vic+Flo ont vu un ours) who had the flair to do it for his latest picture, Boris sans Béatrice. “It was a true meeting of the minds, a true collaboration between Denis and I,” the new audiovisual composer says enthusiastically. “I was allowed to bring my personal touch to his very personal universe. It all came about because of Boundary. I already felt that I was writing very cinematic music. When Denis got in touch with me, he said he could hear Boundary’s music while he was writing. It ended up that two existing Boundary tracks were used and the rest was composed in the spirit of Boundary. In this specific case, my job really was to accompany the images by enhancing their weird and ambiguous nature. But I didn’t want to enhance them too much either. The film has its own narrative and the music must not interfere with it.”
A few days after its world première in Berlin, the film enjoyed its Montréal première, during the Rendez-Vous du cinéma québécois at the Imperial theatre. Poirier was giggling like a child. “I couldn’t believe that something I did on my computer, on my own, was now going to be part of something much bigger projected on this huge screen!,” he says. “That première was a beautiful moment for me, and I would be delighted if I can repeat the experience for other productions.”
Poirier is clearly ready and willing to migrate to new territories and new experiences, and we can rest assured that he’s not about to stop exploring the possibilities offered by the free circulation of rhythms and ideas.
Below, you can watch a conference presented by Poirier at Montréal’s Creative Mornings, where the artist shares his creative process, talks about the nature of the game, and the tense relationship between music-making and the music industry, which he resolves with fun and respect.