When it comes to MUTEK, the name says it all. A festival dedicated to forward-thinking world-class artists in the fields of Electronic Music and the Digital Arts, MUTEK celebrates advancements in music and technology. Originally lured in by the name, concept, and poster at the naive age of 23, I have been fortunate enough to have attended the festival for the past 7 years in a row.
MUTEK has opened many doors for me in terms of my personal musical discovery process, introducing me to then-obscure artists who have since risen to become the leading global purveyors of electronic music. But MUTEK is not your ordinary electronic music festival. You will not find any dirty ravers here. No, sir. Its fans are the world’s intellectual techno elite, wearing glasses by day and contacts by night. The MUTEK festival uniform is minimal, monochrome, and asymmetrical, and the festival places equal emphasis on experimental music and installation art as it does the get-down-and dance party music that we all love.
One of the most unique aspects of the festival is the fact that MUTEK’s highly educated fan base does, in fact, get down. The festival’s programming is structured like a huge buildup from Wednesday til Saturday, starting slow with mostly experimental, down-tempo, nu-disco and mixed grooves, with daytime panel discussions and workshops on compelling topics such as Ableton, MAX MSP, Satellite Sonification, and Performing Sound in a Post-Instrument World. Evenings are dedicated to a variety of offerings. Take your pick from the EXPERIENCE events–like a mini outdoor music festival every evening at the Place De La Paix, the ever-experimental A/Visions series–amalgamations of experimental music, video, and performance installation, or the late-night meanderings of the NOCTURNE series, the ‘party’ events of the festival, dedicated exclusively to music of the dance.
Detroit’s Movement–a modern offshoot of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, is, by stark contrast, more like a giant rave. Taking place in Detroit’s Hart Plaza over a period of four days over Memorial Day Weekend, from Friday thru Monday nearly 100,000 people attend the festival. Look around and you will see kids wearing candy bracelets and phat pants, seventeen-year-old girls wearing tutus and sparkly bikinis and fur-covered leg warmers, even though its scorching hot. Right here in this plaza is where techno was born, which is why, for the first time ever, I had to go and witness the spectacle for myself in 2012.
Performance-wise, MUTEK and Movement seem to draw out opposite inclinations from their artists; MUTEK tends to bring out the more technical, subdued, risque sides of its artists, whereas in Detroit, the entire party is a full-on techno throw-down. I suppose you could attribute this to the style and crowd of each festival; intellectuals vs. ravers and party people. Regardless, the barely-overlapping roster of world-class talent at both festivals ensures that minds will be blown and attendees will leave feeling exhausted yet inspired.
This year’s highlights, for me, are as follows:
1) Jeff Mills @ Nocturne 2 (Thursday) @ MUTEK. 4 CDJS and a mixer + a 909, this guy performed on his knees in front of a crowd of approximately 4,000 people on a Thursday night. Utterly mind blowing. Pure techno at its finest.
2) Subb-an @ Beatport Stage Monday afternoon in Detroit. Weaving together classic riffs from tunes such as Jaydee’s Plastic Dreams, Prince’s Erotic City, and Carl Craig’s At Les amongst freshly reworked drums and bass, Subb-an delivered a live set to remember amidst the dappled late afternoon light.
3) KinK Live @ Experience 4 (Saturday Afternoon) @ MUTEK. Mind blowing live techno and house played by a truly modern musician, who is an amazing keyboardist, master of MIDI, and a guru of the most finely concocted deep weird and groovy electronic rhythms.
4) Nina Kraviz @ Main Stage, Monday afternoon in Detroit. Imagine a 1960′s French film star spinning techno, ghetto-house, and deep tech grooves. And you have Nina Kraviz.
5) A Guy Called Gerald @ Nocturne 4 (Saturday) @ MUTEK – Drum’n'bass, minimal, micro-house, and techno smashed together in a set that was equally diverse and dance floor-friendly. Pure Perlon Party Styles.
6) Kevin Saunderson @ Main Stage, Monday Night, Detroit. Sick techno, mixed by hand… the hand of Kevin Saunderson that is. Deep, melodic, driving, wonderful.
7) Alicia Hush Live @ Experience 3 (Friday evening) @ MUTEK. Sick minimal bassy grooves from this homegrown Canadian techno talent. Funky as hell. Rocking. Bad ass.
8) Andrew Pekler & Jan Jelinek play Ursula Bogner @ A/Visions 2 (Thursday) @ MUTEK. Trippy modular synthesis and analogue sampling turned performance, complete with video installation featuring compelling images + messages from outer space.