Imagination and innovation collided at this year’s MUTEK Montreal

Our five favourite moments from Canada's unparalleled exposition of electronic music and digital art.

Bruno Destombes
October 7, 2019

One of my first interactions with this year’s MUTEK launched with a question on categorical taxonomy during the panel “Whose Art Is It? Authorship and Agency in Algorithmic Art” that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. It was a suggestion by Mat Chivers for the future of artificial intelligence that presented a haunting proposition: at what point will we finally start classifying AI as a new species? 

Since then, I’ve been searching for the answer everywhere. When I demand that my ambiguously nameless Google speaker tell me the temperature outside instead of sticking my head out the window, or hand Siri the stopwatch on my boiled egg, it’s with a lingering uncertainty about whether I’m interacting with a machine or a subject. It dawned on me that the origin of this spiralling is unusual, and rarely is it activated in the same space as a sweaty 6AM dancefloor, or a seated mid-evening sonic excursion of electronic ambience. 

GAIKA//Bruno Destombes

But leave it to MUTEK to pull it off. After launching in Montreal in 2000, for almost two decades the festival has established itself as a global landing site—and watering hole—for some of the most forward-thinking experiments and explorations into the intersection of electronic music and digital art. With a past roster that includes everyone from Oneohtrix Point Never and Holly Herndon, to Gas and Mouse on Mars, since its inception MUTEK has organized more than 150 events around the world in cities like Dubai and Tokyo, while also growing its ambition to be the meeting point of people and culture, of machines and melody. 

It’s become the place where one night you can watch Baltimore duo Matmos critique form by looping the sounds of breaking vinyl, or the next you can hedge your bets on exactly when the bass will drop during Gaika’s explosive early morning set. It’s the kind of festival where you can then catch Drew McDowell outside of Gaika’s set and launch into a spirited and sprawling conversation about gentrification, then finally exit a 3000 person sweat fest to the sun coming up in the distance.

It’s this spirit of curiosity and interactive engagement that Mutek invites easily. Here are our five favourite moments for 2019.

Tim Hecker and the Konyono Ensemble @ Theatre Maisonneuve (8.21)

Myriam Ménard

Tim Hecker has always been at ease with the art of shapeshifting. Having last seen him play 5 years ago in complete darkness, his newest project with the Japanese gagaku ensemble found Hecker finding his footing in the world of calculated performance, goosebump-inducing density, and a sliver of whimsey.

Jen Jelenik @ Agora Hydro-Quebec de Coeur des sciences de l’UQAM (8.22)

Myriam Ménard

Access to the lauded German producer is elusive at best, and his set at UQAM took great care to muddy the lines dissonant, isolating noise, and an almost invasive kind of intimacy. With an overhead projection of Jelenik knob-turning in real time, his riveting and jarring set felt like an exploration of craftsmanship.

Ouri @ Les Studios des 7 Doights (8.23)

Bruno Destombes

As one of Canada’s most exciting breakout artists, the Montreal-based vocalist and producer pulled from her classical training to sculpt her set around precision and balance. Steadily raising the ante through rapidly accelerating house, when she finally used her vocals to cut the noise, the addition felt like a necessary exhalation, and proved her capacity as an apt Swiss army knife .  

JLIN @ MTELUS (8.24)

Bruno Destombes

After releasing her debut album Dark Energy four years ago to near-universal acclaim, the prolific footwork producer has become one of the most sought after forces in electronic music. But you already knew that, and if there’s anything left to gush over it’s her treatment of kinetic tension on the dancefloor. Positioned at the base of a towering rectangular prism, Jlin is at her most impressive when she intentionally plants easter eggs into the set, forcing you to acknowledge (and ultimately move to) the delicate edges of abrasion. 

Wajatta (Reggie Watts and John Tejada) @ MTELUS (8.24)

Bruno Destombes

I didn’t know what to expect from this performance piece between the veteran house producer and comedy chameleon, but to be extremely cheesy, I was beyond delighted. Kaleidoscope funk-house? A lot of sideways hip-swinging courtesy of Mr. Watts himself? Yeah, this was is a hard set not to fall for. 

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