For Mutek’s EM15 festival in Montreal in June, I interviewed 6 interesting artists and wrote about the top 4 reasons why Mutek is an essential part of Montreal, for Beatport News. Enjoy the photos and words below. Let me know what you think. What’re YOUR reasons for returning to Mutek festival every year?
Montreal’s EM15/ Mutek Festival Review:
Four key reasons why the city and its experimental electronic festival is essential
For the 15th annual edition of Mutek, Montreal’s annual internationally-acclaimed festival joined forces with a like-minded audio-visual festival called Elektra in order to present EM15: a bigger showcase of electronic art, music, and culture than ever before. Over the course of May 27th to June 1st, 2014, the festival offered dozens of concerts, live installations, events, talks, workshops, film screenings, and more, and attendees had to choose their own adventure along the way. I interviewed several of the performing artists and got them to weigh in on their own personal experiences at EM15.
Reason #1 — The artistic context is a priority at Mutek.
This year’s festival took the bilingual (French and English) Canadian city by storm, occupying art galleries and public spaces, with projection mapping on buildings, and smaller outdoor stages where live music was performed in the warm weather.
Marc Houle, who played at the Minus ENTER. event on Thursday night with Richie Hawtin said, “Montreal is the best city in Canada. As opposed to it just being another festival for me, it’s more personal and spiritual…. When people ask me where to go in Canada I tell them to visit Montreal because it has a more European attitude and everyone is very relaxed. Everyone is very social and the parties go later. It’s…a city with a lot of culture and art.”
“…This festival has an ulterior motive, where they want to always include culture and up-and-coming artists and visuals, and they’re really promoting the big picture and that’s why it’s special to us,” said Houle. “The only thing I can compare it to is the Amsterdam Dance Music Event and Sonar, where they also have events and workshop series.”
WNDFRM, an artist who performed his ambient dubby textures and field recordings in the more experimental “ENTER. Mind” room at Richie Hawtin’s ENTER. MUTEK event at EM15 is hugely appreciative of the festival curation: “I get the sense that it’s a strong community behind-the-scenes and I think that shows in the quality of the acts booked and the risk-taking that seems to happen,” he said. “There are large well-known artists, but also opportunities for people who don’t have a lot of exposure to share their art in an appropriate context.”
This year, WNDFRM came full-circle with his debut performance at Mutek, having worked on his newest release c60/tmkutekt during a trip to Mutek back in 2011. On this album the field recordings he took at the Montreal Biosphere appear. “It’s inspiring to see the city and the government embrace digital art in such a way that is even more evident this year at EM15.”
For a festival that’s lauded for its impeccable technical programming and A/V acts, the choice of EM15 venues with the appropriate amenities in reasonable proximity to one another is essential. The Museum of Contemporary Art, the Place-des-Artes outdoor concourse (featuring fountains, patio seating and a stage), and the Phi Center in a charming section of Old Montreal all stood out as perfect venue selections, meanwhile the festival mainstays included the Metropolis Theatre and Parc Jean-Drapeau.
Reason #2 — The great team putting on the event and the more educated mature crowd are unique.
Set in Montreal, Canada, this year’s EM15 attracted a larger audience than ever before. With its relative proximity to New York, Toronto, and Ottawa, attendees flocked to the city in growing numbers to witness the exciting program. Some come annually from the West Coast of the US and Europe for the festival. The Mutek experience is always something special for fans of intelligent dance music (IDM) whom are discerning and educated tastemakers of various sub-genres of electronic music.
Markus Heckmann, a Toronto-based visual artist who performed at EM15’s A/Visions showcase commented: “You expect a certain level of quality and I’m usually hyper-critical at the shows, which makes performing there intensely scary…Everyone is focused on you.
“In the end it was such a good experience and all of our friends who supported us were clapping and cheering us on at the beginning of our show, which was nice.”
