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MUTEK 2011 Wrap-Up, Part 2 with Plastikman, Four Tet, Echospace, Chancha Vía Circuito, and More

Last week, XLR8R had the pleasure of running around Montreal and soaking in the sights and sounds of the annual MUTEK festival. We even found the time to snap a few photos and jot down some notes about what we saw. Part 1 of our festival round-up was posted last week, but read on for a look at the festival's second half.

Photo by Shawn Reynaldo


Expérience 3 - Two-Step Forward, One-Step Back
Place de la Paix

Our third day at MUTEK actually began in the late afternoon, as the festival put together a showcase of local two-step and funky producers to perform live as the sun went down in the relaxed environs of the tree-filled plaza next to MUTEK headquarters. Kicking things off was Hissy Fit (pictured above), whose sun-drenched, techno-infused take on garage and UK bass sounds went down smoothly. Less focused was the following act, Knowing Looks, but headliner Bowly capped the afternoon in fine style, delivering a live set of deep, funky-influenced tunes that at times recalled artists like T. Williams. As his set progressed, the drums got bigger, the melodies became a little ravier, and the dance party swelled in front of the DJ booth.

Nocturne 3 - Parallel Spaces

The excitement was palpable on Friday night, as arguably the week's most anticipated performance had arrived—the live set from Plastikman (pictured above).

However, before he took the stage, the evening was warmed up by a live set from Echospace. The Port Huron, MI-Chicago duo put together a no-frills stage show—the craziest thing to look at was Rod Modell's hair—but the music was a compelling set of deep, dubby techno. Layering sheets of twisted, distorted noise over an incessantly throbbing beat while keeping melodic elements to a minimum, the pair offered gradual changes, slow builds, and refined, richly detailed sound. While it was hard to pick exact highlights of the set, being there felt like being caught in a slow-moving current that eventually drags you into the torrent of a whirlpool.

By the time 12:45 a.m. rolled around, the dance floor was absolutely stuffed for the arrival of Plastikman. Once the curtain lifted, an elaborate stage show was revealed, with Richie Hawtin operating inside a giant, translucent LED curtain. The lights initially pulsed and burst iin time with the music, something akin to a techno EKG. As the show progressed though, more psychedelic, old-school rave imagery was also offered up. As for the music, it was classic Plastikman, a flurry of sharp, precise, acid-tinged techno. Sure, it's been done for years and wasn't the most progressive sound, but the music was simple, clean, effective, and, most importantly, potent.


Piknic 1 - Outer House
Jean-Drapeau Park

While the festival's biggest names usually headline the nighttime activities at MUTEK, seemingly everyone in the city was looking forward to the annual Piknic parties, outdoor events located in the exceedingly mellow and green confines of Jean-Drapeau Park. There are two DJ stages, plenty of grass, and folks literally bring picnic baskets full of wine, beer, and snacks to nosh on between sun-soaked dance sessions. Incredibly, Montreal does this every weekend from June to September as part of its Piknic Electronik series.

The first artist we saw was Seattle-based Pezzner, who kicked off the park's smaller stage with some sunny, melodic techno that featured just enough hints of house to keep things fun. With its underwater basslines and slow-burning melodies, the music was deep and rich but still upbeat and light; basically, it was perfect for a sunny afternoon in the park. As the number of dancers grew, Pezzner picked things up with some piano house and tracks with playful horn stabs and more organic percussion, nicely heating up the festivities.

Taking a different, yet no less effective, tack was London's Floating Points. The Eglo Records boss delivered an all-vinyl set that varied wildly from the festival's steady diet of techno and house. Instead, Floating Points served up a diverse mix of rare-groove funk, soul, R&B, disco, boogie, and more. For the most part, his set was a treatise on uptempo, vintage party music. That said, some stompy house and a few newer cuts did make it into the mix, but everything was drenched in soul. Not surprisingly, the crowd ate it up.

The final DJ of the afternoon was Terry Lee Brown Jr., a veteran German DJ whose artist name is a clear nod to classic Chicago and Detroit. After Floating Points' crate-digging adventure, the MUTEK crowd was once again ready to be pounded with some techno, which he delivered. His steady pulse and big, dubby melodies went down smooth as the sun descended.

Société des Arts Technologiques

Most of Saturday evening was spent back at MUTEK HQ, where an unusual showcase was put together dedicated to UNESCO's recent designation of Montreal, Berlin, and Buenos Aires as "design" cities. Interestingly enough, the evening was headlined by cumbia experimentalist Chancha Vía Circuito (pictured above), but things started off with another Argentinian, Sol del Rio, a visual artist who has just begun dipping her toes into the world of music. We only caught the tail end of her set, but the ethereal vocals and dreamy, melodic tones made it seem like she was already on the right track.

