MUTEK 2018: Five key performances

  • A feast of provocative and boundary-pushing electronic music.
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  • MUTEK, now in its 19th year, is run like a well-oiled machine, from its easy-to-use phone app to the typically clear and ambitious program. A longtime proponent of diversity, the festival had a particularly strong showing of female talent in 2018. Two of the biggest names were Electric Indigo, AKA female:pressure founder Susanne Kirchmayr, and Honey Dijon. The former helped lead the charge with speech and workshop appearances, and with a thrilling audiovisual performance of detailed ambient and avant-garde techno at Resident Advisor's Nocturne showcase. Dijon, on the other hand, played a thumping DJ set to close out the big room at Métropolis. They were two of many highlights, with Aleksi Perälä, Herman Kolgen, JASSS, Susy.technology, Steevio & Suzybee, Deadbeat, Caterina Barbieri and Lawrence English also impressing. But even these performances represented just a small portion of MUTEK's five-day feast for the senses. Here are five key performances from the festival.
    RAMZi Hot on the heels of a new album of wonderfully weird and lush "Fifth World" beats, French-Canadian producer RAMZi played an early set at SAT for Friday's Nocturne event. Phoebé Guillemot got off to a rough start, with a technical issue cutting out the sound for a few minutes, but that didn't stop her from delivering a performance that mixed dynamics and density in her own uniquely hypnotic style. You could call it modern exotica, but it's more than just an Arthur Lyman record played too fast (or too slow—bold BPM jumps were frequent, with tracks like "Piton" and "Warhasu" worked in.) It was an easy-listening, and often easily danceable, soundscape for a newer, more electronically inclined generation, the occasional overbearing thickness of the music a seeming reflection of the high technology imposed on our everyday lives. What also stood out was Guillemot's use of tuning effects on her vocals. The resulting voices sounded disembodied and genderless, which added to the wider sense of her music being impossible to pin down.
    LADA I missed Dasha Rush's Sunday afternoon ambient set, so I was keen to catch her collaboration with Lars Hemmerling as LADA. The duo have released just one record and only occasionally perform live together. Armed with a table full of gear, they were a strong choice for a closing act at Métropolis on Friday night, performing their North American debut after Aleksi Perälä's propulsive waves of colorful Colundi sound and a set of textured hypnosis from Anthony Linell (AKA Abdulla Rashim). After an ominous, acidic introduction, Rush and Hemmerling led the room through a thunderous drum machine masterclass, tinted by the dark, otherworldly edge common to their collaborative and solo releases. Percussion tumbled in and out of the mix like boulders, while melodies and chords were few and far between—this was lean, relentless stuff, delivered by two artists clearly in sync with each other and their machines. Nearly 90 minutes later, a cascade of glitches signaled the end of the rawest live techno set I saw all weekend.
    Klara Lewis With Lawrence English seated in the crowd, Swedish sound artist and Editions Mego affiliate Klara Lewis made her MUTEK Montreal debut with an audiovisual live set that opened Métropolis's intimate Savoy room on Saturday night. What makes events like MUTEK a true adventure is the experience of hearing uncommon music pushed through soundsystems substantially bigger than headphones and home speakers. I was interested to see how Lewis would manage, given the quietly intense quality of her experimental productions. The results were heavy, right from the start, as she opened with a grandiose choral introduction. Her set churned at a glacial pace, conjuring storms of noise atop a slow, grinding beat as aerial footage of Stockholm gradually melted into a jagged psychedelic cascade onscreen behind her. Later, what sounded like fragments of some heavy-hearted old soul song and a work for strings emerged from the din, injected with a foreboding dose of dark ambient and mutated almost beyond recognition. Amid a weekend of intense audiovisual shows, this was a clear highlight.
    Bambounou The weather was just about perfect for most of the festival, until a series of rainstorms swept through on Sunday, just as Piknic Électronik got going at Parc Jean-Drapeau. I arrived in the pouring rain as Bambounou was working the dance floor, which was sparingly filled with a youthful, enthusiastic crowd. An inflatable dolphin bounced among the drenched dancers as he mixed in easy-to-digest tribal drums and tweaked acid. The heady, humid beats of Acronym's "Jotunheim" fit the scene perfectly. Mid-set, the rain moved away and the sun came out. As people emerged from beneath trees and umbrellas to bound onto the floor, Bambounou responded with force, building a frenzy with tough tunes like Surgeon's "Radiance." He only relented near the end, dropping some Detroit-style fare ahead of Robert Hood and Lyric Hood's Floorplan set. While the father-and-daughter duo kept things lively with their gospel-inflected techno, it seemed like everyone would have been happy to bang it out with the Parisian DJ for a little while longer.
    Yu Su Andrew Ryce singled out Vancouver's You're Me as one of MUTEK 2017's highlights. This year saw a solo performance from group member Yu Su, who caused a stir back in the spring with Preparations For Departure, an expansive EP of jazzy downtempo and ambient dedicated to her late mother. Opening up the final Nocturne night on Sunday, she played with more energy than that record suggested. On top of low-slung percussion, she built a swirl of spacey sounds, tapping out dubby, Eastern-tinged melodies on her synth and adding in her own vocal chants. At one point, she welcomed a clarinetist to the stage, but the collaboration, apparently borne from a social media post earlier in the weekend, felt disjointed and hard to track. Still, Yu Su's final impression was one of an artist worth keeping an eye on.
    Photo credit / Trung Dung Nguyen - Lead, LADA, Yu Su, Aleksi Perälä, Line Katcho, Moomin Bruno Destombes - Klara Lewis, Clap! Clap!, Honey Dijon, susy.technology, Panel, Steevio & Suzybee Jordy Pinel - Bambounou Vivien Gaumand - Myriam Boucher