The sixth installment of Île Soniq, Montreal’s loud, proud and decidedly un-prudish festival of neon, tropical prints, strange water and electronic din took Parc Jean Drapeau by storm this past Friday and Saturday.
Like, really, though. Friday night a brief but intense electrical storm and burst of big, cold, heavy rain briefly delayed day-closing sets from fan faves Marshmello and Bad Bunny and provided some natural light effects that put Coachella’s Tupac hologram of yesteryear to shame.
And a shame it was, because this reporter couldn’t hack the chill and uncertainty, opting to leave otherwise satisfied (if soaked) before the decision was made to finally let rising Puerto Rican trap/reggaeton star Bad Bunny out of his cage for a reportedly fun, energetic end to the party on the festival’s Mirage stage.
Among the best of what I did manage to take in on day one, an early-ish day show from dub-hop duo 1000volts (aka dubstep producer/DJ Jayceeoh and bona fide rap legend Redman) proved to be worthy of its name.
Bass-heavy and ballasted by Reggie Noble’s brash showmanship, what turned out to be their first-ever show was a hit with the kids, most of whom beyond certainty had no fucking clue who the old man rapping onstage was and didn’t seem to care. Closing with the debut of a new collab the pair recorded with Gramatik, 1000volts won the sunny afternoon over, even if their show is probably better suited to a nighttime slot. Props to Île Soniq for taking a chance on this.
My drug-free buzz was soon killed by Oliver Heldens and subsequently Alan Walker at the main Oasis stage. I’d seen and promptly dismissed concurrent booking Smokepurpp at Osheaga a couple of years ago so I elected to go check out these two historic EDM heavies but it was damned if you do, damned if you don’t, in any event.
But hey, the huge early evening crowd was having the time of their lives to both the respectively Dutch and Norweigian DJs, so while they may have made me want to throw up my chemical combination of Monster mango punch and free McDonald’s iced coffee (nice touch, Ronald), I can’t shit on anyone else’s good time. Just because I like, ya know, credible music…okay. I’ll stop.
Actually, I won’t. I can write this whole review with the caveat that just because something doesn’t do it for me doesn’t take away from the fact that the 78,000 guests who partied over two days at the fest had a visibly wonderful time, all in all. One guy even proposed to his girlfriend on stage at the end of Heldens, which was corny but cute.
One of the main attractions of Île Soniq (and I’ve been to five outta of six of them, and watched it evolve up close) is that it seems to be much more about the atmosphere than the artistry.
That’s not to say the festival doesn’t book big ticket, truly appreciated acts. But you don’t have to be a musical connoisseur to just show up with your friends, wear matching bikini/fishnet/sparkle make-up outfits and drink all that water — soooo much water. Why do these kids love water so much? They drink so much water their eyes roll back in their heads! They really take that eight-glass-a-day advice, I guess, because we were even given a two-day reprieve from this month’s punishing humidity. I guess they just love water for its purity.
I quite appreciated a main stage evening set from Chicago house-bro Kaskade. He had the jams, his graphics and light show were on point, and despite his Thrasher shirt and the fact it looked like he hasn’t slept since last Christmas in Ibiza, he brought necessary energy and got the crowd actually dancing and not just doing that stupid hand thing or stutter-shake that seemingly leg-challenged people try to pass off as having rhythm.
Then came the deluge, so you already know how that ended for me, as I sought the comforting warmth of a humidified metro ride home. But not before being privy to a sing-along by a group of French boys and girls chanting, “It’s raining putes,” which was comical as hell.
Among other great observations I overheard during the weekend, one particularly wide-eyed reveller was anxiously chattering about “the state of the world” to her obviously oblivious boyfriend or hook-up or whatever as they strutted by in silver bathing suits and transparent raincoats. And props to the dude explaining to his fellow dude-bros, likely having their first ever frolic with Molly, that “you try to piss, and you have to, and you’re standing there…and you just can’t piss!”
Ha. Wait ‘til you find out what your prostate does when you hit 40, young homie.
On Saturday, responsibilities elsewhere (which included letting my backbone slide as Maestro Fresh Wes rocked with Kalmunity at Under Pressure) prevented me from getting to the site earlier.
But I made it in time to take in the second half of local-gone-large Snails, whose third (I think) round at Île Soniq was his biggest, baddest, chunkiest, most fuck-yeah-fied I’ve witnessed.
I simply love this gross, gorgeous creature. He just brings the rage with his take on fractured electronic post-dubstep whomping-ness, and the huge — I mean, damn-near capacity — crowd packing out the cavernous enclave where lies the Mirage stage (you may know it as Osheaga’s Green and Valley Stage area) was completely in his slimy grip.
From the first time he saved my day in a small, woodsy stage area at the festival’s first edition, to an incredible afternoon midday op at its third cleaning up the sloppy mess made by DJ Mustard, to this crowning moment rocking multiple thousands, Snails makes Quebec proud every time with ferocious fierté. Bravo.
Then came the righteous end to fest season at PJD with female force divine. Île Soniq’s Neon stage was, last weekend, Osheaga’s Island stage, where electronic music has its home when not being pumped out by headliners like Flume or Kaytranada — both of whom cut their teeth right there when it was the latter fest’s Piknic Electronik stage (are we keeping up, here?).
At Osheaga, Friday night ended with an absolutely evil display of hard techno from Belgium’s Charlotte de Witte. Sunday night my pre-Gambino festivities were supercharged by the disco-house funk flex of Kentucky’s awesomest lady of the decks, the Black Madonna.
The triumvirate came complete, Saturday on the Île tip, with the best thing France has sent to Montreal since colonial times, the impeccable bass and time signatures of techno phenom Nicole Moudaber, whom I could have danced along to for four more hours, easily.
But two hours was marvellous, magical, and all the adoring M-words we can think of. “Murderous” comes to mind. She butchered that sound system gloriously, pushing the considerable voltage of its comparatively much smaller set-up to capacity and beyond, and giving the real-ass ravers who came to play our fill of freaky, facemelting techno love.
It tickled me pink to consider that the whole time we few-hundred stomping revellers carried on with Nicole, tens of thousands of je-ne-sais-quoi-le-phoquers were getting an air supply of sweet nothing less than half a kilometer away with the joyless bonks of Above & Beyond, who are the electronic equivalent of a public television farm report.
I don’t know how common it is for an Île Soniq act to take an encore, but Nicole, after jumping down on the floor for a few high-fives, hugs and a crowd selfie, got back up and took us for five more minutes to the 11 p.m. curfew, hijacking A&B’s fireworks and thankfully making sure no Moudaber fan had to suffer even the slightest echo of their main stage death whisper.
“You had to be there?” kinda sums it up. And despite my jabs, I always end up really enjoying most of what makes Île Soniq unique among the city’s festivals: the people. It’s a celebration of all the things we hold dear about Montreal summers: music, better weather, partial nudity and unabashed debauch. Before we put the parkas back on and start griping about the Hydro bill, let’s take time to thank those elements, and forget the state of the world just a little longer. See you next summer, water-drinkers. ■