Montreal
20 - 25 August

If Mutek wanted to make a statement about just how far its ideas have influenced popular culture at the start of its twentieth edition in Montreal, the festival couldn’t have chosen a better venue than the PY1 Pyramid.

An enormous touring venue funded by a Quebec billionaire, the “multimedia and immersive experience” focused PY1 spent its opening months in Montreal’s tourist-friendly Old Port, alternating between daytime shows for curious elder patrons and nighttime parties with themes like Candy World and Sci-Matic. It’s the sort of ‘bigger is better’ venture that infuses the innovation that festivals like Mutek have been developing in the underground with significant sums of cash.

When Monolake and visual artist Diagraf took over the venue for Mutek’s opening show, it felt like the inmates had been handed over the keys to a very posh asylum. Taking advantage of the pyramid’s impressive quadraphonic sound and visual capabilities, Monolake delivered a thunderous set full of blackened textures and broken polyrhythms, all accompanied by an understated set of cyberpunk visuals of increasing intensity.

Elsewhere Montreal and Mutek veteran Tim Hecker brought his recent Konoyo album to life, teaming up with a Gagaku ensemble to combine Japanese imperial court music with modern bassweight and noise. It made for a compelling if somewhat abrasive performance full of dissonant notes and rumbles but one well worth experiencing and a strong contrast to opener Kazuya Nagaya, whose set merged 200 resonant bowls to a laptop’s worth of effects to create a sublime ambient mood.

The flip side to these experiential, multimedia performances were Mutek’s club events, simultaneously held in several venues across Montreal’s downtown core. The packed club line-up was the cause of serious FOMO throughout the festival, though scheduled headliner Blawan’s unfortunate no-show made Friday night a bit easier to navigate for those wanting to catch it all.

Thankfully, Lotus Eater stepped up for those searching for techno in its most mechanical form, delivering a heroic performance that left more than a few crowd members stunned. A few blocks up, local light Ouri stole the show with a live performance that combined dancehall, dub, techno and breathy vocals to enthusiastic applause from her hometown crowd and significant buzz from converted visitors.

This all felt like preparation for Saturday night, however, when Mutek really lets its hair down to party. The Nocturne 5 event managed to fill the cavernous MTELUS venue to the rafters, stuffing the dancefloor with a crush of bodies by the time Nicola Cruz & Fidel Eljuri presented an A/V set merging Afro-Latin percussion with sampled tribal instruments. A standout performance, their combination of techno’s mechanistic grind and high octane visuals felt revelatory in an era where too many producers are content to throw a dembow rhythm over a synth loop and call it a day.

Post-footwork veteran Jlin also impressed, presenting a streamlined set that spanned her two Planet Mu releases, but the undeniable highlight of the evening was Wajatta, the combination of tech-house producer John Tejada and vocalist Reggie Watts, whose live commentary and soulful vocals truly made this a performance to remember. Equal parts technical wizardry and crowd motivation, Wajatta’s take on house music was a reminder that screens and lasers only serve to back up the human connection between performer and audience. Nevertheless, by the time Project Pablo and Call Super delivered a heavy dose of tracks for the after-hours crowd, it was clear that there’s a place for raw beats and even humble DJ sets at Mutek as well.

With most attendees leaving town and only the diehards (or those with Mondays off work) ready for another nighttime event, many remaining attendees chose to spend their Sundays at Mutek’s combined event with Piknic Electronik where Detroit legends Octave One headlined to a rapturous crowd under the setting sun. Equal parts Motor City purism and live improvisation, it was a fitting conclusion for a festival that’s shaped the discourse around electronic performance and visuals over the past 20 years.