there’s something to be said about coming home. countless words have been written about it: it’s “where the heart is.” “there’s no place like” it. nothing has emphasized the truth of these statements quite like returning to montreal for mutek, the annual digital arts and creativity festival that takes place around the quartier des spectacles/place des arts at the end of may. this year, the lineup boasted an incredible roster of local and international talent. not only was it deeply special to witness some of my close friends taking the stage this year, it was even more moving to find myself surrounded by all my favourite people in the world, dancing to the best music, all with the same smiles on their faces. coming home doesn’t get any better than that.
DJing at the free stage at the quartier des spectacles on sunday afternoon, daniel bell seemed to be a mind reader. he kept the tempo just lazy enough that it felt like the perfect speed for those of us who had danced for the last 10 days straight. a minimal techno legend in his own right, his DJ set was laidback and unhurried yet maintained danceability and energy.
atom tm & tobias
atom tm and tobias freund’s live set at movement in detroit last week might have given you heatstroke. it blistered with spry but minimal beats, following a narrative that was cerebral but still fun. at metropolis, however, things got dark fast. keeping to a minimal palette, the pair managed heavy soundscapes with ease and the story they told was always unpredictable. the term “atom bomb” got thrown around a lot but their touch was somehow subtle and understated as well.
billy dalessandro & ombossa
if you want to know what storytelling is all about, ask billy dalessandro. the chicago born, montreal based producer stepped back from his usual funked out techno to present “boomers,” live alongside fellow montreal ombossa. using footage billy had shot in the desert which was then manipulated live by ombossa, the music told tales of journey and wanderlust. moments of distorted piano floated over warm beats, harmonized by the psychedelia of ombossa’s visuals.
canadian producer mathew jonson’s closing set at the free stage proved that the early evening bumps just as hard as the hours past midnight. jonson didn’t heed to the sunset; there was nothing romantic about his brand of techno. it was all grooving, heated, and upbeat, the kind of electronic music that makes you sweat.
berlin-based DJ and founder of stroboscopic artefacts lucy quite literally brought the house down at metropolis. although earlier in the week, he had debuted a modular set at the musee des arts contemporains, his gig at metropolis came with his familiar no holds barred take on techno. walls were shaking. the bass was in your chest. lucy always manages to maintain an infusion of soul in his sets though, despite the rough edges of his track selection; never a disappointment.
you know how they say you can’t judge a book by its cover? they were talking about rrose. rrose is one of those artists that keeps the veil of mystery; many mistakenly called him a her or wondered aloud who that dude in a dress was at metropolis. his moniker is a nod to marcel duchamp’s female pseudonym, rrose selavy, which also explains his rather reserved feminine disguise; nothing about his music is conservative though. sneaky serpentine basslines wove through dark, dusty soundscapes and perfect atmosphere.
you know when you build something up in your mind so much that in reality, it could never live up to how high your expectations have gotten? DBX is the exception to this rule. after witnessing daniel bell’s phenomenal live set as DBX last year in detroit, i had set the bar pretty high for his live at mutek. i skipped his performance at this year’s movement in order to “save myself” for mutek. luckily, he blew my expectations out of the water at metropolis. with john tejada on drums, daniel bell is unstoppable. hearing “baby judy” live is something i’ll never forget.
montrealer fake_electronics isn’t shy. he lets his music do the talking, and it has a lot to say. working mostly with a modular synth set up, jesse morrisson’s music as fake_electronics focuses on atmosphere and ambiance, thriving from the randomness that comes with electronic patch-work. it’s a challenging listen; a trip to a dreamworld where you never know quite what to expect.
on the other hand, fumiya tanaka is another artist i had built up in my mind, only to be somewhat let down by his DJ set at metropolis. i’ve been waiting months to hear a tanaka set, and his closer at metropolis was one of my most anticipated performances of the weekend. despite a killer track selection, his mixing was not as up to par as i’d hoped and the entire thing fell a bit short. still a highlight, just not at the top of the heap.
nordic duo kiasmos’ self-titled debut album is pure magic. they brew storm clouds and thunder with their productions, a blend of contemporary classical and minimal techno and downtempo. their performance felt more like a concert than a live set, with quick pauses between tracks, but it didn’t take away from the beauty of their music. ear-to-ear grins on their faces from start to finish, they were having so much fun on stage, a charismatic performance that emphasized chemistry and musical contemplation.
shannon & dewalta
berliners mike shannon and david koch (aka dewalta) know how to get down. after witnessing their set for boiler room berlin, their live pairing was one of my most highly anticipated sets for mutek: a compelling mix of jazz, funk, swing, and animated housey techno, the duo had everyone on their feet. an impromptu kidnapping of moon buggy’s danuel tate added further magic to an already unbeatable performance.
VJs are the unsung heroes of mutek, and montrealer patrick trudeau (aka diagraf) is a local legend. having worked with mutek for years, he’s no stranger to the festival’s circuit; this year his roster included fumiya tanaka, wiklow, and karen gwyer to name a few. diagraf is truly a wizard: intricate imagery and digital landscapes are edited live alongside every performance, adding an element of personality to every set.
making his mutek debut at the MAC for nocturne 3, montrealer michael dean aka wiklow traversed boundaries. melodies met with glitchy breakdowns, ambient electronica softened techy downbeats, and fuzzy synthwork paired up with feedback-style noise. there’s no boxing him in, and his performance was all the better for it. with diagraf on visuals, you really understood the presentations “skeletal wires” title; shy linework moved in harmony with the music, morphing and changing based on the rhythm.