Published Jun 25, 2012Surrounded by turn-of-the-century warehouses that were the breeding grounds for the city's early electronic scene, the monolithic Cube stage design at Old Market Square that houses the outdoor portion of the fledgling four-day festival is a startling contrast between the old and the new. Constructed out of interlocking chain mail that bounces multicoloured lights off its reflective surface at night, the futuristic Cube seems tailored-made for this type of event. That contrast between progress and the past would be a constant theme throughout the festival.
Under crystal-clear blue skies, Friday's portion of the three-year-old Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition (MEME) got off to an encouraging start in Winnipeg with the Connect Festival's Mikhail showing off his big-system house skills, working over the steadily increasing crowd in the Exchange District with the type of forceful, chunky beats that he has built a reputation with across the Prairies. Friday's headliner at the Cube, Phil Western, may have one of the most impressive résumés of the weekend, spending time in influential industrial act Skinny Puppy and working with cEvin Key in both Download and PlatEAU. Not as well known for his solo work, Western somehow managed to fit an array of classic synths, drum machines and effects units in the Cube's cramped stage design and performed a set of trippy, almost hypnotic techno that made you wonder why he hasn't focused more on his side of his productions.
Over at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), the late-night part of the festival on Friday night was spread out over four areas that had custom art pieces, video installations, sculptures and other art curated for the festival. The wide-open space for the gallery may have diluted the vibe in both the main and Skylight rooms, but local producer Joe Silva's all-original set of unreleased deep tech house, Deadbeat's low-end theory techno and John Tejada's Detroit-influenced chords, uplifting melodies and subtle acid undertones made it a difficult to abandon the headliners for the beats and bass that took over the rooftop patio thanks to the gorgeous weather that blessed the whole festival.
Saturday saw former Winnipegger Fishead dish out a dynamic set in the early evening that touched on two decades of electronic music, reinforced with dubby bass, classic techno, broken beats and tracks from everyone from Massive Attack to Squarepusher to Plastikman to Depeche Mode.
Before Toronto's Arthur Oskan's live headlining performance, festival director Nathan Zahn set things up for the Thoughtless Records' artist with some futuristic, bouncy techno that was the perfect lead into Oskan's pulsating chords, modulating synths and crisp 4/4 beats.
For the late-night portion of the festival on Saturday, the Manitoba Museum opened its doors for the first time for this type of event. While the lighting and some of the stark aesthetics of the three-room space left a bit to be desired, standout performances by local melodic minimal techno producer Ali Khan and Toronto's red-hot duo My Favorite Robot in the main room almost made up for the overly bright venue and underpowered sound systems. For the bass heads, the more intimate second room was ground zero for the night, with both Toronto's Marcus Visionary and Montreal's Vilify controlling the sweaty crowd with adrenaline-injected sets that had people begging for more.
The surprise of the weekend had to come from San Francisco's deep rave producer/DJ and Red Bull Music Academy alumnus Ghosts on Tape. Only his second time in Canada, the West Coast DJ cleverly fused techno's trippy, seedy underbelly with house music's hip-shaking grooves. Offering up a range of unreleased tracks from his Bay Area friends, the only complaint is that he didn't play later in the evening on Sunday or at one of the after-parties. Pearson Sound may have been the biggest name on bill, but it felt like it took nearly his whole set for the English DJ/producer formerly known as Ramadanman to get locked in. Moving between disjointed, moody melodies, shuffling percussion, bass-dominated cuts and even some dub, techno and hip-hop-influenced tracks, Pearson Sound had some of the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand, while others headed home early.
Considering that only a few years ago an electronic festival of this size and scale would have been impossible in Manitoba, it's encouraging to not only see the province's electronic community rally together to pull this off, but that in three short years MEME has solidified itself as one of the highlights on the Prairies in the summer.