A little less than a decade ago, the organizers behind Montreal's long-running Piknic Electronik series decided they would build on the success of its summer parties with a new outdoor festival which would take place in the dead of winter. Dubbed Igloofest, the festival is now in its seventh year, and has grown to include an impressive lineup of international DJs and producers, with the partying spread over four separate weekends and situated within a massive open-air venue erected in Montreal's old port. XLR8R was invited to take in the sights and sounds of this adult winter wonderland during its final weekend, and the frigid temperatures and exceptional musical offerings made for a truly unique festival experience. Documenting it all would be impossible, so we've tabulated a list of the 10 things that most grabbed our attention.
The Friday Night Crowd (photo by Léa Lacroix)
Igloofest Was Cold
Most anyone could guess that when attending an outdoor festival in Montreal during the city's coldest months (January and February), one is likely to come across some rather low temperatures. But the cold was more than a mere footnote—in many ways, it was the entire point of Igloofest. The event's organizers see the festival as a way to recapture the youthful Quebecois spirit of playing all day in the snow and the cold, but instead of sleds and snowmen, they provide forward-thinking dance music. In that spirit, the semi-industrial festival grounds were dressed up with various igloos, ice structures, and even a slide made of ice, along with a number of wood fires and heated areas, which did provide a little relief from the elements. Given these wintery conditions, it's no surprise that Igloofest seemed to attract adventurers, those seeking out unique musical experiences who weren't afraid to pile on a multitude of puffy layers. Yes, it was cold at Igloofest—especially for those not used to such a climate—but there is something to be said about the energy which united the attendees, all of who decided to brave the weather in search of a dance party.
The winter cold seemed to lead the festival's DJs down a slightly different path then one would have heard from them in a more typical club or venue setting. Ben UFO in particular seemed to favor somewhat minimal tunes with icy atmospheres. Though he was performing on Thursday night for a slightly smaller crowd (no doubt due to the night's extreme temperature), the Hessle Audio co-founder still played a set of appropriately powerful tracks, tunes loaded with thick low end and often led by patterns of mechanical percussion. His set's emphasis was not on chords and melody but bass weight and repetition, and the results were nearly impossible to stand still to, especially when doing so simply would have meant being even colder.
Ben UFO (by Vivien Gaumand)
On paper, it seemed a bit difficult to imagine how exactly Joe Goddard would fit following Ben UFO on the weekend's opening night. As an integral member of Hot Chip and as a solo artist, Goddard's tastes seem to lean more towards sunshine-filled electronics and chord-led house, so we were unsure just how he would be able to follow the more machine-minded sound of Ben UFO. As it turned out, those worries were in vain, as Goddard launched into a surprisingly deep set; over time, the music carefully worked its way toward a more familiar sound, giving glimpses of the chords and vocals which mark his productions, but never losing the chugging momentum with which his set began.
The British invasion continued into Friday, beginning with UK jock Oneman, who took to the main stage just as the festival grounds were starting to fill up. Of all the acts over the weekend, Oneman's set was perhaps the least noticeably affected by the ice and snow, as he stayed true to his reputation and seamlessly covered a large spread of sonic ground. Across his two-hour set, the London DJ moved between house and various bass hybrids before sneaking in a few bits of '80s-style disco and pop. The twists and turns of his mixing would come and go in a flash, but somehow, the transitions rarely felt abrupt and the vibe was never lost.
Joy Orbison and Oneman (by Vivien Gaumand)
At times, it seems like Joy Orbison can do no wrong—his tracks often garner nearly universal praise, his releases consistently sell out, and radio rips and leaked Joy O tracks are all but guaranteed to explode when they hit YouTube and SoundCoud. If there was anyone in the Igloofest crowd on Friday night who had previously chocked all this up to "hype," they were quickly put in their place. Joy Orbison immediately took control of the entire festival, slowing down the pace and tempo a bit following Oneman's set while generally staying between the worlds of house and bass; in particular, he favored tunes informed by classic, Midwest-style house and techno. His selection shuffled more than it rolled, with dusty hats and shakers often rising above sumptuous basslines and thick synths, everything culminating when he elected to throw down his own "Ellipsis" towards the end of the set. Hearing that, it was readily apparent that Joy O's own tracks just might be his most potent weapons.
Dancing in the Snow
Both Joy Orbison's and Oneman's sets were accompanied by falling snow, which had begun early in the morning and turned into a light powdering by the time Igloofest's Friday night was underway. Even for those attendees familiar with this type of weather, there was something special about the addition of a pleasant snowfall to the proceedings. As everything and everyone became covered with a thin layer of white powder, Igloofest was almost transformed into an adult "Santa's Village"; the night took on a more jovial tone—it was less outdoor rave and more electronically enhanced winter celebration.
Igloofest's Main Stage (photo by François Rousseau)
Igloofest was a rather big production—the site's maximum capacity was around 10,000 (a number reached several times throughout the four weekends). With a festival that big, especially when the majority of the audience's attention was directed towards the main stage, it was occasionally difficult to feel a connection to the person playing the music, the artists sometimes seeming like little more than small figures behind the DJ booth whose faces peeked above the glass every so often. Fortunately, Igloofest made an effort to make the main stage area visually engaging, enlisting a separate local video artist for each night to manipulate visuals and lights live with the music. The chosen artists were incredibly adept with the subtle nature required for good visual accompaniment, as their work was never garish or brash or unnecessarily flashy; instead, it usually displayed intricate patterns or swashes of color, which moved in concert with the DJ's momentum across four massive screens and sets of hanging LEDs. When the musical and visual momentums peaked together, the crowd knew it and the energy level jumped to a new plain.
Although Igloofest was a large festival, it did rely on and showcase a large array of local talent. During our time, Pulses was one of the most impressive examples of Montreal's growing number of forward-thinking artists. Opening the techno-oriented closing night, the hometown pair began its live set immersed in rich textures and large swells of delay and reverb, which unfurled on top of minimal dub-techno beats. As Pulses moved into the second hour of its set, the outfit started peeling back its cloudier layers and began injecting acid touches and pulsing basslines into the mix, transitioning into a rush of four-on-the-floor as the crowd grew. Despite its status as the "local opener," Pulses' set was an unexpected surprise; it might even have been the most engaging and sonically rewarding act on Saturday's main stage line-up.
Jay London (Photo by Léa Lacroix)
Across from the main stage was a smaller DJ tent, which not only provided a bit of relief from the cold, but also took on a more club-like atmosphere, as it was enclosed and only fit a few hundred people. The genres represented in the tent ran from trap and bass to genuine house, all presented by budding local talents. In the tent on Saturday, Montreal's own Jay London led one of the festival's most potent dance parties, putting together a neverending supply of sleek and slick house rollers to the delight of the crowd. Focusing mostly on R&B-touched and garage-indebted fare, London had the place shouting back at him for almost every tune as he sharply pieced together his set.
An unexpected part of Igloofest was the fact that each night would start after 6 in the evening and conclude at 12:30, a particularly early hour by dance-music standards. But for the smart and tireless Igloofest attendee, this actually proved to be a great thing, allowing for further exploration of Montreal's vibrant nightlife as a supplement to the Igloofest experience. From small club nights with local DJs to more substantial touring acts spread throughout the city, there was no shortage of worthwhile electronic music and fun, which kept the crowds busy once Igloofest had wrapped up. The ideal routine took shape like this: Igloofest 'til 12:30, local clubs 'til 3, and—for the brave—a heaping plate of poutine to end the night.