RA Reviews: MUTEK 2017: Five key performances at Various Venues

A lot changed at MUTEK in 2017. The week-long showcase moved down the calendar from early June to late August, cutting out a glut of competing cultural events in Montreal while allowing for the cooler weather to take over. The festival, known for its emphasis on live acts, also loosened its policy to allow more DJs into the mix, which made it feel more contemporary and open-ended. Each of the four main days was focused on a different city—Barcelona, Berlin, Mexico City, London—offering a fresh curatorial angle. Most importantly, MUTEK returned to the Société Des Arts Technologiques (or SAT), a multi-floor, audiovisual complex (complete with a 3D dome theatre) that was much better suited to electronic music than the Musée D’Art Contemporain De Montréal.

Otherwise, MUTEK 2017 was really just the same as always: daring, overflowing with ideas and always at the cutting edge—which is remarkable for a festival nearing its second decade of operation. With a clever and all-encompassing lineup that covered everything from the most extreme end of experimental music to the minimal house of Zip—via Beatrice Dillon, Max Cooper, Sensate Focus, Sarah Davachi, ESB, Nicola Cruz and Aurora Halal—it was a year that both reaffirmed and reinvigorated the adventurous spirit the festival has embodied since it started back in 2000.

Here are five key performances from across the weekend.


Norwegian sound artist Helge Sten topped off an ambitious Thursday night program that saw four drone artists perform at the massive, 2300-capacity Métropolis club, which was home to the biggest dance artists at MUTEK. The cavernous space and booming system offered a level of power that drone artists don’t often get to work with. Sten made the most of it. Bathed in a single beam of light and flanked by two simple spotlights, he released waves of rumbling drone before pivoting into cascading pulses of distortion that visibly startled the audience. They only grew more aggressive with each new iteration, and the silences between them more tense. At one point, when the music went silent for ten seconds, it felt like being at the top of a rollercoaster about to careen down.

A friend of mine described Sten’s set as the loudest sound he had ever heard. Another lasted about six minutes before going home, though I revelled in every new wrinkle and permutation of the deafening roars. Just sitting on the floor and feeling the vibrations was sensory overload. This was ambient…

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