Culture & Conversation

The century MTL found its groove

Canadian techno stalwart Richie Hawtin leads the stellar lineup  at EM15.

Canadian techno stalwart Richie Hawtin leads the stellar lineup at EM15.

This year marks a significant convergence of milestones for Montreal, as MUTEK, Elektra and Laïka all turn 15. These three pillars of the our thriving electronic and digital arts community have done much to fasten the city’s cultural identity in the 21st century. Piknic Électronik, the city’s main stage for the electronic music community, is 12, and these three festivals together have put us on the map like we’d rarely been.

Call it a critical mass, or call it a fateful synergy. But whatever you call it, it is clear that something changed around the turn of the century – and that started before, with the creation of the SAT in 1996 – which in hindsight, would come to define who Montreal, become MTL, would be in the world’s first digital century.

MUTEK has become known as “one of the most cutting-edge festivals on the planet” in the words of American music and culture mag XLR8R, and has expanded its reach to Mexico City and Barcelona. Piknic too has launched an offshoot in Barcelona, and continues to break new records of attendance every year, while Elektra has become a global magnet for outside-the-box digital innovators, and an illustrative showcase of Montreal’s status as the North American capital of digital arts.

Yet these organizations would prove to be just the incubators, the core of a community whose momentum has accelerated at an exponential, almost dizzying pace. Launched by Piknic in 2007, Igloofest pulled together some of the world’s greatest electronic music acts with the incredible talent of our designers and digital artists, and spawned an inimitable festival unlike any that existed before. In 2012, we launched the first Biennale internationale des arts numériques (BIAN); this year, the inaugural Printemps numérique. Cutting-edge new venues have emerged too attesting to the newfound status and confidence of an avant-garde city on the rise: DHC/ART in 2007, the enlarged and redesigned SAT, now replete with Satosphère as of 2010, the Centre PHI in 2012, and surely more to come.

Around the turn of the millenium, Montreal found its groove, and saw that this century could well be ours. So this year, the fifteenth anniversary of two creative pioneers, there is cause to celebrate, and MUTEK and Elektra are doing just that by joining forces for the launch of their first collective endeavour, EM15. This morning, at the festival’s new headquarters in the Musée d’art contemporain, the full program was unveiled which included, once more, a jaw-dropping roster of some of the world’s most path-breaking and inspiring electronic musicians and digital creators – as well as a growing lineup of world-class local talent which has benefited from the global platforms these festivals afford them. Nicolas Jaar, Ricardo Villalobos, Richie Hawtin (again), Move D, Tom Trago – the list of international stars goes on. And judging by the teasers presented, the local contingent, featuring Ohm Hourani, Matteo Murphy, and Herman Kolgen among others, will justly highlight why this city is the birthplace of two such singular and special events.

The marriage of the two festivals was a long time in the making. I wrote here last year that Elektra was in a sense the “flipside” of MUTEK, where the relation of visuals to music was reversed – in effect, a sort of yin to its yang. In more than one way, the philosophies and aesthetics of the two organizations are sides of a single coin, and this year, for the first time, that coin will be complete. Even if the total number of festival days is decreased as a result, the stature and creative forces of the community can only be propelled further by the synergy. Already, the numbers attest to it: out-of-towners snapped up a whopping 53% of EM15 pre-sales.

It’s not without significance that both MUTEK and Elektra will be housed for the first time at the MAC, whose new director, the younger, more unconventional – and anglophone – John Zeppetelli is bringing a fresh edge and energy to Canada’s only (sigh) contemporary art museum. In a city where the margins are often mainstream, the prestigious setting of the first EM15 event is a telling marker of the electronic music and digital arts community’s ascension, and its central and growing role in the city’s creative fabric. Buffeted by the generational change at the head of the MAC, it also confirms a noted revival. Montreal has changed.

EM15 runs May 27 to June 1. Buy your passes before May 16 to benefit from reduced rates. Info here.


Shawn Katz is Editor of Rover.

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