If there's one thing that we've learned over our many years of going to outdoor festivals, it's that you should never head toward the party before scoping out the weather report. Of course, lessons are often forgotten—and when we last went to Montreal's annual Igloofest in 2012, we neglected to consult the weather gods before jetting north. And were we ever sorry, as the temperature was approximately a billion degrees below zero (okay, -14° Fahrenheit, but close enough) and we were woefully unprepared for the glacial sting . Still, the annual four-weekend, 12-night throwdown was a mind-blowing adventure, with thousands upon thousands of party people packing the Old Port's Jacques-Cartier Pier for the likes of Ellen Allien, Chris Liebing, Nina Kraviz, Joy Orbison and Ben UFO.
When we learned we'd be attending the third weekend of this year's installment, which sees Igloofest celebrating its tenth anniversary, we did remember to check the forecast—and we were relieved to see that the temperatures would be hovering around (and even a bit above) the freezing mark, which is balmy by Montreal standards. But you know what? We missed the cold; we missed the snow; we missed the crunch of inches-thick ice beneath our feet. Most of all, we missed the us-against-the-elements vibe that the extreme weather engendered—Montrealers are a hearty bunch, and the determination to have a stone-cold blast in the face of frosty adversity was inspiring.
Despite that, our visit to Igloofest 2016, currently in the midst of its final weekend, proved to be another exhilarating experience. There's the DJs and the music, of course (more on that below)—but the fun of Igloofest goes way beyond that. Besides the DJs playing on two full-scale stages, the installations, the flashy-flashy lights (some of the VJs were amazing), the ice slide, the bars (quite a few cans of Sapporo and shots of Jägermeister were consumed by this writer, all in the name of research) and the rest, there's the crowd itself. First of all, it's massive: In its 2007 debut, the fest had 4,000 attendees; by the time of our chilly 2012 visit, it was up to 70,000; the record, set in 2014, was 85,000. And this year? Well, through three weekends, Igloofest was up to 60,500—not to jinx it, but a new record is within reach.
The sheer size of the crowds may be impressive—and there are few sights more remarkable than 10,000 or so kids moving in unison to a steely Carl Craig set, as we saw on Friday night—but so is the the crowd's rather, well, eccentric style sense. True, some of the fashion weirdness may be inspired by the weekends' various Iglooswag themes—"Furry Madness," "Igloobling,""Neon" and "Beach Party"—with the grand prize winner netting a trip for two to Jamaica. . But still, the finery definitely added to the sheer surrealness of the whole affair.
Of course, for many of us, it's the music that matters—and as usual at Igloofest, this year has seen an array of DJs and artists that cuts a large swathe though the house-and-techno spectrum, with big names joined by many of Montreal's best in-town talent. (The devotion that both Igloofest puts towards supporting the local scene is among the event's defining attributes.) From the refined musings of Bonobo, La Fleur, and Montreal's own DJ Mini, through the house and techno classicism of Kim Ann Foxman and Carl Craig (who split a set with Detroit DJing legend Al Ester), to the populist likes of Brodinski and Sébastien Léger, not to mention last night'sevening with the 50 Weapons crew—the fest aims its sights toward a wide range of dance-music demographics. It's not an easy balancing act, but judging by the smiles we saw on pretty much everyone's faces, Igloofest pulls it off. (By the way, if you're still on the fence about the final two nights, Tale of Us, Michael Mayer and Swindle will be among those holding court.) XLR8R caught up with some of Weekend Three's sound merchants immediately following their sets—some were exhausted, some were exhilarated, and all were happy as hell to have had the chance to play at Igloofest.
This is my first wintertime festival, ever. I usually play during the summer—festivals in Europe and a little bit in LA and New York. I really don’t play all the time, though—I just like to do the things that seem like it will be special. And Igloofest is special. It’s amazing! It’s incredible! I love it! [laughs] The energy was incredible. Since I don’t do this every weekend, I still get excited when I play at something like this. I mean, I have a normal life—I’m doing movies, I’m with my family—so doing something like Igloofest is still a big thing for me.
