MUTEK brings cutting-edge live electronic music to Montreal

The eclectic festival of mind-bending beats and digital art is happening June 1 to 5.



Now in its 17th year, Montreal’s MUTEK festival returns next week for five days of mind-bending sensory experiences of the digital variety. Two years removed from the major relocation that saw it move its nerve centre, and the majority of happenings, from the Monument National to the MAC, MUTEK still seems keen on pushing boundaries by delving deeper into the world of experimental, digital arts.

MUTEK has always stood for challenging popular conceptions of what live electronic music can represent. Music is still the primary focus — and to be sure, the majority of the performers are performing live, rather than DJing, but a close study of their program reveals a bevy of “special projects” held in various spaces around town and a line-up of artists that will leave all but the most erudite scholars of electronic music scratching their chin. But as with each edition of MUTEK, initial bewilderment will surely give way to ecstatic discovery if you are willing to take a chance on any number of events that can be found in the diverse program.


In keeping with their tradition of offering a multitude of free events and exhibitions for those who want to keep it cheap and cheerful, some of this year’s best dance-friendly events will be held on an outdoor stage on the Parterre of Quartier des Spectacles on Saturday from 3 to 11 p.m.. I’m putting my money on local hippie vibe-master Thomas Von Party’s Multi Culti soundsystem, alongside the uptempo footwork stylings of JLIN, and the low-end heavy live performances from Nautiluss and Machinedrum, to heat things up.

While we are likely still a few years away from experiencing a truly convincing virtual reality rave, the speed with which the technology is changing will be showcased during a two-day symposium that immediately precedes the festival. The second edition of the VR Salon will feature panels, roundtable discussions and presentations from a number of individuals leading the developments of VR into arts, cinema, documentary, video games, marketing, journalism and beyond. The general public can expect a variety of immersive works and interactive VR exhibits in the meantime, free of charge, each day beginning on Wednesday, June 1 at the Phi Centre.

As with every edition of MUTEK, there will be a number of exclusive performances making their debuts over the course of the festival. Paris-based producer and Warp Records signee Jackson first made a name for himself in the mid-aughts as the glitchy forefather of the “French Touch 2.0” scene. Don’t sleep on the North American premiere of his performance, Light Metal Music, at the MAC next Thursday evening. Using a variety of custom made instruments, he will be manipulating metal and transforming light rays into sound waves that will rumble up from the black-box setting of the museum’s basement.

A number of locals will be offering up something special over the five-day event, with live performances from Essaie Pas, Tim Hecker, Project Pablo and Jeremy Gara of Arcade Fire. For something wildly different, Cop Car Bonfire will be taking his busker act to the stage at the Coeur des Sciences on Saturday, June 4 for a free 5 à 7 performance. Best remembered for his sonic interventions on various street corners of the Plateau a few years back (to the amusement of residents and the concern of local authorities alike), former Montrealer Timothy Lafontaine will be using an array of noise machines and effects pedals to make experimental techno and ambient drone noise.

Lastly, after going their separate ways last year, MUTEK and Piknic Électronik are collaborating again this year for a special edition of the Sunday afternoon outdoor rave-up on Ile Ste-Hélène. Josh Wink be DJing his special blend of acid-laced techno alongside a number of other MUTEK artists. If previous years are anything to go by, it might be worth checking out to see if any special guests drop by to play a set. 

MUTEK runs June 15 at various venues. Find all the programming details on the festival’s website.