standing immediately in front of the stage at metropolis on friday night, the bass was so loud that you could feel it in your bones, your head, your heart. and yet, behind me, a girl and her buddy are in the middle of a conversation about what show they saw last night, speaking loudly enough so as to be heard over the music. i shush them, pointedly, asking that they take it elsewhere. although my interjection wasn’t taken kindly by the pair, the crowd around them erupts into approving shouts and laughter. “maybe they should turn the volume up,” the girl suggests. “maybe you should turn the volume down,” i shout back. the pair laugh, lower their voices, and eventually become so involved with the music that they stop chatting entirely. it’s situations like that that perfectly describe mutek for me — everyone is there for the music.
it’s always nice to come home from detroit’s movement festival and jump right into mutek. there’s no shortage of good music to go around, and the line up this year has had the city all abuzz for months. mutek partnered up with elektra digital arts festival in honour of both fests’ 15th anniversary, so the week’s performances included stronger light installations, visuals, and digital imagery than in years past; em15 was, for all accounts and purposes, a complete sensory experience.
a/visions 2 re/visioned classical
after a week of getting down in the d, my first mutek events’ lofty seats and warm darkness were a welcome departure. the night opened with an audio-visual experience from electrical engineers/composers todor todoroff and video artist laura colmenares guerra, accompanied by sigrid vandenbogaerde on the cello. if the visuals weren’t enough to send shivers down your spine and a feeling like your skin was crawling, the live soundtrack was. the audience was either enchanted or frozen in fear — it was hard to tell, and harder still to tear yourself away from the moment. that ominous feeling like someone was watching you followed you the rest of the evening.
next, ricardo villalobos took over with max loderbauer for the north american premiere of their live performance. they’ve been working together since 2009 when their double album Re: ECM premiered, harnessing remixes and samples from german jazz label ECM. the set was unexpectedly disconnected; no conversation between music and visuals, or, for that matter, music and audience. many people around me fell asleep or left before the set was over. the set was fine, but the lack of spontaneity, engagement, and impact was disappointing.
the takeaway / XLR8R put it best: the week’s big names were just okay. and it didn’t matter.
++ photo by caroline hayeur
nocturne 2 bodies in flux
later that night, holly herndon took the stage at the musee d’art contemporain. holly is a san fran producer, composer, sound artist with an alt ambient, experimental sound that typically borders on just weird enough. as suspected, holly’s live set leapt into seriously fucking weird territory, but it was a “you jump, i jump situation.” everyone jumped gladly off the edge with her not quite vocals, rumbling bass, and saturated ambient soundscapes that resonated with off-kilter infusions of beats.
the takeaway / normal is boring.
++ photo by this is herd
experience 2 between the grooves
friday afternoon, austrian techno-tanzband elektro guzzi performed a free show as part of experience 2 on the esplanade stage at place des arts. made up of a drummer, a guitarist, and a bassist, the result is a six-handed monster of eccentric electronic music. and i mean that in a good way. their performance was the meeting point of contemporary techno with classic rock. the band was loving it, too — eyes closed, heads banging, feet tapping away — enough that the crowd which, at first, was doing the classic bob ‘n sway, started breaking into fully fledged dance moves.
the takeaway / music is a melting pot. blurred boundaries can make magic.
++ photo by diego cupolo
metropolis 2 4/4 fever
this was the event i’d been most excited for — a mish-mash of local and international artists that i love, all in one space. in the mainroom, italian techno duo voices from the lake opened with a bang, followed up by a set from matthew dear as audion, and closed out by one of my favourite producers, max cooper. the night would have made more sense with an opener from max cooper who played it more amibent and weird, and a closing set from voices from the lake whose set rolled out all the stops. audion played inside this giant sphere made out of triangles with light projections (designed by vita motus, the same crew that handled the visuals and installations for amon tobin) which started off as pretty fucking rad but quickly became a bit of a distraction and caused a disconnect in communication and interaction between DJ and audience. the mainroom was, at times, overwhelming.
