The annual electronic music and digital arts festival Mutek returned to Montreal for its nineteenth edition. Featuring dozens of cutting edge performances, the event took place at multiple venues downtown with a special Piknic Électronik takeover on Île Sainte-Hélène. It’s impossible to cover everything, so I checked out five of the festival’s key events to give you a picture of what was missed if you slept on this one.
Nocturne one: On Wednesday, August 22nd I headed to Société des arts technologiques (SAT) for an eclectic mix of global beats curated by local taste-makers Music is My Sanctuary (MIMS). Hump day is rarely a good night to party, unless it’s opening night at Mutek! And what a classic it was, with futuristic underground dance music from all over the world and chest-rattling bass.
Montreal-based Chilean producer Vigliensoni opened with dreamy synth pop and off time beats. Then, Jamaican dancehall crew Equiknoxx picked up the energy with dub-wise dancehall before dropping some quality vintage reggae and ska. Vocalist Shanique Marie tried to hype up the crowd, but the mid-week Mutekers were reluctant at first. Equiknoxx’s fusion of classic Jamaican sounds and modern electronic dub eventually won the people over.
The next two sets pushed the limits of dance music and brought SAT to the far side of house and techno for an unforgettable evening. Italian producer Clap! Clap! mixed his own field recordings with African percussions, soca, and footwork to create relentlessly pounding but danceable beats. DJ Lag closed the night with a style of hard tech house called Gqom from South Africa’s gritty Townships. The Durban-based DJ is a pioneer of the genre, and the people who came out on opening night caught some highly original grooves.
Expérience two: Let’s be honest, Mutek tickets are expensive. Budget-minded beat-freaks have options, though, like the free outdoor venue at Place des Arts. The sound and visuals at the nightly Expérience stage weren’t as immersive as the indoor events, but the music and laid back terrace atmosphere were on point. Mutek veteran, and one of my festival favourites, Deadbeat played his signature blend of minimal techno and deep dub under the late afternoon sun. It’s really too bad Deadbeat moved from Montreal to Berlin because I could listen to him all day.
Boska, a Norwegian who also resides in the German capital, followed with textured minimal techno, while Moonshine artist Bonbon Kojak played afro-electronic rhythms. A fantastic night on the terrace was brought to a close by Montreal’s “tropical bass” king Poirier.
A/Visions two: The A/Visions series at Monument National showcased the festival’s rich audio visual side. Unlike other Mutek shows which focused on music, artsy performances were in the spotlight and the dance floor was replaced by a seated theater venue. Herman Kolgen, a festival regular who has performed at Mutek more than anyone else, unveiled a new installation called ISOTOPP. I was at Kolgen’s mind-bending show Seismik at Mutek in 2016, so I was excited to see what the mad scientist has been up to.
ISOTOPP was created during Kolgen’s residency at the Large Heavy Ion Accelerator research center in France. Part conceptual art, part science project, the giant orb installation was an interpretation of a particle accelerator in action, linked in real time with the research center. The anxiety-inducing performance had me on the edge of my seat, and I pitied anyone who followed the master. Australia’s Robin Fox did his best with a performance called Single Origin, which consisted of laser beams and ambient techno. As far as laser shows go it was colourful and excellent, but before long I felt like character in Tron and I closed my eyes and waited for the end.
Métropolis 2: Every year on Mutek’s Saturday night, MTelus hosts a blowout, after-hours techno dance party until 6am. The marathon opened with a jazz-leaning minimal tech collaboration between local producer Jean-Patrice Remillard (AKA Pheek) and sax player Bryan Highbloom. Paris’ Chloé then played a live set called Endless Revisions. Like most of the performances this night, it was subdued and moody, starting with warm and minimal ambient sounds and gradually building to harder beats.
New York’s DJ Python’s set was extremely chill; almost the techno version of shoegaze. I was in the mood for harder techno, and when Detroit legend Kenny Larkin took over my energy started to pick up. Detroit is the home of techno and the Motor City is usually well represented at Mutek. Finally, the late night crowd danced until the crack of dawn to the driving beats of New York’s Honey Dijon.
Piknic Électronik: The final day I headed to Île Sainte-Hélène for a Mutek takeover of Piknic Électronik. I look forward to this event every year because I get to hear the festival’s legendary techno in a sunny park on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, rather than in a dark nightclub. The music was fantastic, but, unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate at first.
While up-and-coming local producer Ouri was on the main stage, Anthony Napes played an acid-tinged, all-vinyl deep house set over on the leafy Moog side stage. Then, during Bambounou’s set, the rain started coming down, sending dancers running for cover. It’s a shame really because he was one of the artists I was most looking forward to all weekend. The sun eventually appeared, the sunglasses came out, and the party was back on. The floor filled up as the young Frenchman poured on some seriously funky techno and uplifting beats. The day ended with the classic Detroit sound of Floorplan, a collaboration between Robert Hood and his daughter Lyric.
After five days of electrifying techno, multiple venues, mind-blowing soundscapes, audio-visual overstimulation, rain, sun, and endless memories, I was done. My highlights this year were Clap! Clap!, Deadbeat, Bambounou, and, of course, Herman Kolgen. For me, the festival is always about catching up with old friends, hearing sets by the regulars who keep coming back for more, and discovering new music to put in my headphones. Who knows what special goodies Mutek has planned for its twentieth edition in 2019?
Written by Rob Coles
Header photo by Bruno Destombes
*edited by Danielle Kenedy