EM15: A Day By Day Guide To The Festival

Comrades! Let us now praise the glorious union of Montreal’s MUTEK and Elektra festivals in EM15, whose roster of gigs between Tuesday May 27 and Sunday June 1 is so good, mine eyes can barely stand to look at it. Mostly because I can’t go this year. But for those who can, let me assist you in choosing from among the 85 (!!) performances. Why? Because it’s basically this site in festival form. From Ricardo Villalobos to Pinch to Shackleton to Oneohtrix Point Never to Lee Bannon to Jonas Reinhardt to Tim Hecker to Move D (the latter four of which I didn’t even get to in the festival preview that follows), the artists at this year’s fest are in my opinion among the best that ever did it.

Check out the festival preview below; full passes and some of the individual shows appear to be sold out, but many gigs and several of the packages are available.


MUTEK Day 3: Git it in your soul

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 Whatanauts� �Help Is On The Way� (you remember this one) scraped the residue of Toronto�s grey, miserable hell-spring outta my soul. I think the pictures pretty much tell the story.

Despite his billing as a lover of Detroit sounds�never the slickest aesthetic by any stretch�Terry Lee Brown Jr. was a little too smooth and �funky� for my taste. By the end of the weekend I was becoming downright snobbish about certain mainstream sounds�more on that in a sec. But Simon Called Peter improved things substantially with some necessarily techy roughness over at the second stage. I don�t think I was the only one who was spurred on to head down the gravel path to the GURU stage when Brown Jr�s gear conked out for a minute, letting Simon Called Peter�s 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 can�t really complain.


A/Visions 04: Deadbeat + Lillevan, Pole

I came late to Deadbeat thanks to a line stretching around the block�the first of the fest, to the credit of the organizers�and left early from Pole�s set, so I won�t pretend to journalistic integrity in my assessment of either. Suffice it to say that Deadbeat isn�t 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 can�t imagine actually paying money to hear either of them. I�ve never agreed with Simon Reynolds� 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 don�t 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 wasn�t 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 Rocketnumbernine�s resident synth player�s 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 he�s doing, while giving the impression of making it up as he goes along. The breakbeat behind �Love Cry� 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 �Angel Echoes� 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 wasn�t 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 doesn�t 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 he�s not after the same brain-melting relentlessness that your Surgeons or your Dettingers win tech-purist plaudits for. By the time Holden�s 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 didn�t miss too much. As I thought then, I write now: There�s always next year.

Friday at MUTEK: Sweet relief


“Bon weekend!” Don’t mind if I do, mister bus driver man. My MUTEK kicked off in fine fashion on Friday, after a quiet bus journey to Montreal punctuated only by extreme hunger when the fine people at Coach Canada refused to let us off at Kingston to get food, asking us instead to purchase their sandwiches from the smiling man kindly blocking the rear doors. Somehow this struck me as distinctly Ontarian. On to Quebec.

A/Visions 02: Sutekh, Comaduster, Murcof + AntiVJ

Since I came here expecting to dance, I was amused to note that the first gig I’d be taking in was a sit-down affair. Even more uncharacteristically, there was a piano at centre stage. When Sutekh a.k.a. glitchy experimental vet Seth Horvitz came out in vest and tie and stood next to the piano, I assumed this was the prelude. No, it was one of Yamaha’s digital player pianos, and after he left, we never saw him again. It wasn’t hard to imagine why — if the crowd had tomatoes, he would have been a target once we realized we were being subjected to an interminable piano suite that consisted of cascading patterns that clearly weren’t being played by a human. Unfortunately it was clearly written by a human, one who failed to exploit the possibilities, or present a more edited version of the few successes, of what was a pretty nifty idea to start with. As I said to my friend, I preferred the single edit.

After a generic set from Comaduster � seriously, if you wanted to put ‘minimal experimental tech/glitch’ in the dictionary, get a sample of this guy’s set, complete with a visual backing of still photos of globs of stuff going in and out of focus � we got Murcof, whose album Cosmos made quite a thing in recent years. Of that, we got a short but powerful blast, namely some astonishing orchestral drone that I would have loved to hear more of. Not being hugely familiar with Murcof, I enjoyed his recent stuff rather than a sampling of his older material, which sounded dated to my ears. But major praise is due for improving with time, a rare and valuable thing. What he could do with a cello sample, twisted and distended but still recognizably alive, is remarkable. And an even huger bit of praise is due for AntiVJ, whose computer-generated latticeworks and bubbles leaped handily over the screen-saver-wank of novice VJs and into genuinely interesting, arresting, moving art that I would pay to see on its own, even.

Nocturne 02: FaltyDL, Anstam, Modeselektor

We had to miss Siriusmo and Jacques Greene in order to see Murcof, but a balance is important. And we definitely caught the other side of MUTEK when we turned up at Metropolis to see FaltyDL taking the stage and dropping some seriously swishy garage (and here I don’t mean the UK version), complete with some rave-y breaks and… yes… bongos. The crowd generally ate it up, being of a more Euro disposition than you might get in Toronto at, say, Wrongbar; in fact it was when the man born Drew Lustman threw in some more characteristically dubstep and heavy stuff that the dance machine ground to a halt. I think he was pissed off, in fact, since he ended his set on Squarepusher’s fun but aggressive “My Red Hot Car.” Whatever, guy — I liked it.

I did not like Anstam, however, at all. “Industrial dubstep” is not a genre that needed to exist, in my opinion, not when you have Benga pushing out stuff that’s both speaker-chewing and funky; taking away the groove and making it harder and more painful is like taking a cupcake and replacing the icing with toothpaste. Too loud and painfully dry.

I knew Modeselektor would provide everything Anstam didn’t, but even I was shocked by just how fun and populist they would be, even here at MUTEK. They dropped french rappers TTC in an obvious sop to the crowd; they threw in some dancehall; hell, I was surprised they didn’t break out the beach balls and confetti cannons. But quickly they got into some rubbery bass business that hit like the first warm breeze of summer, and all the tension of sitting in a desk chair for months, as well as sitting on a bus all day, melted into air. The duo cockily rewinded their tunes until they were satisfied; no complaints here, either.

Tomorrow: reviewing Plastikman, hopefully catching some of Tomas Jirku, and telling you how much I like sleeping in. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.