Quartier des Spectacles
Montréal during the annual MUTEK festival is a remarkable place, as the city’s Place des Arts art quarter is transformed into a breeding ground for visual and sonic creativity.
Walking on Saint-Catherine street late at night, you witness techno devotees, steampunks, avant-garde theatre kids, all prowling the streets, looking for their next fix; an after-hours party with a cornucopia of DJs, sound artists, AI programmers, experimental video artists. You never really know who is playing these afterparties – and that’s kind of the point. Deep techno, future bass, Afrofuturist glitch-hop, acid house, vocal wave, Eurotrance … that’s only a few genres you can see on one given night.
MUTEK hosts over 70 live acts and it’s impossible to see them all – plus the dizzying number of DJs and visual artists – over the six-day festival, but there are a few shows that stuck out from the 24th edition of the gathering, which took place last weekend.
Bringing the live rendition of his latest album, No Highs, a darker take on ambient electro, Tim Hecker left the attendees of New City Gas in awe, as a synchronised light installation changed to the beat and swells of synths and the Japanese shō woodwind instrument played by Fumiya Otonashi. The light installation, created by artist Vincent de Belleval, was a long LED bar that sometimes looked like gothic stock market numbers, the inside of a high-speed quantum computer, or the red glow of a robot that reminds us of HAL 9000. The music was tranquil yet dark, sometimes best observed with the eyes closed to perpetuate a meditative trance, just as Hecker himself was in.
Eris Drew & Rich Aucoin
Perhaps one of the funnest acts at MUTEK this year was DJ, musician and T4T LUV NRG label founder Eris Drew, who came armed with an assortment of modular synths, pedals, and live mixers to play some irresistible “Motherbeat” dance music. The dancefloor of M Telus (more commonly known as Métropolis) was electric and sweaty.
That energy kept growing as Rich Aucoin, the de facto headliner of the whole night, unleashed the live renditions of Synthetic; a four-part album series (only two are out) that bridges the line between Daft Punk and Air. Rich Aucoin, maybe better known as an indie pop frontman who usually runs and crowd surfs, seemed a little subdued during his show, but the visual backdrop; minimalist shapes and red, green, and orange, gave the whole night a hazy feel, one to surely remember.
Twin Rising & VJ Isotone
If you can help it, you have to see at least one Satosphère show during MUTEK; electronic ambience usually highlighted by insane visuals over the SAT’s – a.k.a. Society for Arts and Technology’s – dome. As we sat on the provided chairs and pillows, Twin Rising (real name Tomas Furey) burst out, masked with chains, and started some droney electro acoustics before switching to a heavy industrial dubstep. It was impossible to follow the music fully, but the grainy, living sand projections by VJ Isotone served as the perfect accompaniment. The true majesty was when the sand began to dance to the rhythm of the bass and snare drums. Truly a marvel for the memory.
The first 15 minutes of Lima-born, Berlin-based instrumentalist Ale Hop’s MUTEK performance sounded like a jet engine taking off, intermittently paused as the experimental artist otherwise known as Alejandra Cárdenas muted the guitar – which she really used like a drum – and modular noise patches. She also powerfully strummed the highest notes on the guitar with ear-piercing trills, to almost jarring effect. It was different from the album experience she creates on works like Agua dulce (a Laura Robles collaboration) or last year’s Why Is It They Say A City Like Any City? and one of the loudest shows in recent memory, up there in decibels with someone like A Place To Bury Strangers or Sunn O))). For those of us wrapped up in the show for the full running time – there were some amongst the throng who couldn’t withstand the intensity for the duration – there was nothing else quite like it.
Montréal local Honeydrip was one of the most anticipated acts at this year’s MUTEK and for good reason. Her combination of drum ‘n’ bass, reggae and high-octane club was more than memorable. They stated that Honeydrip, real name Tianan McLaughlan, was with her full band along with King Shadrock and they approached the stage, looking like a cross between Power Rangers and wizards with a psychedelic visual backdrop of pulsating colours and swirls. Honeydrip’s upcoming album is called Psychotropic and after experiencing a bit of it live, the title makes a lot of sense. Furthermore, the reggae vocals of King Shadrock gave Honeydrip a completely insular and timeless feel that was only to be experienced at a creative spot like MUTEK.