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Mutek 2008

Originally published on the author’s website. Republished in eContact! 10.2 — Entrevues / Interviews with permission.

Mutek Festival
Montréal, 28 May – 1 June 2008. Various venues.

Murcof and xx+xy visuals at A\Visions 1
Murcof and xx+xy visuals at A\Visions 1. Photo: basic_sounds

For me, the end of May is always marked by a road trip to Montréal for the Mutek festival. I haven’t taken in the entire festival since 2006 as that year I realized that I have a tolerance for about ten shows in a week, after which point I start to run up a dangerous bar tab and foam at the mouth. As luck would have it, this year’s schedule condensed most of the programming I was interested in into a 48-hour window. I opted to arrive in Montréal on Thursday evening and skip the Saturday night and Sunday events and more or less saw and heard what I needed to. I’m not going to provide that much of a qualitative assessment of the artists and performances I saw and heard but what follows may provide some useful observations and links for the interested.

First and foremost, it is really great to see the scope and quality of the A/V programming improving and diversifying. This year’s lineup featured three dedicated A/V showcases and the majority of the SAT shows also featured prominent visuals. I missed several collaborations I’d like to have checked out on the first two nights, which included Murcof & xx+xy visuals, Sans Soleil & Nokami and Martin Tétrault’s artificiel.process. I was fortunate enough to check the final A/Visions showcase for the much anticipated Christian Fennesz and Lillevan collaboration. Lillevan chose to marry the shimmering textures and trademark warm Fennesz fuzz with an assortment of composites which overlaid shots panning across masonry with a variety of slow-motion swirling water vortices. The entire performance was quite dreamy and it was great to see the immaculately-controlled distortion of Fennesz visualized in an appropriately loose and moody manner. As solid as this collaboration was, it felt a little restrained, especially after the cascading celestial mood conjured during Tim Hecker’s incredible pitch dark performance.

Chic Miniature at Experience 2
Chic Miniature at Experience 2. Photo: basic_sounds

The SAT is always an essential component of the Mutek experience and this year was no different. Over the course of the Friday evening warm up party and the (rained out) Saturday piknic I was able to hear Barem, Chic Miniature, Komodo and Flying Lotus. Flying Lotus didn’t do that much for me, but his set outlined enough of a middle ground between shufflin’ J Dilla percussion and top shelf dubstep that I plan on keeping an eye out for his debut album, which drops next week on Warp. Barem was quite excellent - he’s definitely one of the more interesting cats in the minimal game at the moment. My great regret of the festival is having to miss Marcello Marandola perform his Des Cailloux et du Carbone project in order to scoot over to the Tim Hecker / Fennesz show.

Sans Soleil and Nokami at A\Visions 2
Sans Soleil and Nokami at A\Visions 2. Photo: basic_sounds

Friday’s Nocturne event was a pretty good indicator that Mutek finally seems to have pulled together its programming for the larger events. The last few years’ larger events have been quite erratic and sullied with some outright bad programming and performances. To see a lineup of Kid Koala, Megasoid and Modeselektor shadowed by a mini-minimal room featuring Dave Aju, Half Hawaii and Jeremy P. Caufield is proof positive that Mutek has really figured out how to balance mass-appeal with more left-of-centre performances. Beyond this, Megasoid and Kid Koala’s inclusion suggests the festival has conducted some much-needed musical outreach into the broader Montréal music scene. As for the performances, Modeselektor seems to have kicked their rave nostalgia up another few notches and as much as I appreciate their energy and sound design I’m really not a fan (although their 2006 Mutek performance was the stuff of legends). I rolled into Metropolis quite late, just as Half Hawaii was tearing down and Jeremy P. Caufield was hitting the decks. Jeremy is an old friend, and I haven’t heard him DJ for several years. To hear him bump out a totally fresh extended set of bleepy minimal was fantastic. I’ve been over saturated with minimal-mediocrity over the last few years so any opportunity to hear the sound DJ’d well is welcomed with open arms.

Over the past couple years my reviews of Mutek have been quite mixed, but the five shows I attended this year gave me a little more optimism about the direction of the festival. Watching the Montréal community slowly drift away from their experimental origins (see the original Mutek lineup) has been a little distressing but I suppose the nature of scenes and movements is that they fade away or become institutionalized. I think Mutek appears to finally be striking the right balance between adventurous programming and larger events without ghettoizing the experimental content — no small feat. I can only really comment on the shows I was at, but this year things felt quite positive, rather than tentative.

If you’re on the prowl for more scuttlebutt about Mutek 08, the events pages at Create Digital Music / Noise are quite comprehensive and worth visiting. Ken Taylor of XLR8R has also been posting about his experiences on the XLR8R blog and no doubt our friend at basic_sounds (thanks for the images) will be posting on the festival soon as well.

Addendum: A review and lots of photographs have been posted on basic_sounds since the writing of this review.

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