Montreal-based producer and DJ and producer Stephen Beaupre, who has performed his upbeat sets for several years at Mutek, played this year at Metropolis on Saturday night along with his friends and fellow Montreal artists Mossa and Ben Neville, while Ricardo Villalobos played on the main stage.
“Mutek is family for me,” he affirms. “It’s a yearly event as important as New Year’s. It’s a point in the year that I look forward to. It’s both stressful and amazing, but everyone comes together. Alain Mongeau (Mutek’s Artistic Director) is really generous with his support for many artists in this city. He curates the festival in a very mindful way, not a frivolous way. So, for me it’s super influential creatively when all these people are together at Mutek.”
Another Montreal-based band, Iron Galaxy (known individually as Adam Hodgins, Francis Latreille, and Dave Shaw) performed on Saturday night and discussed how they really appreciated the opportunity to perform. “You have a select group of music-lovers who’re intensely engaged in the music…and that’s a pretty ideal crowd to play for,” said Shaw.
“Mutek has a precise mission to book artists that you would never see otherwise, who [promoters] could never book in a club and make money off of, so I’ve seen some of my favorite artists who I wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” said Latreille.
For Iron Galaxy’s Mutek 2014 performance, the trio of true music-heads worked intensively after their day jobs with sessions in their studio late into the night and they spoke about their improvisational approach to their live show, which includes a ton of gear: a 24-channel mixing deck, Ableton, 909, 707, 808, an SH101, and a 303 for bass; a Juno 106, an MS20, and a Rhodes piano. “It’s a dynamic set-up and it feels live. There’s a bit of a tightrope walk with live elements to the songs,” said Shaw. Their plan is to tour the live show next spring in Europe, after they get some press from the forthcoming Iron Galaxy album.
Reason #3 — The impeccable music selection at EM15 reveals a symbiotic relationship between the avant-garde and the popular, the cerebral and the corporeal.
The lineup at EM15 included its signature mix of popular electronic musicians in addition to more obscure stellar avant-garde acts that are impossible to find at electronic dance festivals or club nights with mass-appeal.
The highly anticipated ENTER. Mutek show on Thursday night with Richie Hawtinperfectly highlighted the range of artists that the festival curators select. The lineup included the dancefloor sounds of TM404 and Marc Houle alongside Richie Hawtin in the main room and the more experimental sounds of Atheus, WNDFRM, and Matthew Hawtin in the ENTER. Mind room. Hawtin’s set was energetic and upbeat, involving sensorial stimuli via music and exuberant neon-colored biological looking shapes. The audio-visual trip climaxed with a showering from the ceiling of large confetti with the ENTER. logo on it, falling in a thick paper spray atop the audience attendees.
Matthew Hawtin, Richie Hawtin’s brother, who plays the ENTER series frequently said “I really play a wide range of experimental and abstract music… That’s the beauty of being in the other room, you have a little bit of freedom and for the most part people are really into the darker drone electronic music in that room. The point of ‘ENTER. Mind’ was always to provide the antithesis of what was happening in the main room.” Matthew Hawtin is primarily an accomplished visual artist, having showed his work at the prestigious Art Basel Miami, and he has an art agent in Manhattan. He says that broadly his minimal art aesthetic and the minimal techno music he DJs have a lot in common: “They’re repetitive, textural, spatial and… the trajectory of my visual work has always crossed paths with my musical style… I like to create music that’s more cerebral.”
Much like Hawtin’s desire for music that people can enjoy on another level, Fluxion, a Greek artist who performed at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday, got rave reviews from his audience, and said he is most interested in exploring boundaries and the connection between audio and visual. In fact, his interest in electronic music started with his passion for film scores, and he was influenced by their free form, with no beginnings or endings to individual songs.
