A day late and many miles away, but here nonetheless is my review of Saturday at MUTEK 2011. Would that it never ended.
Piknic 01: Floating Points, Simon Called Peter, Terry Lee Brown Jr.
Funnily enough, it took going to Montreal to make me really understand how British people feel when the sun pokes its way out from the neverending clouds. Stumbling into a sunny clearing in Parc Jean-Drapeau to find UK DJ Floating Points turning out a crowd with a funky edit of The Whatanautsï¿½ ï¿½Help Is On The Wayï¿½ (you remember this one) scraped the residue of Torontoï¿½s grey, miserable hell-spring outta my soul. I think the pictures pretty much tell the story.
Despite his billing as a lover of Detroit soundsï¿½never the slickest aesthetic by any stretchï¿½Terry Lee Brown Jr. was a little too smooth and ï¿½funkyï¿½ for my taste. By the end of the weekend I was becoming downright snobbish about certain mainstream soundsï¿½more on that in a sec. But Simon Called Peter improved things substantially with some necessarily techy roughness over at the second stage. I donï¿½t think I was the only one who was spurred on to head down the gravel path to the GURU stage when Brown Jrï¿½s gear conked out for a minute, letting Simon Called Peterï¿½s mixing tempt our ears, Pied Piper style. Only a late-set cameo by an unnamed and unskilled keyboardist put a slight damper on things. Then again, a gentleman with no shirt and a rainbow choker gave me a welcoming smile during this interlude, so I canï¿½t really complain.
A/Visions 04: Deadbeat + Lillevan, Pole
I came late to Deadbeat thanks to a line stretching around the blockï¿½the first of the fest, to the credit of the organizersï¿½and left early from Poleï¿½s set, so I wonï¿½t pretend to journalistic integrity in my assessment of either. Suffice it to say that Deadbeat isnï¿½t quite my cup of chillout/downtempo/dub/what have you, and that while Pole is a lot closer, not least because he does spectacular things with noises that other producers edit out, I canï¿½t imagine actually paying money to hear either of them. Iï¿½ve never agreed with Simon Reynoldsï¿½ assessment of the likes of the Warp roster as being too refined for the dancefloor yet too laid back to be truly exciting. And yet, the description seems to fit both acts. The only caveat is that Pole sounds better the louder his music is played, and this was very loud indeed. Who needs a melody when you find yourself with a pattern of syncopated white noise stuck in your head?
Nocturne 04: Rocketnumbernine, Four Tet, James Holden
I donï¿½t want to fault Brit duo Rocketnumbernine for not being exciting, not least in a venue where the sound man was almost certainly focused on the wholly or mostly electronic acts that were to follow. The fact that the drummer and synth-ist had an actual dynamic range seemed to confound the venue, such that when they kicked things up a notch volume-wise, the drums seemed to turn into an unpleasant roar that overwhelmed whatever groove they were developing. Still, it wasnï¿½t quite magnetic stuff. That said, and not to pat myself on the back, but I think I did hit on something with my theory that Four Tet is a remarkable collaborator because he listens to people; when he joined Rocketnumbernine for a collaboration, things improved enormously. Evidently, he heard what was needed and provided it in spades; in this case it seemed to be artfully constructed washes of static and bursts of samples, which mingled deliciously with Rocketnumbernineï¿½s resident synth playerï¿½s blips and barks to form something like music.
Praising Four Tet himself is almost beside the point. His own performance was so seemingly effortless, spinning the already-hypnotic gems from There Is Love In You into epic dancefloor throwdowns, that you forget he probably works just as hard at it as the others. He really does know exactly what heï¿½s doing, while giving the impression of making it up as he goes along. The breakbeat behind ï¿½Love Cryï¿½ was a boulder, starting an avalanche that eventually took the mountain down with it, all while this grinning head of thick hair bobbed and weaved over the gear like it was all part of his plan. The only disappointment of the set was the encore, when ï¿½Angel Echoesï¿½ seemed to cut off just as it was getting going. Pshhh. Festivals.
When James Holden came on, I felt the same as I do at this very moment: I wanted to give up and go get a sandwich, but something made me keep going. Whatever it was, it wasnï¿½t the description of Holden as a purveyor of progressive house, as misleading a genre tag as ever I heard. Anyone faced with the Teutonic synth barrage and hard but still fairly spare drums nudging them along throughout the beginning of his set would call them tech-y, if not techno outright. Holden doesnï¿½t need more cred, given his DJ Kicks and general reputation, but the man does deserve his due for being smart enough to select tunes right on the borderline of various subgenres, and fiendishly patient enough to fool whoever writes bios into thinking heï¿½s not after the same brain-melting relentlessness that your Surgeons or your Dettingers win tech-purist plaudits for. By the time Holdenï¿½s wave of sheer intensity started to crest, dear reader, I could hardly leave, even though I could hardly stay. Or stand. So I meekly swayed, grinning, until there was no other option but to crawl home and hope I didnï¿½t miss too much. As I thought then, I write now: Thereï¿½s always next year.