Attending Mutek allows one to gauge the aesthetic health of underground electronic music. Every year the Montreal festival organizers host an audiovisual banquet featuring the planet’s elite digital artists. Director Alain Mongeau and company prove that highbrow electronic music and thousands of its fans can get down while still remaining artistically lofty.
Going to Mutek is like experiencing a year’s worth of incredible sounds and visuals compressed into five days. The amazing performances pile up in your mind, overwhelming attempts to comprehend them. How great was Mutek this year? Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos’s tag-team DJ set wasn’t even among the top five performances (Hawtin protégé Marc Houle outshone them).
Night 1 was owned by France’s Jackson & His Computer Band, although many raved about Pierre Bastien’s astounding multimedia display, which I missed. Jackson blasted out a bracing fusillade of mutated electro funk filigreed with odd little melodies and extreme tonalities.
Night 2 provided surplus audiovisual dazzlement. British producer Freeform and his brother (Matt Pyke of Designer’s Republic) served up Adbusters-esque subversion of consumerist utopia set to classic Skam Records business: infectiously weird, sproingy, mischievous, and funky with detours into gamelan/exotica. 5 mm (Marc Leclair [Akufen] on sound and Gabriel Coutu-Dumont on visuals) resurrected the rejuvenating sounds of Chain Reaction–esque techno’s aquaspheric exploration and early Autechre’s silvery headphone fuckery, and the images caused wicked hallucinations. The obscure RyoichiKurokawa began with a startling Nile of sonic bile, infernal spasms of noise that made the crowd swallow their hearts. He downshifted into a Ryoji Ikeda–like dance of data pings, as blipvert-fast edits of overlapping urban scenes flashed on the screen behind him and his two PowerBooks. He moved into clicks & cuts dub, airplane-engine drones, and the simulated sighs of long-distance lovers segueing into the sound of fried circuit boards. Wow.
On night 3, the minimal-techno producers on the bill—Pheek, Stephen Beaupré, Alex Under (the crowd’s consensus favorite), Guido Schneider, and Dimbiman—dealt out beats like master poker players shuffle and flick cards. They rearranged basic elements in subtle myriad ways and every minute variation or additional detail (wah-wah guitars, castanets, woodblock hits, hand claps) notched up the pleasure quotient. Tonight proved that minimal techno on a powerful system can sound as primally sexual as the deepest, most soulful house.
On Day/Night 4, Perlon’s Dandy Jack stood out by bringing a festive Latin-tinged flavor, old blues-singer samples, and a sassy shuffle to his minimal techno. Mossa’s devious, glitchy microhouse harnessed Dadaist eccentricity. Kooky usually doesn’t work with tech-house, but French duo Nôze occasionally pulled it (and their shirts) off.
The final night spotlighted Pole’s ~scape label. His new trio found novel ways to fuse jazz, dub, and Kraut rock. Deadbeat closed the fest with inspirational helpings of deep postmodern dub and bleepy minimal techno. But Mutek’s most riveting hour came courtesy of Jan Jelinek. Focusing on Kosmischer Pitch (my fave album of 2005), the German producer distilled the essence of early-’70s kosmik muzik and somehow enhanced the genre’s already-potent elixir of transcendent tones, textures, and pulsations. Whether vibrantly mutating aquatic dub, submerging minimal techno in molasses, or forging an eerie new species of space rock, Jelinek toyed with frequencies like Van Gogh used colors. If I must die, let me exit to Jelinek’s glorious galactic oscillations.
Mutek 2006 proved that, even as it recedes from the media’s radar, underground electronic music is thriving. Can’t wait till next year’s edition. DAVE SEGAL
More info: www.mutek.ca
FRIDAY JUNE 16
JACOB LONDON, JIZOSH + SWANK, BRYAN JONES
C89.5 FM house-music jock Jizosh is leaving Seattle to attend Vancouver Film School’s sound-design program. Ensuring that he goes out in a blaze of pumping 4/4 rhythms and celebratory vocals are his DJ partner Swank, tech-house eccentrics Jacob London, and Chicago emissary Bryan Jones, whose tracks get spun by Derrick Carter, Mark Farina, and other DJs who don’t have to work day jobs. Wish good luck to this pillar of Seattle’s club scene. Trinity, 111 Yesler Way, 447-4140, 10 pm–3 am, $15, 21+.
SUNDAY JUNE 18
Cex (Rjyan Kidwell) is a great person who sometimes makes great music, but more often creates tracks that pale beside his outsized personality and rambunctious stage presence. In other words, see him live to get maximum bang for your Cex buck. Musically, Cex’s styles change as mercurially as David Bowie’s appearance did in the ’70s. Cex began as an IDM maverick then slashed through hiphop, emotronica, and goth rock. His new disc, Actual Fucking (on Seattle’s Automation), finds Cex using musicians from Milemarker, Aloha, Joan of Arc, Nice Nice, and Dismemberment Plan to craft skewed, funky electronic rock that’s his most accessible—and sexiest—work yet. The CD contains a booklet with eight erotic anecdotes related by friends that accompany the disc’s eight tracks. Expect wildness. With Love of Everything, Pleasurecraft. Chop Suey, 1325 E Madison St, 324-8000, 9 pm–2 am, $8 adv, 21+.
MONDAY JUNE 19
Following their lauded 2004 debut, Tiger, My Friend, Psapp improve with the new The Only Thing I Ever Wanted. The London duo (Carim Clasmann and Galia Durant) strike me as a more introverted Laika or what Saint Etienne covering Tom Waits’s Rain Dogs would sound like: a charmingly melodic and intimate bricolage of indietronica tropes. Durant’s voice is slyly, breathily sensual, and Clasmann’s music clatters, tinkles, pings, murmurs, and shuffles adorably. Everyone from RollingStone to The Wire to Grey’s Anatomy’s creator loves them, so watch Psapp rise accordingly. With José González, Juana Molina. Neumo’s, 925 E Pike St, 709-9467, 8 pm–2 am, $15 adv/$17 DOS, 21+.