“I want to hear bold moves from artists in the genre that I’m considered a part of, which is dub techno,” he said. “I want to hear the leftovers that people don’t consider putting out in an album because they’re too afraid to.” On his recent album,Broadwalk Tales, he worked with Jamaican vocalist Teddy Selassie, and he said “I think I’ve tried to expose myself through other genres on my last album and I made it almost cinematic due to the interest and the continued influence of film composers on my work.”
Reason #4 — An exciting audio-visual interplay is at the core of EM15’s landmark programming.
Inside the Imperial Theatre in Montreal attendees could witness A/Visions, Mutek’s first class series of sit-down audio-visual performances. Thursday night started off with Todor Todoroff & Laura Colmenares Guerra’s performance in which Sigrid Vandenbogaerde played the cello and sang in a moving voice, and behind her and the other two artists on-stage was a large screen which featured outdoor scenes and a video mix of female nudes dancing frenetically to the music. It was a beautiful and haunting piece that really took the audience into a different space. Following their show, Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer performed the premiere of “Re: ECM”, an abstract improvisational creation of sound-structures using modular synthesizers and blending minimal techno and more upbeat Latin rhythms. Sometimes super bass-heavy and dubby, the show finally conveyed the mass-movement of people in transit, with bodies and faster rhythms, carrying the audience along through its sonic undulations and dizzying spinning visuals with intricate patterns overlaying human figures. Thematically these audio-visual shows led perfectly into the corporeal ENTER. show that night.
Friday evening at the A/Visions showcase, another two stand-out performances took place, the first called “Reclusion” by Matt Thibideau and Markus Heckmann: a show that was at once a beautiful, contemplative, and solitary melodic meditation. The live A/V show was inspired by Thibideau’s forthcoming Reclusion, a triple-vinyl and double-CD coming out on Echo Space Records in Detroit: “I went to outdoor natural and industrial environments and did field recordings by myself and found sounds to incorporate into the songs. The mood wasn’t always happy…but I wanted to capture environments that you hear when you’re alone…. With the A/V performance we wanted to get the audience to feel that way, and the visuals are a key ingredient,” he explained.
“I never use any videos or movies to give a context to the viewer,” said Thibideau’s collaborator, Markus Heckmann, an A/V artist and the Technical Director atDerivative, the Canadian company that creates Touch Designer, the widely-used software for electronic music’s leading live shows such as Plastikman Live and Amon Tobin’s ISAM. “It’s all generating itself and as the audience what you read into the performance is up to you…It’s very open for your own interpretation when you watch it,” explained Heckmann.
“A lot of my work is inspired through people I’ve worked with and learned from, in particular MXZehn/Stefan Kraus who taught me that creating moving images should be done with a musical approach, so that the artist is involved in the creation and what’s displayed during the A/V performance is always an active development.”
“As much as I enjoy doing techno sets, this show is more serious because it’s a more concentrated approach to a performance,” said Thibideau. “You get a lot of mileage from the show because you can go on in slight variations for a quite a long time, and we have the opportunity to alter it, which will keep us excited about it,” said Heckmann. The duo now plans to play an art gallery show in Toronto and are hoping for a tour after Reclusion is released. In addition, Thibideau’s label obsolete components has more releases coming up.
Finishing off the A/V show on Friday night was a huge festival highlight: Robert Henke (aka Monolake) performed “Lumière,” which dazzled attendees with its electric and energetic pace, and its primal and hypnotic rhythms. Although the color palette was in a simple white light with stark black contrast, it was always moving and in-flux, with geometric shape changing that kept the audience on the edge of their seats.
Finally, closing off the festival on Sunday night, Nicolas Jaar presented From Scratch, where he had a host of musicians including Will Epstein, Sasha Spielberg, Lizzie Feidelson, and Vance Galloway join him and visualist Tarik Barri. It’s performances like these at EM15 that will entice the crowds to return to Mutek again, for what are arguably some of the world’s most innovative and energetic music, art, and technology shows. With Elektra and Mutek’s partnership this year appearing to be a bona-fide success, it’ll be exciting to see what they curate next year for 2015.