MUTEK Festival (Montreal) – May 30 – June 3, 2012

June 8, 2012 No comments
Written by Jack Ewing

Photo by Jack Ewing

With all the festivals that occur each summer, there are always the ones with the most notoriety. And unfortunately, a lot of these take place in the United States or Europe. But MUTEK is a great homegrown festival that manages to showcase a variety of artists and installations that you you haven’t necessarily heard of before; that’s beauty of it. These are some of the finest DJs and electronic artists in the world and they are all here in one of Canada’s greatest cities. Reasonably priced compared to most festivals, and a six-hour drive away from Toronto, everyone should, at some point in their life, try and attend MUTEK. The Singing Lamb’s Jack Ewing reports from Montreal and reviews the weekend’s acts.

Arriving at the S.A.T. really made you feel like we finally arrived at Mutek. Its modern architecture and great LCD installations and projections made it the perfect venue. We came in right when DKMD started their set. A black curtain separated the rest of the venue from the foyer, but their presence was already made known by their rhythmic, spaced-out beats. DKMD, comprised of David Kristian and Marie Davidson, is one of the few acts that are native to Montreal. Their set was comprised of ambient tracks, with Davidson’s haunting voice layered over, making it very easy to sway to the beat and lose yourself in the music. However, there were moments where it felt like she veered off key which, during long sustained vocal sequences, took you out of the experience. 

Blondes is a New York-based electronic duo comprised of Sam Haar and Zach Steinman. After the spaced-out ambience of DKMD, it was very refreshing to get down to the straight house. Originally, I didn’t care for their self-titled album but these guys really impressed me. They brought the beat and knew how to keep you dancing throughout the whole set. Keeping their bobbing heads down pretty much the whole time, and paired with ominous red lights, their live set created a level mystery. And though little communication seemed to occur between the two of them, their tight coordination implied that they were almost paired by an unknown force.

Apparat (Band)
Hailing from Germany, Apparat has been known for his imaginative glitch electronic music that can be comparable to Jon Hopkins with its melodic nature. It was an interesting choice to make the switch practically to progressive rock as his electronic roots is what he is known for. This shift was most present in his newest album The Devil’s Walk. The performance was one of the few full-band performances of the festival however, it still managed to effectively blend itself with the rest of the other acts of the weekend. Admittedly, after Blondes’s house set, Apparat’s progressive music seemed like it set in more of a burn out, being situated at 1 a.m. That being said, the tightness of the band is worth noting. They make it really easy to lose yourself in their walls of sound that build and build with the intensity that could only be created by a band. Yet, they still managed to make their songs a lot heavier. Apparat does a great job of staying faithful to the recordings while still having fun with the performances, and making the electronic component of their act a little more dominant. Not to the point of triviality, but enough to feel the bass in your bones. “Candil De La Calle” and “Song Of Los” are already very powerful songs but seeing them live was incredible. Their impact is increased by the bands energy, as they clearly give it their all and, like any band working as hard as they should be, they were all drenched in sweat by the end of the night.

Shlohmo kills me. This is a guy who is having so much fun onstage that it is actually entertaining to see him bob around and sing to his own edits. You can tell that he designs his sets for the audience, with what he samples and how he keeps things moving. And its not top just 40 sampling, its “oh shit, I can’t believe you sampled that!” sampling. Some notable edits he dropped were “What’s your Fantasy” by Ludacris, “Crew Love” by Drake, and the best reworked version of “Genie In a Bottle” I have ever heard. Turns out pitch bending Christina to sound like a soul man and garnishing it with tribal electronic beats is really awesome. Who knew? His ability to mess with vocal samples are unlike anything else I’ve heard. He can modify and play with a vocal line to the point of a powerful screeching guitar solo. Already a frequent user of rapid high-hats and latin percussion, it offsets the rhythm and catches you off guard while still not throwing you off. 

Jeff Mills
Being a much larger venue (the Metropolis), it logically held a much larger crowd who was there to see artists with greater notoriety and light show setups compared to the S.A.T.. It’s really special when you get to see a legend from Detroit’s electronic scene from the 1980’s. Jeff Mills brings the straight, not messing around techno that makes it impossible not to move your body. His whole presence was incredibly zen-like. Mills’ equipment rested in a half circle around him on the ground, while he knelt behind it. Every so often he would stand up occasionally and bask in the energy of his music and the people who came to see it. The ominous moon that towered behind him visually matched the other worldly beats he was jamming. The highlight of the set was the incredible 909 jam he did towards the end of his set. The whole place was moving and it was incredible. Especially when you consider that it is only drums you are listening to, no synths or other instruments. Just the 909 pounding so hard you can feel it in your chest.

Deniz Kurtel
There has been a lot of talk about Deniz Kurtel being the next big thing in deep house. This is very easy to believe. Kurtel had one of the best visual components to her set but visuals aside, she has a real ear for dance music with bass that thumps and punctures like a good house jam should, but a tempo that is slowed down to a mesmerizing grove. This is music you can listen to in a club, or even in a dark room with Christmas lights, lying on a big pile of pillows. It also helps how incredibly empowering she is onstage. In the male-dominated world of electronic music, it’s really refreshing to see a woman who really knows how to get a place jumping.

A Guy Called Gerald
Hailing from Manchester UK, Gerald Simpson, or more commonly knows as A Guy Called Gerald, was a huge influence on the Acid House scene of the 1980’s. There isn’t much to say about AGCG, he has been doing this for over 20 years, so MUTEK is just another electronic festival for him. This means standard rules apply: 1) Show up and 2) Make people dance. And he did. Though most of the acts at MUTEK are artists that prefer to brood over their equipment and drop tracks like it’s no big deal, AGCG is the opposite. He clearly knows how good he is, and how much everyone is enjoying the scene. He came out of the pit of his set up several times and would dance in front of his equipment and steal drinks from the audience. He was definitely the most talkative to the audience out of the other acts, not to the point of irritation, but just enough to remind you that a real human being is making this party happen.


Satosphere InstallationAll of what had been seen really paled in comparison to the the Satosphere, a giant dome on the top floor of the S.A.T. that through a series of projections had created visualizations that surrounded and engulfed you. It seriously felt like stepping into a windows media player visualizer. It should be noted that the all the visual components to ever act had been very well thought out and engineered, but the Satosphere had the most imaginative visualizations I had seen all festival. Not only had someone thought of what I was viewing, but they pulled it off flawlessly. The only criticism I have comes from how much my neck hurt from staring up at the ceiling for 30 minutes. MUTEK should really invest in adding a lounging element to some of their acts. More couches I say!

It had been a pretty grey and rainy week in Montreal, having just missed the monsoon in Toronto. However, things decided to let up for the much anticipated Piknic Electronique. It was still pretty grey and chilly, but the Piknic goers sure didn’t seem to notice or care. Highlights of the event were The Mole, who was spinning old school with vinyl, and keeping the party going at the second stage, and Wolf + Lamb, who had the most fun on the main stage than any other artist. The duo would split off, one laying down a track and the other pumping up the crowd. Among spinning their own stuff, they also dropped a fun edit of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston which made people go crazy. The blend of new music, with the traditional dance tracks from decades past is important in today’s dance scene. It always really special when it happens, and its great to see everyone react to it. It’s unfortunate that Montreal couldn’t completely accept that it was summer this year, but that wasn’t going to keep anyone inside this weekend. This is power of techno and house music.


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