How do you describe Mutek in a brief review? Montreal’s world-class electronic music and digital arts festival, now in its 16th year, is a five-day sound and visual odyssey at multiple venues, with dozens of local and international performers. It has also spawned similar events in Mexico City, Barcelona and Bogota, Columbia. Here are my Bucketlist picks for the best of the festival.
The Musée d’art contemporain (MAC) was my first stop. Mutek takes digital art really seriously, so the MAC is a great venue to experience the festival. The museum itself was minimally decorated for the occasion: the responsibility fell to the musicians and video artists to fill the space with mind-altering performances.
On Thursday night, Montreal-based Fake_Electronics warmed up the crowd with his cerebral sound of modular synths and analogue experimentation. His performance was a low-key affair, but I was fascinated more by the sound and light desk at the back of the room that looked like Mission Control at NASA, full of laptops and nerdy scientists bringing the magic on stage to life.
Next up, Dacha Rush, a Russian-born producer and conceptual artist, performing with live video projections by Stanislav Glazov. The duo’s Antarctic Takt project combined bass-heavy ambient music with geometric landscapes on the screen, creating a feeling of being on a remote ice planet.
The crowd was lulled into a trance by the duo’s frosty, hypnotic sound and visuals. At one point though, the bass dropped at an ungodly volume loud enough to rustle the hairs on the hipster’s beards in the audience. My ears are still recovering.
Techno music is king at Mutek, but what gets my spine tingling is dub. And when the two genres collide, it’s like the stars have aligned for an unforgettable experience. Pole at the MAC was one of those shows.
Quebec producer Réservoir warmed up the audience with some contemplative dub-inspired ambient techno and killer videos. German producer Pole and video-artist MFO took over at 10:00PM and absolutely rocked the MAC with one of the standout performances of the festival. Pole’s music is a mind-bending blend of minimal techno and Jamaican dub. At Mutek, the music was accompanied by MFO’s dreamy videos of fields of grass and psychedelic green landscapes. Absolute vibes.
Staying on the dub side of things, Sherwood and Pinch appeared on Saturday night at Metropolis. Mutek fans will remember Pinch from his incredible dubstep-heavy performance at the MAC last year. This time he was teamed up with veteran dub master Adrian Sherwood, head of On-U Sound and prolific re-mixer of some of the best artists in the game. The duo mesmerized the crowd with their modern take on reggae, even dropping a dubbed-out version of David Bowie’s classic “Space Oddity.”
Metropolis was the choice venue for the late-night party crowd, with techno heavyweights like Andy Stott on the program. Stott has a number of releases on the Modern Love label in the techno-dub genre. Although his production work is stellar, his live set was moody and eclectic, and the Metropolis crowd seemed to be looking for harder, more dance-floor friendly beats. Stott also performed under the Millie & Andrea alias with Modern Love collaborator Miles Whittaker.
Théâtre Maisonneuve was the venue for A/Visions: two nights of cutting-edge performance art with electronic music. The venue was a departure from Mutek’s techno-party vibe, and the audience had no choice but to sit down and contemplate an intellectual, visual art experience.
Martin Messier’s bold project ‘Field’ captured this combination of music and performance art perfectly. He began his set by plugging cables into two metal panels, creating layers of coarse, digital sounds. Like some Tesla-inspired mad scientist, Messier then channeled electrical currents between the panels, while rhythmic noises crackled from the stage. To complete the performance, he pulled out a violin bow and played the wires joining the panels.
Tyondai Braxton’s project Hive closed out the A/Visions events. Hive consists of three percussionists and two laptop musicians creating the atmosphere of bees working together on an organic, trance beat. The new-age act would go over well at Burning Man, but it was anti-climactic after Messier’s spellbinding performance.
One of Mutek’s strengths is that it caters to a wide audience, while remaining relevant to its hard-core techno fan base. A/Visions was too experimental and artsy to go over with the party crowd, but that’s exactly what made it interesting. Some of us Bucketheads would prefer a sweaty, after-hours party? Mutek’s also got plenty of that. For those who like the big tunes, but want to go to bed before the sun comes up: Mutek’s got you covered, with loads of music before midnight.
Mutek even has Experience, a free stage with a great crowd and some surprisingly solid music on the program. Mathew Jonson, a Canadian-born, Berlin-based producer, played one of the best techno sets of the festival to a high-energy dance-floor at the Experience stage.
Although the temperature dropped considerably for the last day, the outdoor Experience stage had some killer sounds to warm up the crowd. Adrian Sherwood, this time playing solo, dropped more heavy beats in the afternoon. The dub-master was followed by Daniel Bell, who performed the night before at Metropolis as DBX with John Tejada. The Experience crowd didn’t respond well to his minimal techno and deep house set. I think the cold and cloudy weather demanded something more upbeat.
The fans that stayed until the end were treated to something really special. UK-based DJ and producer Kode9 closed out the Experience stage with some massive tunes ranging from UK garage, to dubstep, to a type of music described to me as “Juke.” I’m still not sure what that is, but the crowd loved it. Kode9’s founded the Hyperdub label in 2004, establishing himself as a dubstep champion. His current sets draw from more crowd-pleasing, bass-heavy sounds. Kode9 was a true badman selector, and a proper end to another great Mutek.
Written by Rob Coles
Photography by D. Niko Holmes