XLR8R is spending the week in Montreal, and when we're not wolfing down poutine or cruising around the city on a BIXI, we're also taking part in the annual MUTEK festival. Here are some of the highlights so far.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 1
Métro Arts 1
Station de Métro Berri-UQAM
The first piece of MUTEK music on offer was this unusual show, which took place during rush hour in one of the city's busiest subway stations. Montreal's own Bowly was behind the decks, serving up a slightly funky mix of UK-tinged house music, including tracks from Julio Bashmore and Ramadanman & Midland. Unfortunately, just as the volume began to rise and the crowd began to thicken, an overzealous security guard said that time was up, and made Bowly cut the music.
Expérience 1 - Break That Beat
Place de la Paix
Next up was a turntablism and breakbeat showcase situated in a picturesque tree-lined plaza right next to MUTEK's headquarters. Now, we know that turntablism has a long history in Montreal, and DJ Brace was undeniably a highly skilled fellow, but his set was something along the lines of a 2011 version of classic Mo' Wax. Lots of hip-hop beats—built from funk and soul breaks, of course—paired with cinematic string sections and leftfield vocal clips. It wasn't bad, but it did seem a bit dated, particularly at a festival renowned for constantly pushing things forward.
A/Visions 1 - The Industrial Evolution
MUTEK's A/Visions series features special audio/visual performances from a variety of artists. The first night was devoted to "the intersection between granular synthesis, fabrications of light and image, and the beauty of inherent rhythm and repetition." Translation? Some dark and intense stuff. First on the bill was White Box, a special composition put together by Purform. The show featured swirling, kinetic visuals being impressively manipulated on three screens in real time, all in parallel with the duo's nightmarish, neo-industrial soundscapes. That was followed by a performance from UK duo Empyset (pictured above), who went super dark with some punishing noise and sludgy techno, all set to pulsing black-and-white images that ranged from a Blair Witch Project-like march through the landscape to warped surveillance footage to crystals and more.
Nocturne 1 - Machinimations
Wednesday's main event took place at the absolutely stunning Métropolis, a massive, two-level venue that feels like a small arena yet somehow allows the audience to not feel alienated from the performers on stage. Also, the sound falls somewhere in the range between "awesome" and "ridiculous." Anticipation was high for Amon Tobin (pictured above), but kicking off the night was New York's Badawi, whose harsh, bass-loaded music was something like the rave scene from The Matrix: Reloaded combined with the cinematic sounds of any Star Wars light-saber battle.
Much more welcome was the UK's Gold Panda, who banged out his usual assortment of electronic headphone pop mixed with bits of electro, techno, and steppy UK house.
Capping the evening was the world premiere of Amon Tobin's new stage show, which kind of blew everyone away. Granted, the music was a lot more like sound design than, say, songs, but the stage show was truly a sight to behold. Akin to a giant, mutated Q*bert pyramid, Tobin was situated in a translucent cube in the middle of it all, banging out his ear-warping sounds while an insane array of visuals morphed and swirled and moved all around him. Even those people who stopped paying attention to Tobin's music a few albums back (guilty!) were left saying, "that was really cool."
THURSDAY, JUNE 2
Nocturne 2 - Modeselektion
After some afternoon sprinkles put a literal damper on our daytime activities, the embrace of another night at Métropolis was more than welcome. Nocturne 2 centered around Modeselektion, a night of forward-thinking and diverse—but undeniably dancefloor-friendly—electronic sounds curated, at least in part, by veteran German duo Modeselektor (pictured above).
Opening the night was fellow German Siriusmo, who warmed up the proceedings with some tasteful electro. The music had just a bit of crunch, but never went over the top. Regardless, the crowd ate it up, literally chanting his name at the end of his set.
Following him was Montreal's own Jacques Greene, who debuted his live set. Performing with an array of gear—no laptop was on stage—and the help of fellow local beatmaker Ango, Greene delivered an incredibly impressive set of clean, laid-back dance music that walked a fine line between techno and bass music while mixing in hints of acid house and even some classic Balearic trance. The percussion picked up significantly about 30 minutes into the performance, and Greene closed in stellar fashion with a brilliant rendition of "Another Girl." Definitely one of the high points of MUTEK 2011 so far.
After Greene's stellar set, FaltyDL was left with a tall order, but the Brooklyn producer also delivered, opening his DJ set with the epic, piano-fueled Julio Bashmore remix of Classixx's "Into the Valley". After that, he quickened the pace with a series of chugging house tunes, including cuts from SCB and Addison Groove. For a producer who often turns out heady, thoughtful, and detailed production, it's worth noting that when he's behind the decks, he knows how to go big without sacrificing quality. Unfortunately, we only got to watch about half of his set, as we took a quick break from Nocturne to catch Hype Williams (see below).
Nevertheless, we did make it back for the night's finale, the much-anticipated set from Modeselektor. Without equivocation, the guys smashed it, putting together a crowd-pleasing set that weaved together thundering bass, pounding techno, re-fashioned hyphy, techno-crunk, storming electro-house, and more. These guys don't do anything subtle, as the set more or less cranked the "party" knob from start to finish. However, Modeselektor still managed to squeeze in interesting cuts from the likes of Fis-T, Untold, James Blake, Funkystepz, and others without losing the dancefloor. Their set went past 3 a.m., and everyone in the place left with a giant smile.
Para Nocturne - Psychonautic Surfers
Société des Arts Technologiques
In the middle of the evening, we snuck away from Nocturne for a bit to check out London/Berlin duo Hype Williams, who actually performed as a quartet. Granted, the two extra ladies on stage—both with long hair covering their faces and clad in bizarre t-shirts with a giant peace sign—didn't actually do much apart from lazily sway and twirl to the music, but they added to the spectacle. On a similar note, D-Blunt performed the entire set adorned in a creepy rubber mask. As for the music, it was a druggy, hazy collection of electronic pop which combined echoed, looped vocals with drawn-out synths and lots of basic drum-machine beats. More interesting than actually compelling, Hype Williams' set was a nice break from the techno onslaught of MUTEK, but the fact that several audience members were spotted holding their ears during the group's noisy interludes wasn't exactly a good sign.
Go here to read Part 2 of our MUTEK 2011 wrap-up.