îLESONIQ was f**king worth it

“This was a welcome return for a festival that has planted its flag not only as a Montreal summer staple, but also as a branded destination for electronic music fans from all over, and a world-class event in its own right.”

Every year, I go through the same internal dialogue over attending îLESONIQ. 

I look at the lineup and barely recognize any of the artists. I wish there were more DJs from my generation and I wonder if the scant few that are booked are just going to show up, put on a playlist full of hot garbage and DB Cooper it the fuck outta there with the loot.   

I then decide that this year, I won’t go.

I reason that the crowd — full of fishnets and bare, pancake asses pressing up against oily, shirtless, musclebound beefcakes — is not my cup of tea. 

I wonder what the second weekend of August looks like in the rest of Montreal and envision myself reading beside a pond in Angrignon Park or biking along the canal to Lachine and enjoying a Blizzard by the water. 

Maybe this year, I imagine, I’ll splurge on an expensive meal at a fine restaurant where I’ll be treated like an upstanding citizen and be called “sir” with polished sincerity by a well-mannered professional. 

Then I go to Osheaga, have a blast and wonder why I would want to skip out on another weekend of sun, fun, smiling people and loud music at Parc Jean-Drapeau. 

As a music fan, one would be hard pressed to find a steak and cloth napkin that’s nearly as satisfying as a weekend-long dance party — extended through Sunday this year to make its proper 2022 comeback a three-day affair.

Couple all that with the fact that this time last year, and the year before, all I did all summer was walk around town with headphones on, moping. 

Fuck it. Let’s go to îLESONIQ! 

Friday, Aug. 5

John Digweed

ÎLESONIQ 2022 John Digweed
John Digweed. Photos by Cindy Lopez

Quitting time lined up super nicely with a 5:30 p.m. set from the only near-senior citizen on the bill this year. U.K. techno legend John Digweed most assuredly did not just plug in a laptop and watch the clock tick. 

With a two-hour billing on îLESONIQ’s Neon stage (its smallest, and only one with any semblance of shade), the elder statesman of club and rave culture built and rebuilt a mood with pure, unmolested techno that started out thumping and energetic, graduating to dark and dystopian by the time the sun began to let up its intensity for the day. 

This was so fucking great that I almost decided that I would go home early, go to bed, wake up at 5 a.m. Saturday and head out to hear more at Stereo (where he would later be playing) before Day 2 of the festival.  

But then I realized that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic and that I can barely wake up at 5 a.m. for important things, much less to get to Stereo before breakfast. 

Digweed was fantastic and the sizable crowd of sweaty dancers recognized that we’d been offered something special to start the weekend. 

Under ordinary circumstances, two hours is barely enough for a master of his calibre to get warmed up, but decades of experience gave him the rare ability to create an abridged moment of music that matters — and before sundown, at that. 


Fisher ÎLESONIQ review 2022

All the way from Gold Coast, Australia, the former pro surfer and Grammy winner came out to party with Montreal on the Oasis stage. 

(Sidenote: I’m not sure where the Oasis stage goes next in terms of size, spectacle and sound. These EDM-fest mega-stages are either headed toward an eventual interactive augmented reality experience, or to the moon. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Oasis stage blast off into the night by the time Swedish House Mafia shuts it down on Sunday night.)

Anyways, Fisher… Yeah, honestly I just wanted to see a show on the big stage. Fisher was fine. Compared with some of the violent, unintentional dissonance that would take over the Oasis stage by Saturday evening, Fisher was a masterclass in elegance. 

Attendance on Friday was dwarfed in comparison with the sea of bodies that would populate Parc Jean-Drapeau the next day. So all in all, Fisher’s set was a comfortable experience for partiers to settle into life at îLESONIQ.

Black Tiger Sex Machine

Black Tiger Sex Machine

Montreal’s very own data-demons of dubstep brought it home to the Mirage stage for a festive hometown reunion. Their insanely precise graphic show, their cool-ass costumes and their flare for mashing mayhem into melody earned them an enthusiastic welcome. 

BTSM has the benefit of feeling more like a band than a pair of DJs, and also enjoys a legitimate fan following. Judging by the number of people wearing their merch and cosplaying as black tigers, those fans were out in numbers, having obviously come to the festival to see them.

