review of Mutek 2004 concert by Exclaim!

Montreal QC – June 2 to 6, 2004
By None None

By Darren Eke, Joshua Ostroff, Lorraine Carpenter, Melissa Wheeler
Magali Babin / I8U

Floral skirts? Bare legs? Dear God, it’s women! (And one adventurous dude in the audience, actually.) Despite the estrogenic shock, watching a duo deep in concentration at their consoles wasn’t thrilling on a visual level, but their audio was refreshingly unhinged. The ladies introduced their set with a threatening ambient base, patiently building the noise and the tension until their machines screamed thunder. Digital crackles and pops emerged from the fallout as the clamour subdued and sonic order was gradually re-established. Maybe that’s what a hot-flash feels like. LC Olaf Bender From the very first beat, Olaf Bender established himself on the danceable end of the experimental spectrum. With concrete rhythms overlaid with a rapid, low key back and forth hum, and various other bleeps and bloops, he continued to subtly add and alter tones and patterns as though the music was a slowly turning kaleidoscope. As always, the melodies were played down and the visuals were played up. Backgrounding the laptopper were blazing black and white shapes that changed with the music; I’ve never been so entranced by rectangles in my life. It’s the kind of visual work that seems simple, but many aim for it and miss the mark. These images were spot on and corresponded sharply and effectively with the assertive presence of the music. MW Frank Bretschneider With a blue background and a few lines of colour, Frank Bretschneider looked like a mad scientist concentrating on his master work as he stooped to look at his computer screen. With a set that seemed more limited in its range of sounds, beats and durations than the previous acts, he used his limitations to great effect, strangely enough. Beats would cycle tightly around each other, resulting in frequent but subtle changes in the pace of the track. Rigid and organised, the terse micro abstract techno came off as highly sophisticated. This is the stuff that people aim for and seldom achieve. MW Chess Machine Conceptual sound/art pieces constantly run up against the same problem: some ideas are better left as ideas. Chess Machine fits nicely into this category. Using the strategy and turn taking framework of chess, the duo of COH (aka Ivan Pavlov) and Richard Chartier sat across from each other, each trying to goad the other into doing something – just what though wasn’t quite clear. With Pavlov in blue and Chartier in pink, and a lovely blue and pink video peacefully morphing in the background, Pavlov routinely spent his turn on forceful, assaulting bass and searing high tones with very little rhythm. Chartier began with a quieter minimal abstract style, but eventually fell prey to Pavlov’s aggressive prodding and began churning out heavy, angry and formless music. As it turns out, Pavlov’s goal was to make Chartier go agro, so Pavlov won. But Chartier wasn’t the only one Pavlov managed to aggravate into a tizzy – the performance was at times spooky, nerve-grating, and highly agitating. I have never been so angry after a set. MW Crackhaus Hometown heroes Crackhaus (aka Steven Beaupré and Deadbeat’s Scott Monteith) had just released a record on the fledgling Mutek_Rec label and one understood the organisers’ exuberance as soon as the pair took to their laptops. Dressed in overalls, red neckerchiefs and backed by tractor visuals, they produced a brilliant farm-themed set that occasionally sparked comparisons to Timbaland’s more out there Bubba Sparxxx beats but was largely their own avant-country concoction. Tech-y, trippy and oozing rural and urban energy, they finally set-off the crowd, who started spontaneously cheering in the midst of their upbeat beats and funky licks. JO Jason Forrest (aka Donna Summer) At an experimental music festival people have truckloads of patience, but somehow Donna Summer still got booed off-stage. Emerging in a white dinner jacket and an “honourable mention” ribbon, he immediately began spazzing out. “I’m here to play some rock’n’roll for you,” he yelled promisingly, but instead delivered a quickly numbing set of industrial noise, while triggering sounds, playing air guitar and dancing like an electroclash refugee on PCP. It spiced up the proceedings, for about five minutes, at which point his Andy Kaufman shtick grew tiresome. After calling out all the “techno motherfuckers in the back,” the non-responding crowd had had enough. Naturally, Forrest played an encore while the crowd continued voicing their vitriol. It’s one thing to rock out with your cock out, it another to just be a dick. JO Richie Hawtin Chuck D warned us about hype, but it was hard not to get excited about the first Plastikman show in nearly a decade, especially when it was billed as “the most ambitious and audacious audio/visual undertaking of a live set any producer has ever assembled.” Well, then. But Hawtin overreached. The crowd of cultists showed up but the promised performance collapsed when, after months of planning, the purpose-built technology went awry. Re-jigging bits and bytes of his entire discography, the minimalist music sounded amazing most of the time but the matching visuals hardly worked (though they were sufficiently trippy when they did) and there was no discernable light or smoke show. Hawtin’s intentions were admirable, but this was one multimedia spectacular that turned out to be neither. JO Herbert Hitting the tables at 5:40 a.m., Herbert (who hardly ever spins) dropped the festival’s sole DJ set, and it was possibly the most eclectic set I’ve ever heard. Beginning with Radiohead’s glitchy “Everything In Its Right Place,” he moved into extraterrestrial techno, German electro and even the rubberised bass lines of booty tech. His own work, like the better than the original remix of Moloko’s “Sing it Back,” rammed against tracks like “Wordy Rappinghood” and then he delivered a ragga encore followed by a Barry White rave-up around 7:30 a.m., when they finally tore him away from the still-chanting crowd. Matthew Herbert, get thee to thy Technics more often. JO Isolée The German star of the revered Playhouse label, Rajko Muller was the early hit of Mutek’s first all-night party. Backed by impressive visual projections of cityscapes and comets, his funky tech-house was mellow without being overly minimal, packed as it was with lots of little noises jumping about the steady beats. His live set picked up the pace partway through, propelled by more complex drum patterns marked by laser zaps, pseudo-trance-y synths and electro stabs. It began as a primer for what was to come but sounded even better in hindsight after the two subsequent acts flopped. JO Junior Boys With the sheen of disco and new romantic pop, this Toronto act joined their emotive vocal style and morose lyrical mantras with rippling synths, minimal guitars and low-key beats. The effect was somewhat tepid, significantly more soft-focus than its recorded counterpart, where the beats take precedence and the vocals don’t demand a strong stage presence, which was lacking. To their credit though, once the Junior Boys picked up the pace, they drew the night’s first dancers to the floor. LC Kpt. Michigan With a guitar strapped around his torso and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, Schneider TM sidekick Michael Beckett took this opportunity to rebel against the ‘Tek. Simulated piano and organ led some tracks through melodic pastures, while raucous guitars cemented others, each accompanied by either canned rhythm or ‘tronic gurgling, some even capped with live loops. Awkward second-language lyrics detracted from the set, which was mercifully half-instrumental, but the night-vision video amplified it; its industrial images expanding, multiplying and rippling with the size of the sound. LC Krikor French DJ/remixer Krikor made his North American debut with a dark, if decidedly dull, set. His opening “get off yer shit” samples boded well, but instead of the danceable music people were expecting – being 1:30 a.m. and all – he fixated on minimal loops and solitary beats that invoked little more than a metronome (albeit with the odd IDM flourish). It was surely the most Mutek-y set of the night, so it wasn’t entirely out-of-place, but the anxious crowd was hardly swaying, much less roiling, as the skittering beats went about their business. If the sinister vibe had been taken further, Krikor might’ve been more than a placeholder. JO Loscil With the all-night Metropolis party finishing earlier the same morning, Loscil’s set was the perfect remedy to open the festival’s fifth day and final night of performances at the SAT. The Vancouver musician didn’t waste any time constructing a relaxed atmosphere, tapping into his laptop and gently coaxing his mixer into produce some of the finest ambient pulses of the festival. Attentive audience members quickly dropped to the floor from equal parts relaxation and exhaustion, partaking in a brief applause for “Sickbay” early in Scott Morgan’s 40-minute set, which seamlessly linked together selections from all three Kranky releases. DE Chris MacNamara Starting his set with a low, treading thump and an electronic-gilded harmony that sounded like a chorus of monks piously singing with their mouths wide open, MacNamara proved himself in the same tasteful and stylish way the other Thinkbox members have. In the background, footage of an active city-centre street played slightly slowed to give it a dream-like feel. It was an appropriate visual accompaniment to the full music, which used sounds that could’ve been a large deck of metal playing cards being shuffled, and chatty compressed fuzz. MW Carsten Nicolai With sharp, crystal clear beeps and thumping bass lines, Carsten Nicolai relied largely on intricate yet low-key melodies to distinguish his minimal techno from the other performers. There was a great gap in the serious, nearly pain-inducing bass and the lighter sounds, some of which were comparable to the sound of a ring knocking a glass of water, but amplified. His gorgeous black and white visuals kept the bar high, with black and white moving rectangles corresponding to the music. MW The Rip Off Artist American minimalist the Rip Off Artist (Matt Haines, to his mama) had the crowd onside as soon as he turned his laptop on by simply playing something – anything – that could actually be boogied to. The Tigerbeat 6 recording artist pumped out a nicely tight live “minimal click tech-house” set