Monday, June 21, 2010

B12, "Electro-Soma"; New Pornographers, "Together"

B12, "Electro-Soma"

It's somewhat inexplicable (as in, I have no good explanation for this, no way to possibly excuse myself) that I still have not heard every release in Warp's famed Artificial Intelligence series. For a long while, the list was only three: Polygon Window's "Surfing on Sine Waves" (still the best release of Richard James' career), Autechre's "Incunabula", and the final album in the series, the "Artificial Intelligence II" compilation. In my defense, I listened to these three albums all the freaking time. And I owned the "AI II" video on VHS!

A number of years later, I bought the first AI comp (far inferior to the second) and FUSE's "Dimension Intrusion" in second hand shops. I've never understood why the latter album was part of this series, seeing as it's far "clubbier" than the rest of the "bedroom techno" that Warp was trying to promote around that time. I also can't understand why I had bought so many other Richie Hawtin releases before getting around to buying this one.

After buying B12's "Electro-Soma", this leaves me with The Black Dog's "Bytes" and Speedy J's "Ginger" to complete the series. I've heard parts of both, and while I was never much of a Black Dog fan, I have about a zillion releases by Jochem Paap + his various aliases. So how and why not "Ginger"? What can I tell you, it's a mystery that can't be explained.

"Electro-Soma" and "Incunabula" would have been better off swapping titles. B12's album is the one that's constructed from techno's most basic building blocks, while Autechre's album is the electro-funk chillout album made by aliens. Even in 1993, I'm not sure that "Electro-Soma" offered many surprises, it's a solid album that does a remarkably faithful job of copying the best ideas of Detroit's first wave of techno artists, but it's not much more than that. It's a bit disappointing, although not as disappointing as the follow-up, "Time Tourist" (yeah, for maybe ten years I owned the follow-up to "Electro-Soma" but never owned or heard "Electro-Soma". I know, it defies logic and reason).

I'm sure that this point has been beaten into the ground by others, but even though Warp famously asked "are you sitting comfortably?" in the liner notes to the first AI comp, almost everything in the ensuing series was instantly and infectiously danceable except for Autechre and Polygon Window, so it's perhaps no surprise that those two ended up epitomizing IDM. Sure, it's possible to dance to those two albums (PW's "Quoth" still sneaks its way into some DJ sets even today) but the music is divorced from the usual vocabulary of dancefloor music, even in 2010, they sound foreign, other-worldly, nothing like conventional club music from any era.

New Pornographers, "Together"

I have no idea what all the complaining is about, "Together" is a fantastic album, better than anything they've done except for possibly "Mass Romantic". It seems that people are upset that the album doesn't "rock" enough. I guess it comes down to how much you liked the more wistful and introspective sound of "Challengers". Or whether you prefer to hear another 1000 re-writes of "Sing Me Spanish Techno" and "Letter From an Occupant". Don't get me wrong -- if any band could get away with repeating themselves ad infinitum, it's New Pornographers. They managed it over their first three albums (which all sounded exactly the same) and nobody complained. But "Together" might be the most hook-filled album of their career. They've already mastered bouncy power-pop, now they're mastering mid-tempo rock ballads -- listen to "My Shepherd" and try telling me that they've forgotten how to write a great chorus.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

MUTEK 2010, Postscript

-- I saw performances by 51 acts, totaling approx 40-42 hours of music plus another four hours spread over three panels/Q&A sessions, for about 44-46 hours of MUTEK activities. This included possibly the longest day of live music ever in my life (Day Four, fourteen hours from start to finish, about ten of those hours were spent watching live music). That's my best estimate, since I didn't keep track of the clock like I did in 2003, when I saw "just" 42 h 45 m of performances plus panels/discussions. Well, that explains why I was so tired by Day Five. Actually, it wasn't so much that I was tired, I wasn't exactly dead on my feet, but I was far less enthused about spending a fifth straight day going out to the clubs. Then again, I've never been to any sort of conference where I wasn't almost completely burned out by the fifth day.

