Montreal’s Mutek festival frames ‘electronic music as contemporary art’

“You have to trust people who come regularly and know (who’s who) to guide your journey. … You say, ‘Oh, that looks weird’, but you still come to be confronted with the music you hear.”

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Marie-Laure Saidani compares Mutek to a leap of faith. Montreal’s self-described “international festival of digital creativity and electronic music” is all about discovery, making viewing the program more like a walk in the dark than a walk in the park.

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“It’s a festival where most people don’t know anything (about who’s performing), but they have to trust us,” she said of the event, which returns after two pandemic-induced hybrid incarnations for its 23rd edition, August 23-28. in and around the Quartier des Brillen.

“People come to Mutek to discover incredible performances,” said Saidani, a third of the festival programming team alongside Vincent Lemieux and event founder, artistic and general director Alain Mongeau. “You have to trust people who come regularly and know (who’s who) to guide your journey, or what staff recommend, or what you see on the internet. You think, ‘Oh, that looks weird’, but you still come to be confronted with the music you hear.”

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Mutek is the opposite of Montreal’s mainstream, massive electronic music festival ÎleSoniq, which drew tens of thousands of revelers to Parc Jean-Drapeau a few weeks ago. While Mutek maintains ties to the DJ culture by presenting many house and techno artists, the sounds are more subtle, the aesthetics more refined, and the experience always tends towards the unexpected.

“When people think of Mutek, they think of electronic music, they think of DJs,” Mongeau said, “but almost 100 percent of the performances are live. … It may be pedantic, but it’s like we (the idea of) electronic to defend music as contemporary art.”

“I don’t think it’s pedantic,” Lemieux intervened. “That’s why we only present artists who play live. We want artists with an (artistic) process. There are all kinds of DJs – some do music – but we don’t want to focus on that.”

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“Nothing against DJs,” Mongeau added.

Italian modular synth composer Caterina Barbieri will give an audiovisual performance on August 25.
Italian modular synth composer Caterina Barbieri will give an audiovisual performance on August 25. Photo by Jim C. Nedd /Mutek

Of the 77 performances at this year’s festival, 55 are Quebec premieres, 23 world premieres, and 16 artists will be performing in North America for the first time. There are even some artists performing live for the first time, at the behest of the festival, which constantly forces creators to step out of their comfort zone.

“The fresh side of the festival is very important,” says Mongeau.

Mutek’s program is structured like a journey, he noted, with a narrative arc stretching over the course of the week, from more intellectual, experimental, or understated offerings in the early days to crowd-pleasing romps at MTelus on Fridays and Saturdays.

Within all that, and from venue to venue on any given night, there is a wide variety of music.

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“We try not to be too defined by a particular sound,” Lemieux said. “If you go to the jazz festival, it’s not just jazz bands; there are all kinds of artists who touch jazz. We try to be as open as possible, take off our blinders, stay young and open-minded.”

After Mutek first met its target for gender equality in its programming in 2018, Mutek will hit the target again in 2022, making it one of the rare music festivals in Quebec to do so.

“It’s a central part of the construction of our programming,” Mongeau said.

One of his top picks in this year’s lineup is veteran UK deep techno DJ and geneticist (with a PhD in computational biology) Max Cooper, who will be performing Aether, a 3D audiovisual installation with UK multidisciplinary design studio Architecture Social Club. , Tuesday, August 23 at 9 p.m. on MTelus.

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“It will definitely be one of the highlights of the festival,” Mongeau said.

He also points to festival and audience favorite Nicola Cruz. The Ecuadorian DJ producer, who mixes traditional Afro-Latin sounds with techno beats, will play at the SAT on Wednesday, August 24 at 9 p.m. as part of the Nocturne 1 program.

“He’s presenting a new live show for Montreal,” Mongeau said. “His music and his relationship with the audience is always changing.”

Mongeau also recommends Italian modular synth composer Caterina Barbieri, whose hypnotic compositions evoke altered states of consciousness. She will give an audiovisual performance on Thursday, August 25 at 9 pm in MTelus as part of the esoteric Nocturne 2 program.

“That evening is a kind of cabaret électronique of artists who experiment with all kinds of forms,” ​​says Mongeau. “It’s a great example of Mutek’s left field.”

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Vocal duo Tarta Relena
Vocal duo Tarta Relena “make Catalan folk music that sounds like Gregorian chant,” says Mutek programmer Marie-Laure Saidani. Photo by Mutek

Highlights of Lemieux’s program include Afriqua, a Berlin-based American pianist, DJ and producer covering hip-hop, funk, soul and techno, who takes the stage at MTelus Saturday night/Sunday morning from 2 to 3:30 AM as the closing set of the program Nocturne 4 (starts at 10 p.m.).

“He’s an artist I’ve been following for a long time, but who’s never played live,” said Lemieux. “He is very versatile; it’s interesting to watch it evolve. And he’s probably a good artist because he’s very entertaining.”

Lemieux also mentions Welsh minimal techno producer Koreless, also on Saturday’s Nocturne 4 poster. “I really liked his album Agor (2021),” he said. “It’s kind of cold music, but really well constructed and super original in composition.”

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The Indonesian electro-punk duo Gabber Modus Operandi is
Indonesian electro-punk duo Gabber Modus Operandi is “ultrapunk”, says Mutek programmer Marie-Laure Saidani. Photo by Mutek

Saidani singles out Tarta Relena, a female vocal duo from Catalonia, who will be playing on the SAT on Friday, August 26 at 10pm as part of the Play 2 programme.

“They make Catalan folk music that sounds like Gregorian chant,” she said. “They gave the best show I saw in 2021, at the Rewire Festival in the Netherlands. No one (in the crowd) moved for 20 minutes.”

Her other must-see is Gabber Modus Operandi, an experimental duo from Bali, Saturday, August 27 at 10pm in the SAT as part of the Play 3 program.

“They probably played the best show I’ve seen in my life,” Saidani said. “It’s ultra punk. Some people may be afraid; it’s like flowing anarchy, a cross between hardcore punk, techno, metal and traditional Indonesian music. Prepare to be blown away.”

If you prefer your electro outdoors, Mutek’s Experience series takes the free outdoor stage of the Esplanade Tranquille in Clark and Ste-Catherine Sts. on, August 23 to 28 from 5pm to 11pm (6:30pm to 11pm on Aug 23), and the festival commanders Piknic Électronik Aug 28 from 2pm to 9:30pm


Mutek runs from August 23 to 28. For tickets and more information, visit

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