BTSM is a great fit for a sprawling party like îLESONIQ. Whether a fest-goer knows who they are or not, they’re entertaining and memorable, which is good for repeat business. And if you truly appreciate creative electronic music, the way they manipulate sound to make it their own holds a lot of appeal. 

Saturday, Aug. 6



I don’t pay tons of attention to IG streams,  but when I happen to be on the app and notice this Montreal-based rapper go live, I’ll hop on. Her mix of humour, attitude and sex appeal, coupled with the fact that she can land a hard-ass punchline, make SLM interesting as a personality.

Seeing her live brought the whole package to life. Given that she emerged during the pandemic, her stage experience is limited. So the bar she proved she can meet, very early Saturday afternoon and to a crowd of only several dozen, is already pretty impressive. 

Firstly, SLM’s presence is strong and she raps very well. Her dancers and DJ really complement the show rather than prop it up. It’s hard to tell sometimes if new artists rap over a vocal track because they’re insecure or because it’s trendy. 

And SLM seems anything but insecure in general. It’s fair to assume her relative inexperience on stage means she’s using recorded vocals for support. She doesn’t need them. This lady has a gloss that mixes club hip hop and personality as authentically as possible. She performed as though she was headlining, and that’s how stars are born.

Banx & Ranx

ÎLESONIQ Banx & Ranx
Banx & Ranx

The Montreal production duo has collaborated, remixed and written for more than a handful of major American and international artists (Sizzla, Sean Paul and Dua Lipa among them) and scored their own hit single in the UK. 

They’re a factor. But they aren’t known for their performances. So it was exciting to anticipate what an hour of Banx & Ranx live would end up sounding like, and how it would hit at îLESONIQ on a mainstage slot at 3 p.m. on a Saturday.

The oppressive heat and humidity most certainly kept people away in the first half of the day. The couple-thousand or so who braved the sun were well rewarded by showing up for Banx & Ranx.

The bare facts are as follows: If you can’t mix, remix, rework and reinvent standard club bangers from across every genre as deftly as this duo, don’t even try. I’m hard-pressed to remember as interesting and unrelenting an hour of music that relied more on skill and creativity than on the snippets of easily recognizable hits the pair incorporated as DJs. 

Anyone can play “Still D.R.E.” or “Doja” and get a crowd going. Not quite as many can get away with mixing gun claps and drill beats with Manu Chao’s “Bongo Bong” and then segueing seamlessly into Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” and making it all slap. 

Add Quebec rap legend KARM legitimately hyping the crowd on the mic, throw in some top-notch dancers, and you’ve got a show that could easily have held down a headlining spot. 

Sean Paul

Sean Paul ÎLESONIQ review
Sean Paul

Booking the Jamaican superstar and global hit machine at ÎLESONIQ was a great idea. 

Not sound checking the stage properly wasn’t. But whatever. 

Sean Paul is a fucking legend, period, and his presence lent the day some necessary, mainstream star quality. 

By the time he and his band took to the Mirage stage, the festival grounds had begun to truly swell with people for the first time all weekend. Easily a quarter of the entire crowd headed out to party with Sean Paul, who after decades still has the live energy of a man in his prime. That made up for the shit sound quality. 

And for the most rabid fans gathered centre stage, who had obviously come to lose their minds to the singer’s cavalcade of hits, safe to say they got what they came for. 

French Montana & Rae Sremmurd

French Montana

I hate to say this. I honestly couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stand in a field of sweaty, stoned bodies to hear yesterday’s news. No offence. I hope those who did had a fantastic time. I had to check out.

Dom Dolla, the Ferry & the Fireworks

By this hour, the main stage, impressive as it may be to look at, had been overtaken by one too many white boys yelling, “1, 2, 3, let’s go!” before dropping yet another repetitive bassline. It was all sunbaked droning, bad molly and Bud Light by then, and none of those things are my jam, so it was time to call it.

Some friends had the novel idea to leave on the last ferry to the Old Port, which timed amazingly with the final fireworks display of the season at LaRonde. And as we made our way to the boat and waited on its deck to depart, the sound emanating from the Neon Stage and headliner Dom Dolla’s set was sweet relief. 

I can’t even objectively tell you if the music was good or not. It just wasn’t completely over-the-top, boneheaded bullshit. It contained melody. And it was perfect to tap our feet and head-bob along with as we set sail on the mighty St. Lawrence to admire colourful explosions over the lit-up bridge, admire the approaching city skyline and catch a breeze. 