-- The best five performances of the festival were:
1. Nurse With Wound
2. Shed
3. King Midas Sound
4. Aun
5. Moritz von Oswald Trio

In the second tier I'd put (in no particular order): Minilogue, Henrik Schwarz, Matmos, Nathan Fake, and Theo Parrish.

On paper, the lineup wasn't as strong as it has been in the past, for instance, both Gas and Moderat performed last year and I would have given my front teeth to see either of them, which I wouldn't say about anyone who performed this year. However, the acts I was most anticipating were all fantastic and more than delivered on my expectations (namely, my entire top five minus Aun, who were new to me), and there were no duds, so you can't ask for much more than that.

-- I was trying to tell my story by using the photos to guide the narrative, with the limitation of one photo per act (the exceptions were Senor Coconut and Theo Parrish). I tried to take pictures of everyone, but not every band I saw was pictured in the blog recap. If the pictures weren't good or interesting enough, I didn't include them even if I liked the performance. Although as you might expect, if I was really enjoying the performance then I generally went more out of my way to get quality photos.

-- Most disappointing section: A/Visions 4. Vladislav Delay didn't bring anything new to the table, and although his set was a nice throwback to the Clicks and Cuts era, he was always one of my least favourite Chain Reaction artists. CM von Hausswolff was excellent, Tim Hecker was subpar (this was the fifth or sixth time I've seen him, and this was easily the least enjoyable set out of the bunch), and Ben Frost was good but not as overwhelming as I had hoped. The Hecker/Frost collaboration at the end was great, but far too short. I thought that sound quality was a big issue here. It wasn't nearly loud enough, which was odd considering how much these guys talked up the need to "feel" the sound of their live performances during their Q&A.

-- Best session: Nocturne 5, and I never would have predicted it. Four superlative performances, four completely different styles of music. I was burned out and was expecting to leave a bit early, but I was energized and entranced by nospectacle and Moritz von Oswald Trio, and Brand Brauer Frick provided a further shot of adrenaline. After five days of techno and experimental wibbling, MUTEK needed Theo Parrish. I was seriously burned out, I needed to hear something different, I needed Theo Parrish too, and I had no idea how much until he actually hit the decks. And from the buzz in the room (hardly anybody left before 2:30 AM, on a Sunday night no less), I'm guessing that Montreal needed Theo Parrish too. Out of the four MUTEK's that I attended, this was the best concluding section (although 2003 comes close).

-- The festival was originally conceived in order "to explore the intersection between sound, music and new media". This more academic side of the festival is now almost completely absent. Besides the one workshop that was sponsored by Roland (I didn't go), the whole "sound design" underpinnings, the idea that you could go to MUTEK and talk to people about software design and laptop culture, has virtually disappeared. MUTEK is a big party, you don't have to be "in the know" to enjoy yourself, you don't need to ponder the potential ramifications of Force Inc. opening an office in Montreal. I would suggest that this is the single biggest reason for the festival's rapid growth over the last few years. Picnik Electronic is a symbol of this shift in thinking.

-- A short follow-up to that point: in 2003, nearly all the performances were centred around laptops. Almost every performer in 2010 incorporated a laptop into their setup, but in plenty of cases, the laptop was nowhere near the centre of the spectacle. There were a startling number of "band" acts this year (MvO Trio, Matias Aguayo Band, Nurse With Wound, Marsen Jules, Guillaume Coutu Dumont, Senor Coconut, Brand Brauer Frick) plus other acts that rely on guitars or keyboards or live sampling or some other sort of "physical" type of sound creation (Matmos, Bernier and Messier, [The User], Jon Hopkins, Aun).

-- Another possible follow-up: is it just me, or has the average age of the performers gone way up? This would be due to: a) the scene itself is older, so naturally there are more veterans of the scene, b) laptoppery is more of a young man's game, the increase in the number of "bands" leaves more space for people who would otherwise be alienated from that side of the game.

