Published Jun 04, 2013This past week saw the 14th edition of the MUTEK electronic music festival descend on downtown Montreal. It had arguably the strongest lineup the festival has seen in recent years: several returning performers presented new work, many breakthrough artists gave debut Canadian shows and there were premieres aplenty, North American and worldwide, for performances both musical and audio-visual.
The festival's free Expérience section, held indoors this year, saw a wide range of sets from up-and-coming acts such as local duo Yes Ma'am, Gatineau-based MacGuffin and Vancouver's Jesse Bru. Other highlights included the powerful yet minimal sub-bass experience of Emptyset sharing the bill with Japan's Ryoichi Kurokawa, who brought a stunning visual presentation that included photographs of hundreds of human and animal eyes with their pupils fixed centre-screen; a hypnotic foray into dancefloor music by Jon Hopkins, who had the crowd in the palm of his dextrous hands until delivering a tidal wave of release at the last hurdle; Jamie Lidell jamming with Brandt Brauer Frick; the giddying DROMOS audio-visual presentation by Maotik & Fraction and a fitting closing set by Juju & Jordash.
With three separate performances and a panel discussion, Nils Frahm was the second-busiest man at the festival after Matthew Herbert. Herbert presented two ground-breaking performances, a DJ set as Wishmountain and several interviews and discussions.
Hamburg's famed Dial label had a big presence at this year's festival with a stellar performance from Ohio-born John Roberts and a marathon DJ set from Efdemin closing down Saturday night's party. The festival was brought to a close by a truly one-off spectacle from Dial alumnus Pantha Du Prince & the Bell Laboratory, whose mind-blowing percussion sextet created an almost religious experience in their translation of Pantha du Prince's electronic compositions that had the crowd dancing on their feet and grinning from ear to ear in the formal setting of the Maison Symphonique.
The Sunday finale also saw two stellar performances from piano prodigy Nils Frahm, one at the MUTEK Boiler Room party in the Satosphére — the dome built atop the Société Des Arts Technologiques — and a repeat performance of his prepared piano set. For those not at the Boiler Room event, the rain thankfully held off for the MUTEK edition of Piknic Électronik, with an awesome surprise set from John Talabot vs. Alex Bowman.
The experience of MUTEK is as much about the panels, workshops, audio-visual presentations and community building amongst participants as it is about the music. The strength of the festival is that it builds upon its past successes every year, never becoming complacent, staying agile and ahead of new trends, showcasing new projects like Poirier's Boundary and SlowPitch's meditation on snails while paying homage to pioneers like Robert Hood, Juan Atkins and Moritz Von Oswald.
Unlike festivals that may be more based on wall-to-wall sponsorship and EDM hysteria, MUTEK creates the perfect balance of the academic and the danceable, meaning that wherever you are on the electronic spectrum, you'll find something of value to either ponder or groove to — or, maybe, both at the same time.
See our full list of 2013 MUTEK concert reviews here, and browse a full photo gallery of reviewer Dustin Morris' festival photos here.