I consider myself a big electronic music head, partial to eclectic and underground sounds over the mainstream beats typical at festivals. So, reluctantly I checked out Ile Soniq, Montreal’s biggest, most commercial EDM party of the summer. But with three stages and two consecutive days of slamming beats on Montreal’s Île Notre-Dame, I figured even a grumpy techno-snob like me could have fun. The music wasn’t always on point, but the party was lit!
The festival started early Friday and was already in full swing when I arrived with thousands waiting at the gate in the blazing sun. I immediately spotted a few people who were already partying a little too hard and had passed out on the side of the road. Please, guys, these festivals are more like a marathon than a sprint and you have to pace yourself.
After running the gauntlet of spaced-out ravers and shirtless bros, I headed for the Neon stage, which was by far the best all weekend. Techno Lord Damian Lazarus was laying down fierce beats for the early crowd, followed by Venezuelan-duo Fur Coat. The music and atmosphere here reminded me of Piknic Électronik, Montreal’s weekly summertime electro-festival, but with an odd plastic dance floor floating on water in front of the stage. I constantly had the sensation of dancing on a waterbed, which took some getting used to, especially after a few drinks.
Hip hop and trap represented at the Bud stage on Friday. West coast rapper O. T. Genesis had the crowd singing along to “CoCo,” followed by Brooklyn’s Desiigner. Closing out the day on the gangsta rap stage, Atlanta trio Migos had the crowd bumping with bombs like “Deadz.” Their set included plenty of gunshot sounds, deep bass, and “skirt skirt.”
One of the highlights at the Neon stage was the soulful sound of Kerri Chandler. This is what I was hoping for: a proper old-school DJ rocking a big festival with funky beats and real house music. Another giant of the dance music circuit, Claude VonStroke, closed out the night at Neon. Satisfied with the high-grade rap and funky techno I heard all day, I left with the big-room sound of Tiesto on the main stage at my back, and the futuristic Biosphere, glowing with purple lights, guiding me to the Metro.
Saturday. Time to head back to the island for another shift of beer and beats in the sun. I know, life is tough! The weather gods were smiling on Ile Soniq. Forecasts all week called for heavy rain and thunderstorms, but in the end, the huge downpour delayed the music by only one hour on Saturday and the rest of the festival was gorgeous. The music on Saturday was much more raver-friendly than Friday, with some big names in trance and dubstep on the bill, and bigger crowds as well.
But I was most excited for the mysterious Parisian DJ Malaa, and judging by the enormous crowd at the Neon stage on Saturday a lot of people were also here to see him. On Friday I had no problem getting close to this stage, but Saturday was a different story because thousands of ravers had descended on the area. Malaa (not to be confused with UK dubstep legend Mala) played an absolutely banging set of funky house beats, all wearing his trademark black balaclava and gloves like a dance music assassin. The beats were hard and crisp, thanks to an insane sound system, and I could hear Malaa’s big tune of the summer “Paris 96’” loud and clear from the back of the crowd.
Dubstep and trap were kings on Saturday at Neon though, with Canada’s big room dubstep don Excision and Spag Heddy (who gets the hilarious name of the festival award) dropping some hard beats and melting more than a few faces with the bass. Heddy was my highlight on Saturday. He easily played the filthiest beats on the day and had the bass heads absolutely rolling with each drop. I love the dubwise style and Heddy’s set very subtly ventured into dub territory. MASSIVE!
Dub may not be king at festivals this year, but the 90s revival that’s sweeping music at the moment has also taken over EDM festivals. It’s no surprise, as electronic music really came of age in the 90s. DJs are even dropping big, top-forty pop tunes from the era. On the Fido main stage, Jaus played a genre-bending set, combining thumping bass music and hits by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the White Stripes.
Likewise, Audien spiced up his commercial EDM with selections such as Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” Lookas even played Darude’s trance anthem “Sandstorm.” So, this is the style at big dance music festivals now, less underground, more recognizable 90s hits and songs people can sing along to. This wouldn’t be my first choice, but hey, the enormous crowd loved it.
Although Île Soniq did a good job curating the program, I think more effort could have been made to book women performers. This is a problem in dance music generally, but there are a number of local women who would have rocked the party, such as Misstress Barbara or Maus. Of the almost fifty artists, the only women on the program were Nyrma & Sofisticated, Eli & Fur and Rezz.
The festival ended with Israeli trance superstars Infected Mushroom. The stage was covered in giant mushrooms, echoing the same huge mushrooms that are like the festival’s mascots. Their performance was good, with live drums and guitar (very rare at this EDM DJ festival), and Amit Duvdevani on the microphone keeping everyone on their toes. But with my energy drained from a weekend of raving, the MC couldn’t keep this writer hyped and I exited with the pounding trance at my back, another successful Île Soniq down.
Written by Rob Coles
Photography by Thomas Gentil
*edited by Danielle Kenedy