Do you ever get tired of people asking you about “Flat Beat”?
Ha! That was a long time ago! I’ve done a little bit since then. [laughs] But I’m super-happy about it, of course. It’s what all musicians are trying to have—if you have one song that you are remembered for, that is enough. At least I have that. We sold three million copies of that song. It’s everywhere! In 20 years, you’ll be finding it in flea markets.
I first played at Igloofest ten years ago, so this is kind of like a loop in time. Back then it was a way smaller production, but it was really, really fun. I actually organized and planned tonight's set a little bit more than usual, to an extent that I’ve never considered doing before! But I definitely had some room to play around. I did take risks—there was a part of my set that was all about hypnosis. I didn’t necessarily think that people would move during that part—I expected them to just be there and wait for the next moment that it comes up again—and that’s what happened! So I was really happy about that. They were really listening, and they were really feeling. That’s something I don’t think I would have tried ten years ago.
I think Igloofest adds to the democratization of Montreal’s scene. It’s not so much about the exact style of music. Not everybody comes to Igloofest for a specific DJ; they come for the event, they come for the space that is provided for them, they come for the installations and the interaction. And then they are exposed to all kinds of music! And Igloofest helps us deal with the crazy winters here—it helps us focus on something besides the shitty weather. [laughs]
Nymra & Sofisticated
Sofisticated: Tonight was great. We are so lucky about the weather—whenever we play outside, it is always so beautiful. And tonight it is only minus one [Celsius], so we are very happy. It is not really cold…and it is not raining.
Nymra: Igloofest is all about cranking it a little more. Even though it is not so cold out today, it is still winter, and you have to play pretty active music. You don’t want to be to…groovy, I guess. It’s not really that kind of party. We played a little bit more on a techno side tonight, with plenty of bass and beats.
Still, there was plenty of subtlety in your set, it sounded like. It certainly wasn’t jackhammer music.
Nymra: No, we don’t like jackhammer.
Sofisticated: But we do like Jack Daniels!
Nymra: It’s pretty rare to have a city with events like Igloofest and Piknic. They could easily forget about people like us, and just say, “hey, we can just get all the biggest people.” But they never forget about the locals. There is something really special about that.
Sofisticated: There’s a lot more room for locals to play in Montreal, compared to a lot of other cities. DJs from out of town always say, “You are lucky people! You have places to play!”
Nymra: I think Berlin is the only place that can compare. I always like to say that Montreal is a little Berlin. You can really feel the local sound here.
I am originally from Canada, from Windsor. It can be cold there, but I’ve lived in London for the past 15 years. The weather there isn’t great, but it doesn’t usually get very cold in the winter; when I left there yesterday, it was sunny and warm, actually. I’m not used to winter, basically! So even though it’s not that cold, I’m still kind of cold.
Did you find you were playing differently due to the cold?
I don't know if it was because of the temperature, but that set I just played was completely different than what I usually do. I’m not sure what just happened! [laughs] I hadn’t played for quite a few weeks, and as soon as I got onstage, all the sights and sounds were a bit overwhelming. A lot of my senses were all being punished at once; everything seemed really bright and really loud. And then there’s this thing that I’m wearing, a pink Mongolian freakin’ fur coat. It’s very pimp daddy, but it kept getting up in my face! I was smart enough to bring my biker jacket with me, because I knew the pink thing was going to keep getting stuck in my lipstick. And it was catching on all the equipment.
And on your hands? [Post-set, Heidi is sporting shiny black gloves.]
I wore these for Carl [Craig], because I know he likes a little PVC. [laughs] I’m joking, by the way! Oh, and my nose was running—all I wanted to do was wipe my nose, but there were guys with video cameras on my all the time. I was just hoping I wasn’t dripping on the mixer.
Despite all that, you did great and the crowd loved you.
