MUTEK Montréal 2016: An Unforgettable Journey Into Sight and Sound - XLR8R

MUTEK Montréal 2016: An Unforgettable Journey Into Sight and Sound

XLR8R explores the charming elements that put this long-running event into a class of its own.
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Photos by: AJ Calzada, Leif Tiltins, Vivien Gaumand, Trung Dung Nguyen, Ashutosh Gupta, Kamielle Dalati-Vachon, and Caroline Hayeur. Click on photos for gallery browsing.

Now in its 17th year, MUTEK Montreal has cemented itself as one of the most forward-thinking events on the electronic music calendar due to its dedication to art, music culture, and creativity within technology.

MUTEK's program—which stretches across an entire week and takes place at different venues all over the city—includes a jaw-dropping collection of artists from all over the world, as well as a selection of established and emerging Canadian artists. It's also worth mentioning that this year's event included more female performers than any previous edition.

Acting also as a networking and learning hub, the festival taps into both the local and international community in a way that generates new ideas and premonitions about what the future of electronic music holds. Even after 17 years, MUTEK shows that its thirst for the new is as strong and energetic as ever, evidenced by this year’s lineup, which focused—even more so than years before—heavily on the experimental and unknown side of electronic music.

Here are our takeaways from the event.

The Programming:

It was easy to see how much thought and care goes into the overarching delivery of the festival. Almost all of the events take place in downtown Montreal, and almost all of the acts that take the stage for MUTEK are live audiovisual performances. Each day of programming builds upon the previous day and, as the week goes on, the festival introduces new elements and venues before graciously coming full circle and returning to its starting point.

MUTEK opens softly at the beginning of the week with two full days of Virtual Reality exploration and symposium, allowing visitors to dip their toes into the experience rather than cannonballing into the deep end on the first few days. On Wednesday night, the official opening reception takes place at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal for the first of five straight nights of avant-garde and experimental sounds. Thursday sees the opening of Composite, the free outdoor stage that takes place within the stylish setting of Montréal’s Cité du Multimédia and, from there, more venues are introduced, including visual works and immersive sound in the Salle Pierre-Mercure theatre and two nights of incredible dancefloor music at the massive performing arts center known as Métropolis.

The great thing about the programming at Mutek is that even with the extensive list of showcases, there is hardly any overlap and the stressful sense that you are missing out on something is completely non-existent. This type of approach not only allows attendees to stay for the entirety of an artist’s set, but to also immerse themselves in a complete showcase.

The Venues

One of the greatest pleasures of attending MUTEK is the opportunity to visit and explore the numerous breathtaking venues that the city of Montreal has to offer. The lineup of venues that housed this year's events included everything from a carefree outdoor stage in the center of downtown Montreal to a Virtual Reality Salon with accompanying discussions right in the heart of old Montreal. The Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal hosts two floors of performances on every official night of the festival, and the showcases there were met with the same respect and reverence that you would see any other day at a contemporary art museum.

Because Montreal is such an artistic city itself, every walk you take between venues is met with a creative display of architecture and design. All of the spaces that you step into are immersive and warm, and there is always somewhere to enjoy a drink or a relaxing moment while soaking in the festival. Each venue has its own character and style, yet all felt cohesive to the overall nature of the festival: simple, understated, and vastly beautiful.

The Performances

Stand-out sets were in no short supply throughout the weekend, so many in fact that we decided to list some of the best performances and showcases along with some words about what made them so special.

Mathew Jonson Live at Phi Center:

Playing to an intimate crowd of maybe 40 people, Mathew Jonson gave an up-close look at how powerful his prowess really is when it comes to live hardware improvisation. The Cobblestone Jazz member was playful with his sampling and layered sounds masterfully, all the while managing to assemble everything on the framework of insistent grooves and a steady kick drum.

A/VISIONS 1 & 2:

The audiovisual showcases that MUTEK presented at the Salle Pierre-Mercure theater inside of the Centre Pierre-Péladeau were wonderful. One notable set came from French-Japanese duo Nonotak and its shadowy experimental techno performance "Shiro."

A contender for top performance of the weekend came from the world debut of Russian-born, Berlin-based artists Dasha Rush and Stanislav Glasov's multiscreen live set, titled "Dark Hearts of Space." The performance explored the metaphoric implications of black holes through haunting soundscapes and vision—and, for those that weren't there, Dasha said she hopes to use the performance as an art installation around the world.

