Culture & Conversation

The many sides of MUTEK

Rover sat down for a chat with UK artist Four Tet, seen here

Rover sat down for a chat with UK artist Four Tet, seen here

MUTEK’s headline Nocturne, its Saturday night programming, is the one designed to get you moving. Simply put, it’s the party night. You’ll find less of an emphasis on mind-blowing visuals and highly conceptual, cutting-edge digital creations – the visuals, in other words, are there purely as backdrop to the live performance, much like a pumped-up iTunes visualizer, or Winamp’s trippy Milkdrop. The upside of all this, of course, is that the focus is squarely on the music. And it will get you dancing.

But MUTEK is much more than this, and even on its most mainstream of nights, it’s a festival unlike the rest. Rover caught up with the UK’s Four Tet (real name Kieran Hebden) on June 4 before the show, who quickly made the point.

“MUTEK to me is a very typical, perfect kind of event,” said the UK musician known for his eclectic range of influences and unique and varied sound. “[It’s] the more experimental ends of electronic music, people taking electronic music and trying to do a bit more boundary-pushing music – it’s all about that.”

On top of MUTEK’s unique curated approach, with its thematically organized events and aggressive pursuit of innovation, its passion for the craft of electronic music performance is evident as well in its near-exclusive focus on live performances over the DJ mixing and sampling more common elsewhere.

“It’s very focused,” says Hebden. “It’s gonna have an audience that really is passionate about this; it’s quite specific. It’s electronic music, but focusing much more on live performances rather than DJs, and I think that’s the difference… You know, if you went to something like this in Europe, there’d probably be a lot more DJs in the lineup.” Indeed, live performances accounted for over 95% of MUTEK’s programming this year.

Hours later, Four Tet and collaborator Rocketnumbernine were on stage at Metropolis for the fourth Nocturne, launching into an impromptu jam session that made good on MUTEK’s promise of “live electronics and genre fusion” for this Saturday night session.

Following their characteristically eclectic and wide-ranging sets – it began with an upbeat solo by Rocketnumbernine, followed by the joint session, and finally Four Tet’s solo performance – Austria’s Elektro Guzzi took to the stage and swiftly tore the roof off the place. By far the most under-hyped appearance at this year’s festival (or at least that I had the fortune to see), this high-energy trio electrified the crowds with their light and percussion-heavy improvised techno beats which put a whole lot of bounce in the step of Saturday’s lineup.

Ending off the night was, of course, London’s international superstar and founder of Border Community records, James Holden, who kept the crowds up dancing past dawn with a strong live set of fresh minimal techno.

Holden was back at the controls the next day, gently entrancing the crowds at MUTEK’s last Piknic Electronik with a delightfully smooth and sunny DJ set on the more intimate and low-key Guru stage. It was a beautiful and mellow evening set, one perfectly in tune with the mood of the many MUTEK warriors doubtless basking in their fatigue on this fifth and final day of the festival’s twelfth edition.

And what a festival it was.

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