The crowd here is hilarious! I was watching some of them, and they were all fucking nuts. Of course, they are Canadian—Canadians are all bonkers. Give ‘em a party outside in the middle of winter, and they’ll come.
Carl Craig and Al Ester
Al, this is your first Igloofest, right?
Ester: It’s my first time in Montreal! It’s a beautiful city. But Igloofest is great; the crowd is very receptive. I could really see and feel the feedback from the crowd. They were feeling what I was feeling, I think. I’ve been playing for 30-plus years, and I can tell you that that doesn’t happen all the time.
Have you ever played outside in the winter before?
Ester: Just one other time, in Detroit. It was at a beer garden. This was much better! But judging from those two times, I think I play a little differently in the cold. Without the coat and the gloves and the hat and the scarf, it’s a lot more visual; I get a lot looser, I guess. I wouldn’t say that that inhibited me, though; after a while, I just stopped thinking about it and found my groove.
You’ve been playing with Carl fairly regularly lately, right?
Ester: Yes, I have been playing some with Carl, and it’s been an honor. When he and I met at the Music Institute years ago, we became friends really quickly. I’m a DJ, but Carl’s a producer—and he’s such a good producer that his career took off more than mine over had. I mean, I have no records out at all, and when Carl calls me in to do gigs that matter, like this one…it’s just really cool.
Have you ever thought about producing?
Ester: before he died, Frankie Knuckles told me, “Al, you’re a good DJ. If you want to take it to the next level, you’re gonna have to step it up production-wise.” But all my friends in Detroit, anyone who knows me, knows I don’t have the patience for production. But I will do it eventually. I have to do it to take it to the next level.
[Craig strides into the room.]
Craig: Jesus Christ, the production question again?!? [laughs] You know, the last time I was at here at Igloofest—I was with Stacey Pullen that time—it was so cold. This is nothing, this time around. But playing after this guy, Al, it was still pretty tough. I had to keep up with him, which is not easy! I’ve known Al for a long time, and he’s always been an incredible DJ. He’s one of the unsung guys, even though he’s been around for so long. It’s a beautiful Detroit Love thing to be able to bring him here. When I come on after all, my job—all I can do, really—is to put everything into perspective.
Ester: I actually think we’re very compatible, musically. Our sounds compliment each other. It kind of flowed. And coming on after Heidi…she’s the one who set the tone, really.
Craig: Heidi’s thing is kind of acid house; Al’s thing is more housey; and then I did my techno thing. Hopefully that was a good way to end things tonight.
Ester: Oh, it definitely was.
Sébastien, I have to tell you—I still have my 12-inch of “Hyptotized.”
Wow. You know, that’s the only vocal track that I ever produced.
We didn’t hear a single vocal track in your set tonight, did we?
You are right! I actually don’t usually like vocals very much. But I did play a lot of different sounds in my set, I think. I get pretty bored if I play the same kind of thing for too long. Of course, I know that people like to have some kind of same groove over and over, because of…I don’t know, magic potion? [laughs] But I like to have a lot a lot of versatility in my music—house, techno, old, new, minimal grooves, whatever. That is surprising for people, apparently!
It is actually a bit unusual nowadays. But it definitely adds an element of surprise to a set, and keeps the crowd on its toes.
That is the idea. And it makes them move a little more, I think. The last time I played here, it was minus- 20, so they really had to move, just to stay warm. They were jumping! But this time they moved, too, even though it quite as cold—so I guess I was doing okay. Igloofest is crazy. Where else could you get this amount of people, four weekends in a row, no matter what the weather is like! I mean, I would stay home, no matter who was playing—even if Michael Jackson came back or something. People in Montreal are crazy. I have to say, I’m not the kind of guy who gets super-excited before a show. I’m like, whatever. But when I know I am playing Igloofest, I’m saying, “Oh my god, I’m playing Igloofest!”
All photos courtesy of Igloofest.