It's forgivable that many people expect Montreal's electronic music festival, Mutek, to be cerebral-centric. But this year's ninth installment of the internationally renowned five-day showcase of avant-garde and experimental electronic music included a heavy dose of danceable dubstep and glitch-hop, too.
Case in point was the UK's Kode 9 and The Space Ape's distorted dubtronic sounds, which pummeled an indoor afternoon crowd (rained out from open-air plans on Montreal's island) with bass friction blasting through the phenomenal-sounding six-stack L-Acoustic subwoofers. And then there was L.A. producer-of-the-moment and Warp artist Flying Lotus, who deftly fused deep dub and fuzzy organic percussion on a stripped-down laptop setup (he just bought a soundcard weeks ago). Mutek has truly evolved within a decade of genre blurring and technologically advanced sound creation.
Fitting the experimental bill well, Montreal's Kid Koala made his festival debut on Friday night at the Metropolis music hall, scratching on three Technics SL-1200s and a Vestax QFO turntable, Rane mixer, an emulator and delay pedal and a pile of records. “It's been 10 years, and people are still confused about why my recordings sound a certain way,” says the Ninja Tune artist. “[Scratching] is a craft and has a lot of personality. It can be funky, rhythmic and aggressive and very physical, and then very ambient and textured.”
Later, Montreal's Megasoid (downtempo producer Sixtoo and Wolf Parade's Hadji Bakara) erupted onstage with distorted breakbeats, hip-hop and ragga tracks. More hip-hop followed with Bpitch Control's Modeselector hammering out dancehall remixes and finally some banging techno after German-American tag team Half Hawaii's house set in the side room didn't quite satiate the hunger for the minimal that's expected from Mutek. But once Toronto-expat Jeremy P. Caulfield (now based in techno capital Berlin) took over, minimal made its way at last into the program.
Techno tempos opened Saturday night's party with Toronto up-and-comer Noah Pred and Swedish Kompakt artist Axel Willner's remarkable, blissed-out three-piece band The Field. By the end of the night, it was back to bass-heavy, at times ravelike and even trance-infused, with big beats from the likes of France's Danton Eeprom and the UK's Radio Slave. The experimental techno quotient was still upheld earlier in the festival with Cristian Vogel's live performance dubbed The Never Engine. Former partners with Jamie Lidell as Super_Collider, the Tresor artist and label head of Station 55 returned to live performance several years ago (rather than straight-up DJing) and blew the crowd away at Mutek.
“People seem to think live is just playing back stuff,” Vogel says. “And there's a tendency to use Ableton Live, which doesn't leave much room for improvisation because what I'm doing is improvising a solo show of electronic music. So I've designed a personal real-time sequencer that lets me build and destroy, build and destroy.”
Nevertheless, performance tool au jour Ableton Live still dominated the stages and helped fill a dark room on a sunny afternoon for Mutek's popular Digi_Section workshop with festival veteran Deadbeat teaching new tricks (who also rocked a closing set inside the Metropolis side room on Saturday night). Meanwhile, gearheads got silly sampling the incredible new Yamaha Tenori-on, which will likely turn up at next year's 10-year anniversary. Planning for that is already underway with more surprises and diversity within the avant-garde of digital media and music.