- A friend described Mutek to me as "the world's most pretentious electronic music festival." I certainly wouldn't go that far: the Montreal event does have a definite intellectual undertone to it, but that's not a bad thing. Mutek isn't a week-long party. It invites its participants to think about the process and possibilities of making and performing electronic music. It does so through a series of live performances and though an extensive daytime program with panels and interviews (which included a couple of RA Exchanges). As usual, this year's lineup was dominated by live acts rather than DJs.
The nighttime showcases were split into two categories, A/Visions and Nocturne. The A/Visions were early evening sit-down shows that blended music with visual arts. Ironically, the two most dazzling moments provided nothing to watch but the performance itself: Nils Frahm received a standing ovation for his emotional piano and synth work, and Herbert's One Pig was a captivating display of sound manipulation and social commentary. His End Of Silence was less successful, an hour of wandering sound manipulation that sorely needed more video projections to keep the audience's attention.
Spread over two massive venues, the late-night Nocturne events saw Mutek in party mode. The Société des Arts Technologiques boasted a futuristic light wall, an upstairs terrace and a gourmet restaurant. There was music too, most of it experimental, but the stifling lack of ventilation kept people from moving to it very much. On Thursday night, Martyn debuted his new live set with a healthy dose of beatless tracks and a big inflatable heart, while Andy Stott delivered a ruthless performance criss-crossing black metal, acid and jungle. Lukid's rambling beats were a suitable warm-up for Friday, and Juju & Jordash closed out the venue on Sunday with a set that veered between chugging dance and more challenging passages.
Photo credit: Nic Baird
Just around the corner, the 2300-capacity Metropolis dwarfed the SAT. It's more like a concert hall than a club, and it had the bookings to match. Metropolis saw everything from Emptyset's waves of serrated sound to pounding techno from Efdemin, but Robert Hood and John Roberts were its highlights. Roberts' delicate new material proved surprisingly effective on the dance floor on Saturday, and Hood ended RA's Friday night showcase by lacing the crowd with his own storied Detroit techno. John Talabot felt U2-sized, while Ryoichi Kurakawa's A/V blitz had people talking for days.
These club showcases had just as much visual emphasis as the A/V shows. Metropolis was especially impressive: the debut of Jon Hopkins' new techno-oriented set felt all the more triumphant with the massive projections behind him. Most imposing was Âme's Frank Wiedemann, who presented a stadium-worthy spectacle at Metropolis. He peaked with "Rej" and a whole lot of fist-pumping, all propped up by a formidable display of Pink Floyd-calibre lasers.
Not every performance at Mutek was perfect, but that's part of the appeal—with its live-only agenda and a focus on new artists, you're never quite sure what's going to happen. That meant that when something was disappointing, it was at least interesting. Lee Gamble's set, for example, was a shambles with moments of fascinating sound design. Laurel Halo lost the plot halfway through her performance, but still showed that her take on techno was resolutely different from the norm.
On Sunday evening, Pantha Du Prince brought his Bell Laboratory to the beautiful Maison Symphonique, delivering the week's grandest moment with true pomp and circumstance. During the second major techno passage from Elements Of Light, the entire hall got up from their seats and started dancing all at once, like a surge of collective energy had washed over everyone. A sea of people grooving in an ornate orchestra venue felt unusual, but that's Mutek for you: a place where electronic music is treated like the true art form it is.