The crowds were thinner than usual, but the rainy conditions didn’t stop the final Piknic Électronik of 2016 at Parc Jean Drapeau. The overcast skies ominously foreshadowed the end of another Piknic season, the end of summer, and the end of the weekly electronic music festival at its current digs below the iconic Calder statue. Yes, the rumours are true: massive construction on the island will force Piknic to relocate next year. Sad news indeed!
But the good times carried on, and for this final day under the Calder the Piknic crew teamed up with Red Bull Music Academy Montreal for a special afternoon of dark and funky techno from some of the best artists in the business. I chatted with Nicolas Cournoyer, co-founder and executive producer of Piknic and Igloofest, and asked him about the past season and what’s in store for the future.
“The main thing this year was the weather,” said Cournoyer. In the past, Piknic’s attendance exceeded 100,000 over the season. “They were really good years and we thought we could keep that, but the (weather) was tough. (We had) two cancellations in June, so the pacing slowed down. But we had some great bookings. It’s not a disaster,” he said. “That’s what we want, to grow. After fourteen years the crowd has changed as well, so you need to grow,” said Cournoyer, sounding optimistic about the relocation.
Piknic had some great bookings this year, but arguably the best artists of the season were in the house Sunday for RBMA Montreal. The dark clouds made an ideal backdrop for the music, with legendary Detroit label Underground Resistance, featuring Mark Flash and “Mad” Mike Banks’ Depth Charge, on stage. The Motor City duo dropped deep, dark techno bombs on the rain-soaked crowd, bringing us back to the roots of techno with classics like “Blue Monday” blended with their own live beats. Detroit selector Theo Parrish closed out the year with a set of soulful house music and Latin-inspired, bass-heavy tracks.
Since the late 80s, Underground Resistance have defined the anti-mainstream, underground side of electronic music. In this era of expensive stadium festivals and overpriced EDM DJs, it’s sometimes forgotten that dance music has roots in the underground. Piknic Électronik, according to Cournoyer, has nurtured that underground aesthetic. “The electronic music scene was getting dull…too many people with a piece of the cake,” he explained. “We wanted to recreate the experience that we had at the end of the 1990s… that spirit that was not too commercial, accessible, (and) a bit underground. Our mission was to democratize electronic music (and make it) more accessible. But keep it underground.”
Cournoyer discussed how Piknic has consistently drawn big crowds, and booked high profile artists like Parrish, over the years. “I think Piknic is a little microcosm of the city. You have all kinds of people, young families, gay, straight, hipsters…They like the experience, the ambience, even in the bad weather…it’s always something different because from week to week you don’t have the same weather, the same DJs, (the same) music. You just go there on Sunday, you don’t need to rely on the bookings, you just show up. That’s the spirit of Montreal. That’s why the artists really love to come and play here.”
Piknic Électronik will return summer, 2017. RBMA Montreal takes place at various locations around the city until October 28th.
Written by Rob Coles
Photography by Danny Donovan
*edited by Kate Erickson