Elektra Festival Montreal, QC - May 10 to 15, 2005

Now in its sixth year, the Elektra festival has had a difficult time finding solid ground in Montreal's crowded electronic festival circuit. Unlike Mutek, which has continuously sought the most progressive acts, and MEG, which has chased after the hottest, Elektra's formula has generally been to invite some of the most renowned audio-visual artists around and bolster them with a few bona fide headliners. This year's top draws included IDM stalwarts Autechre and EBM throwbacks Front 242. In between these festival openers and closers, Elektra offered multi-media work by Japanese minimalist Ryoji Ikeda, Brit un-essentialist duo SND, a DJ set by Gescom's Rob Hall, a joint project between Scanner and D-Fuse (of the recent Beck DVD), and Massive Attack collaborators UVA. And to make sure people were paying attention, Elektra moved its curtain rise from the busy festival month of October to the even busier month of May. The city's overwhelming array of music festivals has gone into "survival of the fittest" mode, with competition growing fiercer than ever, and music fans stand to benefit. Therefore, the opening night was intended in gesture as a grand occasion, with the vaunted Sheffield duo of Sean Booth and Rob Brown holding court in the decidedly artsy confines of Usine C. With a nearly sold out crowd in attendance and impressive turns by both SND and Gescom's Rob Hall, Autechre spun together a 90-minute set of dirge-like repetition, working off a single stream of loops to build their version of what the future of dance music ought to look like. But in the pitch-black room, with potential dancers diminished by their minimised sightlines and the music deemed too intelligent and basic (read: "smug") to actually dance to, everyone seemed a bit put off by the duo's anti-performance ethos. After all, this was a set by a once-pioneering act in the process of losing fans with every consecutive album. And they lost a few more tonight. At the other end, Front 242 had given up on credibility years ago and is now firmly entrenched in the nostalgia circuit. The aviator goggles, bicycle shorts and motorcycle boots have been traded in for white denim and Raybans. From the balcony of the Metropolis, the once young and vital 1,200 fans in attendance now formed a sea of necessary bustiers and balding crowns. The comeback was novelty rather than resurgence. To their credit, the band seemed well aware of their place and gave long-time fans what they wanted: a first-rate light show and a slew of hits from their '80s heyday. More impressive for fan adulation than musical marksmanship, Front 242 can now age comfortably in the knowledge that they built enough of an initial following to keep them busy for a while yet.