Montreal's Piknic Electronik, the summertime festival brought to you by the same crew that produces the winter electronic-music wonderland known as Igloofest, is currently in the midst of its 13th season—and if you've never been there, you really need to hit it up, as it's one of the best things going. From its humble beginnings (the first year averaged a few hundred revelers per session, while it now attracts thousands—many thousands), it's now one of North America's most beloved electronic-music get-togethers. Held every Sunday afternoon outdoors at the lovely Parc Jean-Drapeau, with the occasional special event for variety's sake, the party has attracted everyone from Machinedrum to Mad Professor, from Richie Hawtin to Wolf + Lamb, over its long run. And this year's lineup is another winner: Maya Jane Coles, Matrixxman, Chez Damier and Jackmaster are just a few who have already taken the stage this summer, while the likes of Three, Francesca Lombardo and Michael Mayer help to round out the season, which runs through September 27.
Piknic Electronik was conceived with the purest of intentions. Two of them, actually.
Back then, there were a lot of electronic-music events back then in Montreal," according to Nicolas Cournoyer, Piknic Electronik's cofounder and general director. "But it seemed like everybody wanted to do the same kinds of events: There were after-hours, of course, and big raves. They were popular, but at some point, the spirit got lost. So we had the idea of taking electronic music outside, away from its natural environment. We figured that putting it in a different context—during the daytime, outside, with a daytime weekly event—would give it energy. And we also thought that this would help new people discover electronic music—not everybody can be out at 3am to hear DJs! And the other idea we had was that this would help separate electronic music from the bad aspects that it was associated with, the drugs and all that. We wanted people to experience it in a more optimistic way. We wanted to bring the PLUR aspect back, really! We wanted to revive of the golden years."
When it comes to inviting DJs and artists, Piknic Electronik's philosophy is a simple and efficient one.
"We basically just try to pick artists we like!" So says Marie-Laure Saidani, who programs the series. It sounds about as commonsensical a way of selecting guests as it can be—but in truth, it's a relatively rare attitude. "It’s actually a little different than some festivals, even something like Igloofest," she says. 'For them, you have to offer people something big. But Piknic is every Sunday, and we just want people to know they can go there each time—if the weather is good—and we feel that just by choosing artists we like, people will feel that. And they’ll keep coming." And come they do, even without the producers catering to lowest-common-denominator tastes. As Cournoyer puts it, "We’re not in the EDM business"
Piknic Electronik supports the local scene.
If you're living in Montreal, and if you make or play quality dance-music rhythms, chances are good that you've graced one of Piknic's two stages at some point. "Supporting local DJs is the most important thing," Cournoyer says, "Without them, we wouldn’t even be here! For the first few years, it was only local DJs, and even when we started getting international DJs, we still wanted to be a place for Montreal DJs, no matter what." "We try to have at least four local DJs each Sunday," Saidani adds. "We also do a lot of Montreal label showcases on the big stage. It’s fun to have them play and see what they can do."
Rain and Piknic Electronik don't mix.
Montrealers are a hardy bunch—a few years back, XLR8R was at Igloofest when it was 18 degrees below zero—Fahrenheit!—and the crowd was as big and as ready for action as ever. But a drenching rain is a weather event too far. We visited Montreal earlier this summer for the Floating Points edition of Piknic—and as bad luck would have it, it was one of the wettest days of the season thus far. But the Piknic crew is resourceful: An alternate venue, Newspeak, was quickly found. And while the smallish and dark club wasn't exactly as glorious a venue as Parc Jean-Drapeau, the party did go on—and that counts for something.
But if the weather is nice, the vibe is hard to beat.
"Montreal has a quick summertime, so people really want to enjoy it," Cournoyer explains. "People want to get loose and enjoy it. That really helps the ambiance of Piknic. Outside, in a park, with the best view of Montreal—what could be better?"
Montrealers love Piknic Electronik—and the feeling is reciprocated.
Next time you're in Montreal, ask any native who's into DJ culture about Piknic Electronik, and chances are you'll get a response along the lines of "Oh, my god—it makes my summer!" (We've casually asked a lot of folks that question, and we've run into nary a naysayer.) Listen to Cournoyer, and you can tell that Piknic Electronik loves them right back. "The people who come are really open-minded about music, and open-minded towards other people—which is important, because we get all different kinds of people at Piknic," he says. "There’s straights, there’s gays, there’s oldsters, there’s hipsters, there’s hippies, there’s students, there’s families…even some douchebags! So if you don’t have an open mind, you might not be at ease going there. But it's a great crowd every week." Saidani agrees. "The people are what makes Piknic what it is," she says. "Montrealers are so into it. When artists come for the first time, they’re like, “Oh my god—I can’t believe this. Okay, let’s go!”
She's right—DJs love it, too.
In 2013, Holmar Filipsson and Greg Oreck—the two-headed beast known as Thugfucker—plied their 4/4 trade at Piknic Electronik. "We loved playing Piknic," Oreck recalls. "It’s one of those parties that has a regular crowd coming week in and week out during the summer months, and you feel the really strong sense of community that’s grown around it. Which really is the best kind of party as far as we’re concerned. Not only that, but it’s both a discerning and open-minded crowd—and as such, you can really let loose and have fun with them when you play. We certainly did! Definitely one of the top weekly summer parties in North America to be sure. Not to mention that the crew that puts it all on really puts all their hearts in it —something you can feel just being at the party, but also something we really saw firsthand watching them work and getting to know them. This is their baby. and they treat it as such. Montreal is definitely lucky to have it."
With forays into Barcelona, Melbourne, Lisbon, Paris, Cannes and Dubai—and more international outings on the way—Piknic Electronik has plans for world domination.
Cournoyer: "Ha! Well, I wouldn’t say “domination”—that’s not really our spirit." And for Piknic Electronik, it seems, spirit is everything.