For anyone attending or travelling to MEME for the first time, the monolithic style stage design of the Cube can be a startling contrast to the turn-of-the-century warehouses that surround the area. Controversial in its design and appearance, the Cube has been home to MEME since its inception and seems tailored made for the cutting-edge electronic programming that ends up beamed out from its intricate metal exterior. Located in downtown Winnipeg, Old Market Square is the gathering spot for the free outdoor portion of the festival. Thanks to a sizeable increase to the sound, lights and visuals at the Cube, which included large scale projections on surrounding buildings, it's an impressive calling card for the city as it has to be one of the most unique venues in an urban setting for electronic music events in North America.
After a strong opening night of locals and ex-Winnipeggers spread out over two clubs and covering a wide slate of electronic music, Regina's Mikhail got the first night at the Cube off to a promising start with his chunky, big-system house sound that got the crowd out of their post-work doldrums. Now in techno's creative hub, Berlin, Australia's Deepchild brought together elements of free-flowing techno, trippy acid and raw tech-house, even dropping a cut by Joey Beltram and other like-minded classics, which significantly raised the bar on performances for the rest of the festival.
Later at the official after-party at the expansive three-room space at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), relative rookie DJ Justin Kace had built up a well-balanced, deep tech-house vibe on the patio area with cuts like "Pyramid" by Fabian Argomedo and "Flight Deck" by Macronism, setting up Thoughtless Records' boss Noah Pred for his second appearance at MEME after headlining the first year at the Cube. Pred showed off once again why he is one of the most underrated Canadian exports living in Europe.
One downside to the night was capacity issues made it difficult to move freely between rooms, forcing people to decide between staying where they were and missing some of the headliners, including Boddhi Satva, who had a significant buzz heading into the event.
In the main area at the WAG, Berlin's Daniel Steinberg closed off the night after solid opening sets from local André Bisseck and west coast imports The Librarian and Max Ulis. Ulis kept things raw and bassy when it needed to be, giving Steinberg the perfect platform to work from. He wasted no time getting the room pumping, dropping a number of his own cuts including "Joy & Happiness," along with Matthew Dear's "Mouth to Mouth," Stereo Express's "Shadoorack," Super Flu featuring Hjalmar's "Va Ga Va Ga" and Trus'Me's stomper, "Somebody."
Saturday saw a six-hour run of some of the veterans of the local electronic scene including Nikki Volan, Dier, Mike Jasper, Ali Khan (who performed live), Mich EP and festival director Nathan Zahn all taking full advantage of the beefed-up sound at the Cube to deliver proof that Manitoba acts are the foundation of the festival and that they are the lifeblood of the scene as the house and techno community continues to grow. Earlier in the day, indie electronic acts Hana Lulu and Vikings offered a fitting contrast to the DJ-heavy line-up. By the time that former Glasgow-based legend Funk D'Void took the stage later in the evening, the near-capacity crowd had been worked up to a frenzy by Zahn's mind-bending approach to techno. Funk D'Void only built up the anxiety-inducing atmosphere further, pushing out forceful techno that at times felt like it was going to cause a heart attack with his skilful tension and release delivery, before bring things down with James Holden's remix of Nathan Fake's "The Sky Was Pink."
Later that night at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre, it felt like a good portion of the crowd was there to see Vancouver's Longwalkshortdock's first appearance in the province. Looking every bit the metal fan he proclaimed to be, LWSD's aggressive, almost bombastic sound and engaging stage presence was hard to ignore. Just prior to LWSD, transplanted Canadian Sid Le Rock won over a whole legion of new fans after his impressive live set, drawing parallels between techno's past and its future. Unfortunately for My Favorite Robot's Jared Simms, the expansive space in the main room and the last-minute decision to have him follow LWSD meant that he played to a sparse crowd as the remaining late night partygoers headed downstairs for local tech-house producer/DJ Joe Silva's anticipated performance.
Despite a rain delay of an hour and a half at the final day at the Cube, the decision to broaden the techno-dominated line-up seemed to pay off with a well received performance by Drumspyder, whose live hand drumming gave a unique quality and dynamic texture to his world-beat-flavoured tracks. New Zealand's Truth gave the PK Sound rig a real workout, dropping his own bass heavy cuts like "Empire" and "I Belong" along with Shy FX & UK Apache's classic "Original Nuttah," before finishing his set with Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name Of." Closing out the free portion at the Cube, Los Angeles' based Desert Dwellers performed live, bridging together world-beat, dub, breakbeats and bass into a vibe that was decidedly West coast, but fit the overall theme of the day.
With the entire festival experience feeling like it had levelled up considerably, with top-notch sound and visuals at all the after-party events and at the Cube, the one downside of the programming was there could have been more traditional house acts thrown into the mix. While this may be a small beef, it could go a long way to drawing in more casual fans and broadening the appeal of some of the events.
Now that MEME has proven itself to Winnipeggers and the carloads of electronic music lovers coming in from Saskatchewan, it will be interesting to see how long it takes to get on the radar of travel hunger North American festival fans looking for something different.