over in the savoy room, a hidden gem just off the side of the main room’s mezzanine, demas opened the night with a perfectly attuned minimal set. his motto is “all for the love of snippets of beats,” and that love was decidedly present at mutek. local heroes swack — aka stefny winter and claire kenway — took over with a live performance that included mystical vocals about finding a unicorn in parc lafontaine, with ewerx alongside providing apt visuals. their set was textural and intricate, remaining stunningly directional without losing its danceability; not a surprise when you think about each artist’s storied history with music. finally, alicia hush closed out the evening, opening with a peculiar vocal sample – an intro that’s quickly become her signature. if we weren’t sweating before, believe we were sweating by the time she finished. funk-infused bounce met with booty beats and minimal soundscapes, and the crowd ate up every little bit. ewerx kept the visuals pared back but provocative, a stark constrast to the lightshow in the mainroom next door. in fact, the savoy room kept things simple, no smoke and mirrors, just good old fashion techno.
the takeaway / sometimes less really is more.
++ photos by diego cupolo and caroline hayeur
play 3 hd dreamland
on saturday night, my body started fighting me. “no more dancing,” it cried. “shut the fuck up, body!” i declared, as i headed out to start what is technically my 487th consecutive weekend of dancing. okay, exaggeration, it’s probably closer to 400 but you know, i embellish. montrealer jesse morrison was set to play at the musee d’art contemporain as fake_electronics, and because i love his music as ana+one, i was all set to shake a foot. when i arrived, it was so dark in the basement room that i walked into 6 different people and a wall while trying to find a seat on the carpeted floor. ewerx was on visuals again, and the synergy between the two artists was fascinating. the music, too, was incredible, although not what i had expected; complex that you absolutely had to pay attention but buzzing and ambient enough that it almost lulled you to sleep or had you hallucinating from exhaustion or drugs. or both. i sat down. eventually, i laid down, as did many others. i don’t remember what i was thinking about, but i know i was lost in thought, in the music, in the otherworldliness of it all.
the takeaway / music transports.
++ photo by diego cupolo
metropolis 3 tripping the light fantastic
mutek’s third event at metropolis was highly anticipated, with ricardo villalobos set to crank out a four hour trip from 2 to 6 am. to be frank, every performance until villalobos (and even including villalobos) was, for me, almost entirely forgettable with the exception of mossa’s live performance in the savoy room. don’t get me wrong; there was nothing bad about the sets from stefan goldmann or tom trago or even ricardo villalobos. they were good. we danced. but i didn’t mention them the rest of the weekend. they didn’t even cross my mind once they were through, and for me, that’s a sign of unremarkable music. not bad, just not amazing.
mossa, on the other hand, absolutely stole the show. we heard rumours that he was “playing fruit.” to be honest, i thought that was some kind of obscure music term, but when we arrived in the savoy room, it was true. he was actually playing fruit. there was a couple oranges, a lemon, and a honeydew melon lined up on a board hooked up to his computer, which, when tapped like a drummachine, produced happy, tropical beats. his set as whole took on animated techno, and the whole thing was just so fun. i haven’t shut up about that honeydew melon since the weekend.
the takeaway / music can come from anywhere and anything.
++ photo by jeanseb roux
nocturne 5 ex-pat discotheque
i’ll say this about mutek: i very much admire their drive to keep the festival as intimate and intellectual as possible. it’s a noble gesture in the face of the mass commercialization of dance music today, and i’m tipping my proverbial hat to them. that said, it tugged on my cold cold heart that so many people were denied entrance at the door of the closing party due to forgotten passes/tickets or an over capped venue. i understand, but i felt bad. not bad enough that i wanted to do anything about it, but bad enough that i made that “aw shit” face at like 3 people in line and continued on my way.
once inside, i was actually very grateful for the capacity limit. there was ample room to dance, for once in the entire course of the weekend. miracles! the event started out as a multi-person set with the night’s canadian talent, the mole, guillaume and the coutu dumonts, chris hreno and headliner mike shannon. i never ventured upstairs for nico jaar‘s set but the comparison between “two dudes on laptops” and “five artists in a full out jam session” was tossed around more than once. the chemistry was undeniably entertaining, and each performer’s ability to feed off the others’ energy was inspiring to say the least. mike shannon eventually flew solo, delivering a set that bumped and bounced, and kept us all smiling and shaking despite (speaking for myself) being more tired than i’ve been in a very long time. techno caffeine.
the takeaway / dancing might very well be the cure for everything.
++ photo by caroline hayeur
++ top photo by jeanseb roux