Shifting gears, the night was then taken over by a special collaboration between Canadian dub-techno specialist Deadbeat—who now resides in Berlin—and German video artist Lillevan. Surprisingly, the music began firmly in dubstep territory, with lilting, low-slung beats and heavy bass. Things later segued into techno, but Deadbeat kept it deep and dark, laying manipulated feedback and filtered pads over an ominously thudding kick. The tempo bounced between dub and techno throughout the set, but Deadbeat did end things on a decidedly energetic note, much to the delight of the crowd.

Things stayed in a techno vein with veteran producer Pole, who opened with some dubby, washy beats before settling into a pulsing techno groove. His music was notably spacier than that of Deadbeat, and also adorned with crunchier flourishes and ravier elements. As things progressed, Pole piloted a course to the warehouse days of old, serving up booming beats and some drum-heavy tech house.

After a few hours of techno thud, the slower tempos of Chancha Vía Circuito were a welcome change of pace. Performing alongside Sol del Rio, who provided visuals, he assembled a brew of thick, tropical beats, all decorated with nature sounds and folkloric flair. Chancha also proved himself to be an exceedingly charming host, playfully hyping the crowd and inviting them to enjoy his South American rhythms. Combined with his heavy, tribal drums, the crowd responded quickly, and a definite sense of fun filled the venue. Unfortunately, we had to leave halfway through, as the night had one final stop.

Nocturne 4 - Beyond the Autobahn

The party had been raging for hours by the time we arrived at Métropolis, but we came with one goal in mind: seeing Four Tet. He was already on stage when we walked in, his live set proving that his recent inclination toward the club has not waned. Mixing elements of classic techno with his signature melodic touches and attention to detail, Four Tet wouldn't have sounded out of place at a rave, as even his more delicate offerings translated well to a big room.

There were a few glitchy, experimental interludes between tracks, but he mostly stuck to big, dancefloor-friendly numbers with warbling, almost druggy synths. There were selections from There Is Love in You, but also plenty of new music, including a particularly excellent track with a string sample and a Latin vocal. Even more surprisingly was the move toward juke tempos toward the end of his set, although he did cool things down afterwards and close with the serene "Angel Echoes."


Piknic 2 - Le Choix des Programmateurs
Jean-Drapeau Park

After the non-stop activity of Saturday, MUTEK took things down a notch on the final day of the festival, although that didn't prevent the second day of Piknic from being even more crowded than the first. (Our photographer also had to head home on Sunday, which is why the final day's snapshots are a bit spotty.) In a change of pace for this year, festival curators didn't announce the lineup for Piknic 2 until the morning of the event, waiting until almost the last minute to select an assortment of artists who had impressed throughout the festival. As such, the day may have been lacking a bit in terms of star power, but not in terms of musical quality.

Photo by Shawn Reynaldo

Arguably the biggest artist to perform was James Holden, and the baby-faced UK DJ delivered a wonderful set at the smaller stage, dropping lots of melodic progressive house—how he manages to operate in that genre without being awful is a truly impressive feat—with some dubbier, tribal tunes and even some upbeat post-punk. It was an amazing soundtrack for winding down on the grass with some friends, although the crowded dancefloor also seemed quite content.

Photo by Shawn Reynaldo

Over at the main stage, the beats were pumping harder thanks to acts like Flabbergast, a collaboration between Guillaume Coutu-Dumont and Vincent Lemieux, who were greeted by a flood of dancers getting down in the sun to one last afternoon of techno. We departed as Sety & Mossa took over the decks, the duo's techno pulse joyously leading throngs of revelers as the sun went down.

Nocturne 5 - Perpetual E_Motion
Société des Arts Technologiques

The festival's closing event was a relatively intimate affair, at least compared to the massive nights spent previously at Métropolis. Nevertheless, hundreds of people made their way out on a Sunday night to devour the house and techno on offer. Unfortunately we just missed Akufen's opening set as Horror Inc., but we did catch the North American debut of Japan's Radiq, who impressively loaded the dancefloor with people grooving to his jazz- and funk-infused house sounds. He was followed by Canada's own Danuel Tate, best known as one third of Cobblestone Jazz, who made his solo debut. His feel-good set combined a dancefloor pulse with lighthearted electro-funk elements, including a healthy dose of talkbox. Even more fun was closing act Wareika, the three-piece band who raucously closed out the festival with a infectiously fun Balkan beat-meets-house live set.

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