For any event in its 18th year, especially one like MUTEK that prides itself on its future-leaning ethos, it must be hard to constantly evolve without drifting too far away from the core values held dear by event organizers and patrons alike. In a year of anniversaries—as previously mentioned, MUTEK just passed the 18-year mark, while the city of Montreal itself was celebrating its 375th year and Canada its 150th—MUTEK decided to slightly bend the paradigm, moving from early-June to August, adding a day to its program, and shifting a few venues around.
Most of these shifts were welcomed with open arms: the early-June editions, for example, ran straight after Detroit’s Movement festival and alongside a raft of other events in Montreal, causing heavy exhaustion for those attending Movement and some over crowding in the city during the festival; the added day, too, spread out the program and led to a slightly less frantic schedule. While many of the venues additions and changes were nice touches—the Société Des Arts Technologiques (a.k.a. SAT), for example, returned to the fold this year and is a stunning complex perfectly fitted for the programming at MUTEK—the free outdoor stage's move to the Esplanade de la Place des Arts meant the one grass-covered offering of previous years was taken away and replaced with more concrete dancing. Now, in a year of much change, there being only one main gripe—the outdoor stage change was a common, albeit very small, complaint heard throughout the festival—is a testament to the level of excellence at which the MUTEK organizers operate.
On Wednesday night, for the opening night of Métropolis—the expansive 3000+ venue for the festival’s more big-room-inclined acts—MUTEK invited Dan Snaith (a.k.a. Caribou) to perform a five-hour DJ set as Daphni, his more stripped-back club-based moniker. From the outset, Snaith made clear his intentions with a string of classics and edits, taking in disco, techno, house, breaks, and much more. It was a fun set full of party-rocking vibes and highly commendable mixing (besides one or two slips, which is bound to happen when going from bass-heavy techno to live, swinging disco); although, after a few hours, the non-stop offering of timeless cuts and fast genre shifts become somewhat tiresome.
Some of MUTEK’s key ingredients are the day-time panels and workshops, which are smartly placed across the weekdays and culminating early Saturday afternoon. Over the week, key events included Native Instruments’ Future Techniques panel featuring Ouri, Maher Daniel, Mateo Murphy, and Yan Doiron, who all mused on their production and live performance processes in a thought-provoking and often humorous exchange; Roland and Moog’s showrooms, held on Friday and Saturday, respectively, which gave attendees a hands-on look at equipment; and Saturday’s doubleheader, beginning with Robert Henke’s Creators Report Berlin and Berlin Imaginaries, which featured insights into the city and honest living experiences from Hans Reuschel, Mike Shannon, Roxymore, and Chris Vargas. Each panel and workshop were relaxed, inspiring, and open-ended, giving attendees—most of which were artists, managers, or promoters themselves—valuable and personable access to key members of the electronic music fraternity.
Each day of MUTEK this year was also focused on a different electronic music metropole, including Barcelona, Mexico City, Berlin, and London. On the respective days and nights, the aforementioned panels and musical offerings were geared towards these cities, featuring either artists native to each city or those residing in and representing them. Thursday’s Mexico City focus, for example, included a showcase at the SAT from N.A.A.F.I.’s crew of artists, from the pop-infused trap of Lao to OMAAR’s dance-inducing melting pot of grime, bass, and techno. N.A.A.F.I.'s crew of artists refreshingly attack established genres in a way that is free of ego and playful by nature—although, much of the music from N.A.A.F.I.'s camp is tough and hard as nails.
On Saturday, Berlin was the city in question on the outdoor stage, with representation from Berlin DJ and producer Sarah Farina, who laid down a classy mix of breaks, worldly house, jungle, and inspired pop edits. Farina was followed by the confounding punk fury of the Montreal-Berlin duo of Tobias Rochman and Chris Vargas (a.k.a. Pelada) and equally striking performances by Lotic and Dis Fig. Many of the sets on the free outdoor stages also highlighted another change for MUTEK this year: a loosening up of their regular focus towards live performing acts to include more DJ sets and hybrid shows.
This year, although filled with an almost innumerable amount of standout acts, two back-to-back performances at Métropolis stood out for their unbridled energy and dance-inducing nature: Aurora Halal and Surgeon & Lady Starlight. Aurora Halal’s heady, machine-driven techno, which she played with an alluring stage presence and grace, flowed through the bodies on the floor, kicking off the three-hours of uncontrollable dancing that would follow. Halal's profile has been rising noticeably fast over the last couple of years due to a string of brilliant releases and her ferocious live sets, and those in attendance on Friday night—if they weren't already—were put under the same spell she has been weaving over the electronic music community. Much has been said of Lady Starlight’s entrance into techno and her performances alongside Surgeon (check the Against the Clock) but any negative pundits—those in attendance, anyway—were silenced within the first few minutes when the duo's devastating grooves flowed from the speaker stacks. Across the two-hour live performance, Starlight and Surgeon conjured an almost unparalleled energy, with arms and legs flailing across every corner of the dancefloor. The kick drums were some of the most jaw-dropping I’ve heard and the vibe emanating from the stage was truly something special. You would have had to search high and low in Metropolis to find anyone not moving to the rolling beats, and chin-strokers were nowhere to be seen—to use a term from one of Surgeon’s acclaimed mixes, "This is the place where the intellect gets annihilated."
With a closing two-night spectacle that included the anticipated return of Zip's smooth-as-silk minimal grooves, an enigmatic and energetic live set from Dutch duo Detroit Swindle—complete with soulful talk-box verses—Seth Troxler’s wide-ranging party set at the river-side Piknic Electronik, and an unannounced set from Dewalta and Shannon in the mind-expanding dome of the SAT, MUTEK once again showed why after nearly two decades in operation, they’ve managed to stay one step ahead of the game.
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