Which was a pretty fine way to close out îLESONIQ, Day Two. 

Sunday, Aug. 7

Dear Diary,

Leg cramps woke me up twice this night, and thrice did I rise to urinate the copious amounts of water ingested to stay conscious during Saturday’s assault of punishing heat and screeching midi filters.

I fear my inability to finish an entire thought after four cups of coffee is not, sadly,  the result of brain fog brought on by long COVID, but rather by a permanent loss of…

“Are you ready?!? ONE…TWO…THREE! Let’s go!”

Day 3 weather report

Parc Jean-Drapeau fountain
Festival fountain, Parc Jean-Drapeau

Heat warnings and the threat of severe storms kept me away from Parc Jean-Drapeau until early evening.

But the mostly light rain was welcome. The Earth’s atmosphere never delivered on thunder and lightning. And the light grey sky and damp air added a strangely ambient backdrop to Sunday’s colourful party people and bright lights. It was, all in all, a welcome respite from the previous day’s swelter.

After killing some time with Svdden Death’s dubstep and Axl Rose impersonation at the Mirage stage, I made my way over to the Neon stage, anticipating the hard techno of Israeli rave legends Infected Mushroom.

Infected Mushroom

Infected Mushroom
Infected Mushroom

Their 2017 live band show at îLESONIQ was a treat, and it had been some time well before then that I last saw the duo in the DJ booth. 

Unfortunately, unlike their contemporary Digweed, Infected Mushroom seemed to be more interested in yelling out the name of our city, asking to see our hands and generally carrying on like two dudes who had no intention of actually twiddling a dial or making a mix happen. 

Which would have beeb fine if they’d played any, ya’ know, decent music?

Instead, their aggro selection felt more suited to a Heavy Montreal stage than a dance music festival. Sure, tons of people ate it up and even got seconds. It seems they continued well past the end of their scheduled set time. I was long gone by then.

Swedish House Mafia

Swedish House Mafia
Swedish House Mafia

The Swedish DJ supergroup were a total get for ÎLESONIQ’s fest-closing main-stage headliners. Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso have the distinction of at once being both a fairly credible product of the modern EDM movement — if not its godfathers, really — and an internationally beloved hit factory. 

They never veer far enough into corniness to lose actually-pretty-dope edge, and they’re a goddamn money-printing machine on top of it all. 

îLESONIQ had the distinction of being the only festival other than Coachella to book the trio in 2022.

As one expects, they pulled up and played the hits.

“Are you having a good summer?” Axwell inquired about halfway into their 90-minute blowout. The crowd didn’t exactly explode with joy.

“50/50? Sounds like Sweden. But when it’s good, it’s good,” he offered. “Let’s make it good.”

And so they did, to the delight of the thousands upon thousands of fans happy to share an experience with one of the most popular acts on the planet. 

“‘Montreal! You’re tough and you scared away the rain, which (is a) super power,” Axwell later said. 

“We were afraid it was gonna rain and people would go home and it would suck. But no!”

Alas, the giant stage didn’t blast off to the stars and with Swedish House Mafia at its command centre. 

But the standard, festival-closing confetti bombs and fireworks are always a nice touch. And with those, ÎLESONIQ 2022 came to its dramatic conclusion.

Final thoughts

ÎLESONIQ 2022. Photos by Cindy Lopez

It’s hard to tell whether the gambit to extend the festival to a third day paid off in the long run. Friday’s attendance was lacklustre and Saturday, far and away the most populated day, still only drew the largest portion of ticket holders to the island after the blazing afternoon temperatures cooled down somewhat.

Having a closer like Swedish House Mafia made the latter half of Day Three feel more like a normal outdoor concert than an evening at a festival. Surely deterred by the rain, many people showed up only in time for the headliner. 

So was it worth the cost of doing business?

We’ll find out in 2023, I suppose. But this year was a welcome return for a festival that has planted its flag not only as a Montreal summer staple, but also as a branded destination for electronic music fans from all over and a world-class event in its own right. 

As travel (always with fingers crossed) continues to open up and tourists return, piling into the city for summer fun, îLESONIQ remains a welcoming escape.

Now, off to get that steak. ■

For more on îLESONIQ, please visit the festival’s website.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.