If there was ever a week to visit Montréal – it was August 21-27, 2017. The city played host to some incredible festivals, namely the Mode & Design Expo, Piknic Électronik, and of course, it’s famed 18th edition of MUTEK.
Focused on Audio Visual performances, MUTEK showcases artists that dive deep into the world of sound design. This isn’t your typical electronic music show. Rather MUTEK is a five-day visual auditory exploration for musicians and electronic nerds to geek out over synthesizers and RGB lasers.
While normally hosted in the spring, MUTEK, for the first time in its history, changed dates to debut the annual music festival in the peak of summer. And we are so happy they did! The festival had shows late into the cool morning hours, and ended in partnership with Montréal’s beloved Sunday concert series, Piknic.
Since its inception in 2000, MUTEK has grown considerably. It seems attendance continues to double year after year, which is not a bad problem when you are a niche music festival. Needing more space paired with programming, MUTEK decided to try an expansive summer edition.
There was no denying MUTEK had taken over the heart of downtown. The venues were all within three blocks of each other, making the walk between stages integrated with Montéal’s urban environment. But it was the open-air stage at Place des Artes, presented by Expérience Mexico that stole the show.
The stage was set in a rapturous esplanade. Colorful LED skyscrapers lit up the forum as container pop up shops, from neighboring Mode & Design Expo, surrounded the outdoor venue. This was by far the liveliest and most commercial stage at the festival.
Mexico City’s very own, Borchi, made his Canadian debut with his brass infused glitch hop and playful crowd antics. The energy was high when he jumped on the mic and rallied the crowd with the throwback chant “Heyyyyyy-HO, Heyyyyyy-HO”. But it didn’t end there. Next was Van Did, a local Montréaler, who closed out the stage with some fist bumping deep trance.
One of the esteemed artists on the lineup was the legendary Robert Henke. A Berlin native, Henke is known for his musical software tools and avant-garde light installations. This was the only performance that required a special RSVP and ticket for festival pass holders. You could tell by the line halfway down the block that Mr. Henke was going to put on a show.
His highly anticipated performance, Lumière III, was the third iteration of Henke’ precision controlled laser performance whereby he manually paired laser crafted visual complexities with evocative sonic overtures within a surround sound theatre.
The show originally premiered in 2013 as a controlled white laser performance using custom software to link the relationship between his phonic and visual experience. He has since added color and surround sound, in addition to restructuring the narrative to reflect the bonds between data, frequencies, and light.
A fascinating exhibit of laser technology, Henke’s performance begged to have an internal dialogue with the audience. Psychedelic in nature and profound in execution, this was a mid-week highlight.
Saturday night picked up the energy with an all-nighter as Red Bull Music Academy presented Nocturne 5, the fifth installment of their nightly events. With a jam packed lineup, the heat was turned up as the billing included Toronto veterans EOP, New York City deep house producer Fred P, jazzy tech house duo Dewalta & Shannon, Dutch disco soul house producers Detroit Swindle, and the legendary hypnotic DJ set from Perlon founder Zip.
Dewalta & Shannon did not disappoint as they integrated their classic saxophone flourishes, picking up the groove and making the crowd go wild. Likewise, Detroit Swindle followed by opening their set with their hit single “64 Ways.” The drippy tech house vibe melted the audience into a furry of Gumby-like moves.
The light installation behind each performer was also a big highlight during the night. Unique arrays of interstellar fixtures coordinated to the music and added an extra element of pizzazz. This was definitely the place to close out the heavy aura of enchantment MUTEK had built throughout the week.
Models of Export: When City Festivals Go Global
But the festival would not have been complete without the conference, workshops, and exhibitions. As electronic and digital art convergences continue to roam the globe, it was interesting to learn from those who have taken their once city-based festivals around the world.
Alain Mongeau (MUTEK), Antònia Folguera (Sónar+D), Olof van Winden (TodaysArt), and Oriol Pastor (Mira) all took the stage to discuss how they successfully created a model of export for their festivals. One of the biggest takeaways was that in order to champion their festival in other cities, they must connect with locals on the ground.
Once the locals accept their proposition to bring the festival to their community, the city has to make it their own. Olof van Winden explains, “Each city has its own personality.” This requires a shift in thinking. The festival can’t be a carbon copy of its hometown. Instead, it must naturally conform the host city’s culture.
Another key point in exploring places to take these festivals was to look for places that haven’t been previously exposed to electronic and digital art experiences. For example, van Winden suggested he was looking into Africa, the Middle East and Mongolia for the next global TodaysArt, whereas Antònia Folguera was interested in exploring South America for Sonar+D.
MUTEK offered attendees a compelling view into the burgeoning foyer of sonic design and digital art centered in Montréal. For those looking to excavate a new festival experience, we highly recommend you travel for your next adventure and explore MUTEK in various places around the world. The festival now expands outside of its hometown in Canada to Berlin, Barcelona, Mexico City, and Tokyo.
To learn more about the next installment, be sure to visit MUTEK.org.