Métropolis 2:

This night started off really well with a sultry, driving live performance from Maayan Nidam and Julia König. The poetic vocal arrangements from König were a nice compliment to Nidam's rhythmically understated style.

One of the best live sets we witnessed took place during Saturday night at Metropolis and came from the reclusive mind of Romanian producer Barac. The set was a masterclass in driving house arrangements and loopy techno—with a stunning array of mind-bending visual art to back it up. The whole performance came to a close during a full-force barrage of hypnotic sounds that left us wanting more.

To close out the evening, Sonja Moonear took to the stage and pushed the party past the finish line with her impeccable taste and smashing skills behind the decks.

Nocturne 5:

This was the closing showcase of the weekend at the MAC and the performances did not disappoint. The event was a tad melancholic and bittersweet in the beginning, however, as the showcase marked that the festival was drawing to a close. Dawn of MIDI, Project Pablo, and Julia Kent all played excellent sets, with Atom ™ and Burnt Friedman of Flanger performing tribal-infused drum patterns and reverberating synth-lines to a 360-degree crowd. The best part of the night was Chic Miniature’s festival closing performance. After a night of experimental and left-field sounds, it was refreshing to completely let loose to the micro-house tunes of Guillaume Coutu-Dumont and Ernesto Ferreyra. The smiles that were showing on the faces of the crowd during this set were infectious, with attendee and performer alike dancing and celebrating another great edition of MUTEK.

Other notable showcases included Métropolis 1, which featured blistering live performances by Orphx, Lakker, Dasha Rush, and Infrastructure label head Function; Nocturne 4, that featured the impeccable lineup of Terekke, Essaie Pas, Powell, and White Material's own Galcher Lustwork; and Expérience 1, featuring sets from Blue Hawaii, Riohv, and Amsterdam's Fritz Wentink.

The Virtual Reality Salon

MUTEK first added a Virtual Reality exhibition to its programming last year, during which it successfully explored various technological, artistic, and industry issues that are connected to the development of VR. This year's edition, titled VR Salon #2, focused on today's creative virtual applications and included roundtable discussions and panels that brought insight into current VR projects from many different art forms, including film, video games, marketing, culture, and business.

The salon took place at the Phi Centre and was curated in collaboration with VR Valley Network Montréal. The exhibition included over 20 stations where users could sit down and immerse themselves in the vast technology of VR. Upon entering the exhibit, guests were warmly greeted by staff who would present a menu list of creative situations and experiences to choose from, after which the staff would direct you to sit down in a swivel chair with the headgear. We spent over two hours in VR at the Phi trying out exhibits like Cabinet of Curiosities from Cirque du Soleil and a wondrous project that showed 360 views of all the great wonders of the world.

The Workshops

If knowledge, networking, or learning are an important part of your festival experience, there is no better place for these connective moments than at MUTEK. From panel discussions on the future of VR to the latest hardware exhibitions by companies such as Roland—where you could patch and test the latest modular synthesizers to your heart's content—there was no shortage of creative inspiration to be had.

Richie Hawtin spoke on his travelling performance setup to a packed house, giving an in-depth tutorial on how his new PLAYdifferently mixer is going to revolutionize how DJs think about mixing in the booth. Whether you’re a fan or not, there’s no denying Hawtin’s influence in pushing the scene forward with technological advancements.

The best part of the workshops were the networking freedoms that the events encouraged. It was very easy to converse and connect with industry leaders and we found the easy going yet appreciative format of the workshops really lent itself to attendees getting the most knowledge possible out of the numerous cutting-edge panels, artist discussions, and Q&A sessions.

The City of Montreal

In the end, MUTEK would not be what it is today without Montreal at its center. The creativity and attention to detail that surrounds the city makes the festival even more vibrant and full of life. The history of this unique area sets the stage for infinite possibilities to enjoy yourself while you are there. The people that you meet at MUTEK also make up a large part of the experience and only add positive feelings to the characteristics of the festival. Montreal could be described as a living and breathing art project, while all of the wonderful staff and volunteers who produce the festival make up the brush set that charmingly mix and apply the colour palette onto the cerebral canvas of electronic music culture.