-- MUTEK's programming schedule is starting to mimic that of the Montreal Jazz Festival, namely, with regard to the number of free live shows. Like the jazzfest, you could have a perfectly good time at the festival without buying a single ticket. The free shows feature mainly Canadian artists, with a few big international names sprinkled in, while the more devoted fans of the music will buy tickets to the clubs to see the bigger, more elaborate shows. Considering the success of the free show headlined by Senor Coconut, I'd expect that they're looking to increase the number of outdoor concerts in future years.

If you include the two Piknics (which are so cheap that they're practically free), then it adds up to nearly thirty hours of free music, with about half of it taking place outdoors.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

MUTEK 2010, Day Five

Piknic Electronic -- Indoor Edition

Sunday's Piknic Electronik was moved indoors to Metropolis because of heavy rain. Which is really too bad, because who wants to party indoors at three in the afternoon? The picture was taken in the nearly empty club just as Dave Aju was replacing Nicolas Jaar.

Dave Aju

Dave Aju's supremely funky set was packed full of positive vibes, punctuated by his own energetic live vocals. If this had been held outside in the sun in front of a crowd of hundreds of people of all ages (like Minologue's set from the previous day), it would have been remembered as one of the highlights of the festival. But in front of fifty people indoors as the same venue that hosted an all-night party twelve hours earlier ... right guy, right style of music, great performance, wrong weather. Nobody's fault, of course, but Aju gave it his all and I salute him for that.

Pepe Braddock

The crowds finally turned up for Pepe Braddock's DJ set. It must be a French thing. This was the only point in the afternoon where it felt as if there was a real party happening in Metropolis' main room.

Chris McNamara presents nospectacle

Chris McNamara presents nospectacle -- ambient house par excellence.

Moritz von Oswald Trio

The first ten minutes were a bit shaky and disjointed, but once Moritz von Oswald Trio found their groove, they were unstoppable.

Brandt Brauer Frick

Brandt Brauer Frick lit a fire under the crowd at SAT. Who are these guys and why don't more electronic music bands use "live" drummers?

Theo Parrish

I was exhausted even at the start of the day and didn't expect to last much past midnight. As it turned out, after five days of techno and experimental weirdness, I couldn't imagine a better finish to the festival than a set of funk, soul, and downtempo house from Theo Parrish.

The End

The end of MUTEK 2010, well after 3 AM on Monday morning.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

MUTEK 2010, Day Four

If anyone needed convincing that MUTEK isn't a party for laptop geeks, then this was the day to see.

My day at the festival started near 3 PM with this:

Piknic Electronik

and finished nearly fourteen hours later with this:


OK, we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Starting from the beginning:


There was steady rain up until about 3 PM, and then again after 5 PM. Inbetween those hours, the utterly fantastic Minilogue played to mostly sunshine at Piknic Electronik. Coincidence? You decide.

SAT during Vladislav Delay's set

Near the back of SAT during Vladislav Delay's set. For forty five minutes, it's the sound of the year 2000 all over again. After yesterday's discussion panel about the use of performance space, and the emphasis on listening to a performance rather than being distracted by visual displays or what have you (everyone performed in near complete darkness), I decided to stand in the centre of the room for most of A/Visions 4, to maximize my listening.

Nearly nine years ago to the day, at the start of Saturday night's activities at MUTEK, I was lounging on a mat in SAT listening to Dettinger at around 10 PM with maybe fifty other people (Dettinger was awesome, but that's not the point I'm making). Today, this is the start of MUTEK's Saturday night:

Senor Coconut and his Orchestra

The crowd goes wild

Senor Coconut again

If you were going to pick one guy to headline the biggest concert in MUTEK's history, to draw in curiosity seekers and make the broadest spectrum of people happy, then there was really no other choice. Who can resist Senor Coconut and his Orchestra? Their 10th anniversary concert, no less! Boring people might complain that they played a number of Kraftwerk covers even though they promised to retire those songs here at MUTEK seven years ago. Why hate on fun?

Move D

Warming up the house with Move D at Metropolis.

