Sunny Sundays in Montreal have been synonymous with outdoor dancing to non-stop drums since time immemorial, but since the mid-aughts, the unplugged rhythms of the Tam-Tams at Mount Royal have given way to modern sensibilities — and way more decibels and bass — at Parc Jean Drapeau.
Piknic Électronik has seen hundreds of thousands of dancers shuffle to the sounds of internationally acclaimed DJs from far and wide, helped put some of Montreal’s finest on the map and given partiers a place to carry the night into day, in some cases, while also offering the grown-up ravers of the ’80s and ’90s a place to dust off their dancing shoes in the light of day and get to bed at a reasonable hour, avoiding those messy Monday morning phone calls to the boss.
All ages and stereo-phonic-types are welcome to get down at Piknic and always will be. For the past two years, ex-promoter Lucas Jacques has been programming the talent that brings dancers back week after week, month after month, from May through September. Cult MTL thought our readers would like to know how Piknic — which just won the Best Event Series from DJ Mag‘s Best of North America — brings the beat back each season.
Darcy MacDonald: Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about your background promoting events in Montreal.
Lucas Jacques: Hi, I’m Lucas, booker for Piknic Électronik, Igloofest and more. I actually started as a pretty young fellow — let’s say legally 18 — when friends of mine and I were not feeling like the parties that were going on back then were relevant to our circle.
We decided to start throwing our own parties, as SJU, at a now-defunct club called Qlimax. These nights quickly became quite infamous due to the ridiculousness of the venue. The club was fully carpeted, located in the basement of a Greek restaurant, had a horrible sound system and a overheating amp that we were cooling — or rather failing to cool — with a tiny plastic fan.
It was quite surprisingly packed and generally a pretty good time. As time went on, all of this kinda snowballed and we started working with more and more international artists. We ended up throwing bigger and bigger parties, navigating in-between a bunch of different venues, from Saphir (also now defunct) to Belmont, to Metropolis and to warehouse spaces.
Eventually, in 2015, we felt like it was time to have our own space and so we opened Newspeak. Being a bunch of young idiots (24 at the time), we under-evaluated some of the responsibilities that came with running that kind of business and by the end of 2016 we needed help operating. We ended up selling part of Newspeak to NEON. Maybe half a year before this sale, I had also started to work at NEON as their talent buyer and that went on until the end of 2017 when I decided to quit to focus on some new opportunities.
All of this led me to start my own artist management/event promotion, production and booking firm (called Courage) and working at Piknic.
DM: How did you end up at Piknic?
LJ: It was actually totally unexpected! A month or two after I left NEON, Marie-Laure (Saidani, who used to be the booker at Piknic and who has a massive legacy) gave me a call and invited me to lunch. She told me that she wanted to move on to some new projects and to recommend me as a potential replacement. I said yes. And here I am!
DM: What are the strengths your history at Neon and SJU helped you bring to this project as Piknic programmer?
LJ: Talent buying is a speculation based job. I’d say that this decade plus of grind helped me sharpen my instincts and train my mental gymnastics for when it comes to establishing an accurate price for a performance. Also, relationships!!!
DM: What are some of the major differences booking and programming an event of this scale, and how do you try to keep the event fresh while also maintaining the standards that make Piknic so successful? What goes into balancing it all out?
LJ: Throwing concerts in small rooms, or even bigger indoor parties, is quite different as they can be marketed to niches with specific tastes.
Piknic is a very special beast. It draws people from so many different backgrounds, with so many varying interests. Loads of people are just coming to have a good time, enjoy the park and sun and casually listen to dance music. Other people are total music heads who are looking for some very specific type of music styles.
I don’t really consider myself a specialist in a specific type of electronic music. I would say that I have very eclectic taste, and I think that’s actually working quite a lot in my advantage. Piknic is such a Montreal institution, programming it is a big responsibility. The audience is extremely vocal about what they want and protective of their event, everything is looked at with a lot of scrutiny.
Considering that I’m also a pretty passionate guy, I’d say that trying to keep a cool head is super important, especially when there are so many variables outside of my control. I do try to maintain somewhat of a personal touch but I’d say that I’m overall quite strategic in my choices. It’s something that I take very seriously.
All-around, my goal is to offer a credible and diverse platform, to include the local communities, to shine light onto upcoming local and international talent and to host some of the more wished-for established talent; all of this while keeping the primordial Piknic core value of “having a good time” a priority.
DM: What and when was your first Piknic as a guest and/or some of the most memorable?
LJ: My first Piknic was actually in 2008! But the most memorable moment for me was when I performed in 2016 — I had such a good time. It’s an honour to be able to offer the same kind of experience to other artists that I consider more deserving than myself.
DM: Who are some of your coup-de-coeur bookings this season?
LJ: There’s a bunch! I’m thoroughly stoked with how this year’s line-up shaped up! Fast fast, here goes five that I’m personally really looking forward to, and that’s really overflying it: Courtesy, DJ Stingray, Sama’, Octave One & FJAAK!
What I do really recommend though is taking the time to listen to the artists that you’re unfamiliar with. Your next favourite set might just be hidden in plain sight!
DM: I know you can’t reveal any surprises but anything we should keep an eye out for as the season unfolds?
LJ: There’s a couple more Off-Piknics to announce ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°).
DM: What advice do you have for dancers new to the experience? And why do you think the vets keep coming back year after year?
LJ: For the new dancers! Don’t overthink it, just be yourself, and enjoy the day! For the vets! They don’t overthink it, they’re being themselves, and they enjoy the day! ■
Piknic Électronik takes place most Sundays and on some holiday Mondays weekly at Parc Jean Drapeau, with some exceptions during festival weekends at the park. For the complete program and ticket info, visit Piknic’s website.