Mutek 2017- closing night
Mutek 2017 marked the 18th year of the cutting edge electronic music and digital arts festival, and with this years edition being included in Montreal's official 375th anniversary celebrations, things were shaping up to be a very special week of music, visual art, and technology. Traditionally taking place in early June, this years festival took the opportunity to shift dates to August 22-27 with a refreshed vision and reinvigorated commitment to the finest in contemporary audio/visual live performance. With four international showcases (Berlin, Barcelona, Mexico city, and London) and strong Canada-wide support, the established festival felt very balanced in providing both domestic and overseas artists the chance to showcase their craft to a truly global audience. To match the expansive, full spectrum programming of the festival, was the equally impressive city-wide coverage of venues and creative spaces set to house the innovative audio/visual performances.
Being my first Mutek experience I approached the festival with keen ears and an open mind. Having done some research and read into this years lineup a bit, my only regret was that I wouldn't be able to check out more of the festival due to work commitments. Attending largely to support our label artist- Tokiomi, while also hoping to connect more with the Montreal creative community, I boarded a plane Saturday morning and flew across the country to catch the closing night of the Mutek festival entitled "Nocturne 6".
Taking place in the Societes des Arts Technologiques [SAT] the nights programming presented several hours of aesthetically diverse audio/visual acts across two rooms. Upstairs, visual artists projected immersive environments in the incredible "Satosphere" - an 18 x 13 m dome complete with 157 speakers and 8 video projectors. While downstairs, the modern venue space of the "Espace SAT" housed downtempo, house, and experimental electronic music in a fully featured concert space.
As the lights dimmed and Tokiomi took the stage, a steady trickle of electronic music fans gradually started filling the room. Easing in slowly and opting for a mostly beatless set, Tokiomi skillfully transitioned between organic west coast field recordings, woody percussion, and traditional Japanese influences. With equal tact behind the visual department, as Montreal artists "artificiel" opted for full power of the stage lighting to juxtapose the minimal closed circuit video retransmission going on for the projections. As the audio / visual showcase continued to unfold and the room continued to fill, Tokiomi's set gave way to some more structured beat expressions and low sub rumblings. As the set wrapped up, we floated upstairs to experience the audio / visual immersion that is the Satosphere.
As we wedged into a full room, the "You're Me Band" sent ambient sound waves bouncing around the impressive sphere. Coming off an excellent release entitled "Plant Cell Division" on west coast label 1080p "You're Me" producers Yu Su and Scott Johnson Gailey were now joined by Aiden Brant-Briscall on bass guitar for a truly live open concept experience. With Montreal visual artist - LLL, controlling the immersive visual environment highlighted by stretching gothic spires and rotating mechanical clockworks. As the undulating set progressed we continued to ride the slowly evolving narrative from the west coast group.
With two rooms of live electronic talent, we found ourselves heading back downstairs to check out the vibes of the Espace SAT. As Nicola Cruz had now taken the stage, the energy of the room had taken a considerable upswing as the Ecuadorian musician sent the room through a series of folkloric tinged analog beat workouts. As the room heaved to andean flutes and thumping basslines, Columbian visual artist Nuspaces utilized on stage cameras to recreate abstract morphing shapes resembling Cruz. As the upbeat, infectious rhythms claimed the room, we bounced back upstairs to check another unique and exciting act.
Elan Benaroch aka Electric System Broadcast (ESB), has been quietly building an impressive catalog of releases and steadily contributing to an ever growing body of work. From hardware fuelled dubby house flavours to infectious ambient grooves, Elan has developed a sound that is unique, honest, and sonically exciting. Add to that a killer live show consisting of some classic hardware boxes being triggered by clever and spontaneous arrangements, its easy to see why ESB keeps popping up on classic contemporary imprints such as 1080p, Heart to Heart, Echovolt and Leftroom records. With the Satosphere being the perfect place to enjoy such a special live set with its integrated sound system and 360 degree visuals, we settled in for an electronic synth-fuelled rollercoaster. With the head of video installations of the SAT space- Sean Caruso at the projection controls, its needless to say the audio / visual experience was a very memorable one indeed.
As we ran low on steam from all the recent travelling, we were able to catch just one more act: Africaine 808. Germans Dirk Leyers and Hans Reuschl joined forces to bring forth a menagerie of tropical bass, african funk, and analog fatness in a project that was born out of Berlin's world beat laced "Vulkandance" parties. As a spirited set translated to a gyrating dancefloor, we busted our last moves and made our way for home.
As I experienced just a brief taste of the festival this year I feel that my appetite has definitely been piqued. From the venue layout, to the immersive visuals, to the genre blurring lineup curation, Mutek festival seems to be as fresh as it is mature. And perhaps that is what stood out the most in the end, a well established festival not resting on its own coattails but rather continually pushing and striving for the next reinvention of itself. It's as fun and exciting as it is refreshing, to see a large festival still intimately attached to the underground music and art cultures that brought about its inception in the first place. And now 18 years from that inception, Mutek continues to inspire, connect and create in a way completely unique in itself.
Words and photos: Sean Mallion