Guillaume Coutu Dumont and the Side Effects

Why can't all jazzy house sound more like Guillaume Coutu Dumont and the Side Effects? These guys don't just lay down a track and throw on a sax loop, they play live dammit.

Henrik Schwarz

The view from the balcony, where my second wind kicked in thanks to Henrik Schwarz's storming set.


As Dixon took over on the decks (that's Henrik Schwarz relaxing in the background), I knew I was done. But on the way out of the venue, I peeked into the Savoy room ...

More Konque

Konque are like dubstep on helium. As I watched people get freaky to this stuff in Metropolis' hot, sweaty side room, it almost felt like the real party had been in here all along ...

Saturday, June 05, 2010

MUTEK 2010, Day Three

Panel Discussion 3

Pimmon, CM von Hausswolff, Tim Hecker, and Ben Frost discuss "The Physicality of Sound". This was a fantastic panel discussion, one of the best I've ever seen over the years at MUTEK.

The Square Root of Evil

The cheekily-named The Square Root of Evil played industrial-rave over bizarre video projections featuring cats and raining sushi. How this was supposed to connect to the music, I have no idea. Fun but forgettable.

Thierry Gaultier

Thierry Gaultier opens the A/Visions 3 session, the longest and most soothing one yet.

Marsen Jules Trio + VJ Nicolai Konstantinovic

Marsen Jules Trio (with VJ Nicolai Konstantinovic) brought the electroacoustic spirit of Em:t back to life. Or at least that's how it was for me.


The mood of the night change changed abruptly as I dashed out of A/Visions 3 (which ran long) and down the street to Club Soda. One minute you're watching Marsen Jules create drones and feedback by amplifying and processing the resonances of water glasses, the next minute you're brushing past the prostitutes hanging around outside the strip clubs on St. Laurent. I was in a hurry for a good reason -- to catch the final minutes of Orphyx.


Techno packed in the crowds tonight. Actress played second on the bill and the place was already jammed.

Cheap and Deep

I caught the first twenty or so minutes from Cheap and Deep and dashed down the street to SAT for ...

King Midas Sound

On record, King Midas Sound are a bit sleepy. But live ... wait, I thought that Kevin Martin would actually put people to sleep? This was every bit as extreme and intense as anything else he's done in his career.

Jacek Sienkiewicz

Club Soda stays jacked thanks to Jacek Sienkiewicz.


The sweatiest set of the festival thus far belongs to Shed. If you've never heard his music, it's a combination of hard techno beats (much more aggressive than most "minimal") and extremely simple, sometimes even quiet and subtle melodies. OK, that formula might not sound particularly original but the secret to Shed is ... well, there's actually no secret. He just does that style really really really well. Shame about the 3 AM curfew. This entire session really should have taken place at Metropolis, switching places with the MoM/Nathan Fake session.

Friday, June 04, 2010

MUTEK 2010, Day Two

Matmos Q&A

Q&A with Matmos, interviewed by Wire's Derek Walmsley. Funny guys! (yes, it goes without saying)

King Midas Sound Q&A

A revealing and very personal Q&A with King Midas Sound.

Sebastian Cliche

Perhaps I'm the only one who was reminded of Coin Gutter's set from MUTEK 2003. Dark ambient music constantly bristling with almost unbearable tension -- the world premiere of Sebastian Cliche's "Restless Inertia".


Aun present their piece entitled "Black Pyramid". Another world premiere. A riveting performance that combined shoegazer noise and blistering, heavy drones. People slowly filed out during their performance. Being hungry is not an excuse for leaving early!

Freda Abtan

A/Visions 2 felt like a series of video installations set to music, not the other way around. The videos were nearly too good. Freida Abtan's exquisitely lush videos were really something else.

The Caretaker

The Caretaker presented a slide show of his drink and debauchery exploits in Berlin while drinking a bottle of whisky and doing very little else.

Nurse With Wound

Blood and gore dripping from the walls and ceilings, human beings burned alive in their beds and living rooms, yes, it's Nurse With Wound, and they were everything I could have hoped for.