filled with squelch-y sounds, microscopic beats and propulsive, if still somewhat staid, rhythms. But soon enough he brought in the heavy duty bass lines and abstract glitch funk, providing a nice overall balance of experimental production and dance party populism. JO Steve Roy As a louder presence, Steve Roy maintained a balance of the thick and thin. He tempered upbeat vibrations powerful enough to shake your knee caps with bright, spacious elements reminiscent of a heat mirage on a stretch of highway. For the first part of his set he kept his rhythm as a guideline, until he kicked it into high gear in the second part, coming with a full, heavy, pacing sound. Tasty and effective. MW Schneider TM This was a show in which men in white lab coats instilled the crowd with the infection, the cure and the pop lover’s Mutek highlight. On vocoder-filtered vocals, guitar and percussion, Germany’s Dirk Dresselhaus (aka Schneider TM) was joined by regular cohorts Kpt. Michigan (a wildman on the E-drums) and machine manipulator Christian Obermaier, together building exquisitely crafted beats, melodies and songs to dance and sway to. Along with tracks from Schneider’s LPs, Moist and Zoomer, the trio tackled “The Light 3000,” their sweet cover of the Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” LC Signal As Signal, the three Raster Notonities came together to present a refreshingly danceable set, and I saw more than one “so good it hurts” face in the crowd (as well as a few spastic dancers. Woo!). From the sets each performed earlier it seemed Olaf Bender was taking the lead with the blocky bass and angular, lively melodies. The composition was dusted with subtleties native to Carsten Nicolai and Frank Bretschneider. Those sounds were nearly lost in the organised commotion, but moments when the bass ramped down gave play to the more delicate features. Once again, the visuals of morphing shapes in black and white were ridiculously captivating. It was definitely a performance worth staying until the end for. MW Skoltz Kolgen Using an obvious and refreshing visual link to the sound (the left screen connected to the left speakers, the right screen to the right speakers), Montreal duo Domique Skoltz and Herman Kolgen presented their two-screen “Fluux:/Terminal.” Using a variety of architecture-like line drawings and occasionally more grainy images, it was reassuring to hear the sound fuzz out and the image go with it as it trailed across the screen. The presentation came off as cohesive and intentional, and although the sound was sometimes too abstract to be followed, the visuals presented a magnet for wandering minds. They built their performance on the concept of bipolar personality, and it came through wonderfully. MW Smith N Hack In an eventful twist of irony, Smith N Hack provided a syrupy-thick dose of anti-pop to cap off the first event at the SAT. The Berlin duo (Errorsmith and Soundhack) immediately assaulted their gritty disco and funk samples, processing them through various filters and demolishing loops at a medley of speeds. This immediately set off some alarms: “Is this a dance party or a techno set?” By the time the two deconstructed the vocals of Ricardo Villalobos’s “Easy Lee” into helium-induced samples, it obviously didn’t matter to the crowd anymore; they pleasantly continued to start, stop and start dancing until the wee hours of the morning. DE Rob Theakston As every performer knows, no plan is completely solid, and sometimes the bottom will fall out. But the show must go on! Rob Theakston forgot to do visuals for his Mutek performance, and then his computer crashed. Shortly after opening his set with a kitschy little triumphant horn salute, he let the audience know about his predicament via text instead of those forgotten visuals. But it seemed the audience was enjoying “plan B” just as much as I was – Theakston even garnered a “hell yeah!” from the audience when he asked for one via the screens after a Bush-related comment. But maybe plan B was a little too effective – the only thing I recall about his music was its charming and fluid nature. MW Thinkbox The Detroit/Windsor collective made full use of their “carte blanche” showcase as each of the six members delivered diverse half-hour sets, pairing visual displays with a range of earthy atmospheric textures and structured beats. One of two free events at the festival, the diverse and somewhat inattentive audience finally devoted their attention to Rob Theakston’s amusing visual aspect of his performance. Delivering a Powerpoint-styled presentation to apologise for his lack of visuals, Theakston managed to balance the absurd with the serious, while also slamming the Bush administration and garnering an enthusiastic “hell yeah!” response from the crowd. DE Vitaminsforyou As heard on his debut LP, I’m Sorry For Ever and For Always, Bryce Kushnier’s incandescent pop-speckled mosaics set the tone for an evening of sweetness and light. With beats alternately atmospheric and danceable, Kushnier layered piano, synths and vocals (sampled and sung into headphones) while players added more melodic texture via guitar and squashbox. The set peaked as a lady friend joined Kushnier for a duet, a celebratory tune by local indie rock stars the Arcade Fire. LC