Mutek 2008: Nocturnes and Piknics

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  • As a first-time visitor to Mutek and to Montréal, it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the experience: art, technology and music all share an equal part in the festival, making it one of the few events that elevates electronic music to a cultural event. At every venue I visited crowds were respectful—and were often there to appreciate, just as much to get down. But far from the chin-stroking extravaganza that many make Mutek out to be, this year's festival was solidly devoted to getting down—in the evening, at least. With attendance at Mutek at an all-time high in 2008, expect that trend to continue. The undoubted highlight of the festival's opening night Nocturne 1 at the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT) was Underground Resistance's Interstellar Fugitives, who put on a positively ferocious live show that featured the full band, complete with “Mad” Mike Banks slaying the keyboards. Atlantis, the group's MC, took charge almost immediately and riled up an otherwise subdued crowd that had been standing around thoughtfully watching Heart and Soul when I arrived. But it also helped that every song—‘Chaos and Order’, ‘War Horseman’, ‘Kill My Radio’ and ‘Crackzilla’ especially—seemed to climax in a cosmic, chaotic jam of classic Detroit-styled electro and funky electro-breaks. The crowd throughout was in good spirits, no doubt due to the fact that this was the group's first-ever performance in Canada—and a make-up date from their eleventh-hour cancellation at last year's festival. Former Detroit (now Berlin) resident Seth Troxler had the unenviable task of following the group, but after a few sound hiccups set out on a groovy set full of smooth minimal house that also had a playful quirkiness. Though having Troxler play before Interstellar Fugitives might have been a better choice in programming, the females in the room seemed to really love this sexy set, myself included. The next night of music at SAT was a definite change of pace. The SAT, which is a 10,000 square foot art space, almost exclusively dedicated to hosting electronic music and video presentations, is something that I’ve never come across in any other major North American city. The main performance space is a simple cement-covered room, yet the acoustics were largely unaffected. As Nocturne 2 began, though, I was glad I brought my earplugs: Martin Tétrault opened the night by using modified turntable styli playing mediums such as wood and rubber to conjure (sometimes musical) feedback that was in synch with the live visuals projected behind him. Cristian Vogel followed with what was a pretty uninteresting, albeit experimental live set that didn’t seem to have much direction or focus. Sure, his loops were cool, but just as soon as dancers would begin to groove to a few bars when Vogel would hit upon something accessible, he would undercut them with nebulous drone transitions and ever-shifting tempos. After Vogel's abrupt exit, Sleeparchive took over with his signature bass-driven, austere minimal techno. This was my second time seeing Sleeparchive and, even though he’s still utterly boring to watch, his emotionless stoicism does complement the music nicely. This set was a spacey, heavily reverbed minimal odyssey, and unlike the first time I saw him play, he took his time with extended breakdowns and subtle modulations. The strangest moment, however, was when Sleeparchive ended his set with an honest-to-god dubstep track (surely a sign of the times) that practically shook the entire room with cavernous bass. He left the crowd cheering and left me with goose bumps. One night later and we were off to Metropolis, one of Montréal's biggest clubs. In fact, it's almost two clubs in one. The main room hosts concerts regularly throughout the year, and has ballroom-sized dance floor area, large stage and mezzanine-seating upstairs on the second level. Mutek organizers claimed that it was as packed as they had ever seen the club—a good indication that the festival is gaining mass appeal, balancing more well-known acts with the sort of leftfield and experimental music it had previously been associated with. Venture further upstairs at Metropolis, though, and you have the smaller, loft-like Savoy room—which provided many of this night's thrills. Even with lesser-known talents on the bill, the Savoy space was so packed with partiers that it was almost too hot and sweaty to handle. I was glad I stuck it out, though. Half Hawaii’s live performance topped their main stage set at the DEMF. The duo's minimal house tracks were infused with spooky bass lines, crisp high hats, and haunting live vocals from Bruno Pronsato. The crowd ate up the performance. Meanwhile, Modeselektor raved it up in the main room, making great use of the thunderous but crystal-clear sound system. Their brand of raucous electronica is, admittedly, not really my thing, but the spectacle—including multiple champagne baths for the front row, administered by the group—was undeniable. Mind-melting visuals and LED lights helped the crowd follow a set that hit upon hip-hop, dubstep, electro, and more. Even so, Toronto artist Jeremy P. Caulfield, the last performance in the Savoy, was definitely the highlight of this night for me. Every time I told myself it was time to go home and sleep, he would pull me back into the room with one hot minimal track after another. A testament to his good-natured attitude, when a screen from the wall showcasing the visuals actually fell on him, Caulfield shrugged it off and continued to play like nothing had happened. Piknic Electronik 2, the closing event of the festival, suffered in attendance due to the poor weather. Despite the constant drizzling, however, several hundred people gathered to dance together, and after talking to many Piknic attendees, everyone seemed really pleased that Mutek organizers decided to keep the event at the park, rather than moving it indoors to the SAT. From Onur Özer’s world music-influenced deep house, to Mathias Kaden’s energetic live performance full of Amazonian grooves, the music was more than enough to help me forget about the weather. Nôze, however, was an even bigger disappointment than the rain. As you can hear on their recent RA podcast, it was a "kitchen sink" performance that went from house to tango to klezmer with drunken shenanigans a-plenty. To my ears—and eyes—this kitsch was inappropriate and out of place amongst the smooth organic house sounds of Ernesto Ferreyra, Özer, and Kaden. Though I am a big fan of Nicolas Sfintescu’s label Circus Company, Nôze was ridiculous in the context of the party. Predictably, everyone I spoke to either loved it or hated it. What everyone seemed to be able to agree on, though, was the stunning final set of the day—a tag-team DJ set from Özer and Kaden. Special guest Radio Slave didn't appear, so the duo spun records as the sun went down and the clouds began to subside. The view of the city at night along the St. Lawrence River was picturesque, and even though I was wet, cold, and exhausted, all I could think about was how I wanted the night to go on forever. Read RA's other Mutek 2008 coverage here and here. Photo credit: Miguel Legault