Nathan Jonson AKA Hrdvision strikes one of his many poses on the night.

Jon Hopkins

Jon Hopkins, photographed from the upper deck at Metropolis as I relaxed with a much needed beer. His brand of robo-funk was delivered using a quite the physically demanding rig.

Mouse on Mars

Mouse on Mars got the crowd hot, but not "headlining at Metropolis" hot. IMO, they were out-dueled at their game by Jon Hopkins.

Nathan Fake

Nathan Fake, our prog/noise techno saviour.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

MUTEK 2010, Day One

The Mole

Passersby stop to slip on some headphones and listen to The Mole spin an impromptu set during rush hour. I found out about this event while it was happening via MUTEK's Facebook updates. Thanks MUTEK -- you've kinda preempted my photo essay idea before the festival has even officially started!


Gemmiform opens the festival.

Bernier + Messier

The noises emanating from Bernier + Messier's elaborate "sound boxes" were somewhat superfluous, but it was fun to watch them tear up their "instruments". Their music rings and echoes through the elegant Monument National's main concert hall, and I think about how far MUTEK has come since the days when we had to stretch out on the floor of Ex-Centris.


Matmos' combination of humour, weirdness, and pastoral mid-70's Kraftwerkian jams will be tough to top.

[The User]

[The User] twiddle the knobs from the pit. On stage there are fifteen ancient computers, their screens, and their printers. Those machines ... they're alive. Sadly, this performance wasn't as maximalist as I was hoping for, but as a visual spectacle, it was one of the most arresting I've ever seen.

Dominique Petrin + Georges Rebboh

Straight from the files of "It Could Only Happen in Quebec": the vampire-ish Georges Rebboh hypnotizes his goth girl partner Dominique Petrin and forces her to abuse a piano while he processes and manipulates the sounds. If you're a fan of experimental music and are looking for the next level shit for spicing up your sex life, look no further.

The performance took place in almost complete darkness. The blue blur is Petrin's dress lit up by fluorescent lights. The orange dots came from a sack of fluorescent stones, after she hurled them on her piano she proceeded to spread them around by writhing on the floor and moaning into a microphone. Genuine or not? Either way, it's no wonder why I skipped the start of the Comeme showcase.

Comeme night

I still can't stand most Latin-flavoured house or techno, but even I couldn't resist Matias Aguayo and his Comeme label-mates.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

MUTEK 2010, Day Zero

Cold opening. I'm back at MUTEK (and in Montreal) for the first time in seven years. It's amazing to think about how long ago that was, and yet in many ways it feels like it just happened yesterday. Maybe it's because that festival was so important in defining my musical tastes for much of the past decade. Maybe it's because Montreal seemingly hasn't changed at all in seven years (it's scary!).

Each year I attended, writing up the happenings at MUTEK from 2001-2003 became more exhausting. It's something that I can't imagine doing ever again. I don't write the same way any more, I'm too fussy and perfectionist these days, I no longer have the willpower to write two thousand off-the-cuff words for each day of the festival, taking notes sometimes during the gigs, writing up my thoughts between sets, running to the computer at the end of the day to while memories are fresh. That's not happening this time, I'd procrastinate and never finish.

This time it will be different. I always regretted that I never took any pictures during any of the three MUTEK's I attended. In 2003 in particular, I struggled to describe the visual elements of each performance, my vocabulary barely managing to keep up with the rapid evolution of ideas for accompanying electronic music. At these gigs, the eyes had become equally important as the ears, both senses were absolutely necessary for experiencing what the festival had to offer.

Mutek banner

MUTEK banner on St. Laurent, flanked by Montreal's wonderfully seedy institutions. I love this city.

So this time, I'm going to present a photo essay of MUTEK. I'll do my best to provide no more than fifty words of commentary for any one photo. I don't want the pressure of writing about the festival this year, instead, I'm going to take on the possibly equal pressure (or greater pressure, considering that I'm a complete amateur) of telling my story through photographs.

This could fail miserably. But I'm going to give it a try.