This year, Mutek celebrates 10 great years of showcasing some of the world’s best electronic music and culture. In that time, it has become not only one of Montréal’s most beloved festivals, but one of the premiere events of its kind in the world. It runs from May 27th-31st in some of the cities’ most interesting venues- check www.mutek.org for the full rundown.
I’m a huge fan of this unique event and will have a ton of exclusive tips, picks and profiles on this blog in the coming weeks. To kick it all off, I sat down with Dimitri Nasrallah, the Festival’s Content Manager and International Media Relations whiz. We talked about how the fest began and where it’s going…
Brendan Murphy: So, how did Mutek start?
Dimitri Nasrallah: MUTEK began as an evolution of programming that Alain Mongeau had been doing for the FCMM festival during the late 90s. At the time, FCMM had a live-performance section dedicated musicians using new technology to experiment with music. By 2000, MUTEK was an independent festival platform for these live performances.
BM: What was the first year like? Did you have any idea that it would get this huge?
DN: The first year of MUTEK was a modest affair, attracting approximately 2000 people. The venues back then were lot smaller, and the festival took place primarily at Ex-Centris, Laika, and Cafe Campus. 34 artists performed that year. The staff was small, but then again, the staff is still relatively small compared to other festivals. I think there was always the idea of that first seed germinating in place – it grew a lot more organically than any kind of long-term planning could have predicted. By 2003, MUTEK had launched a second festival in Mexico City, and by 2004 there was a version of the festival in Chile. All the while the Montréal version grew and grew, and began to attract a lot of attention across North America for being a unique event.
BM: What is it about Montréal that made it a perfect home for this sort of music?
DN: Well, in the first years, there was a very vibrant homegrown scene of producers who supported the festival and who the festival, in turn, promoted to wider audiences. Certainly the city takes its cultural events seriously and there is financial support here for events of this nature that simply doesn’t exist elsewhere. On the other hand, Montréal has always been seen as a cultural gateway between Europe and the rest of North America – that has a lot to do with the unique mix of French and English cultures living side by side. Electronic music has historically seen greater acceptance in Europe, and a bit of that has always filtered back to Montréal. So MUTEK managed to capitalize on the timing of the cultural boom in serious techno around the turn of the century, and things just went from there.
BM: What have been some of the things that have helped Mutek grow?
DN: There are always basic organizational issues like securing the right team to organize the festival or strategically growing into bigger venues successfully- these issues ensure a smoother transition in growth. But, from a public standpoint, I would think one of the biggest factors in the festival’s growth in the last few editions especially has had to do with the programming evolving steadily away from just offering serious techno and avant-garde experimentation, and beginning to follow the organic mainstreaming of critically acclaimed electronic genres. Finding place in the line-up for dubstep, abstract hip-hop, turntablism, electronic rock, and disco has helped open up the sphere of the festival to new audiences. The core of serious techno and new-media experimentation is still there, but we have to take into account that many of those tools that were considered elite and obscure 10 years ago have become the accepted way of making music digitally across a number of fields, and those areas have a place in MUTEK. Technology and its place in everyday life has grown immensely over the last decade, and that has contributed to the general acceptance of an event that celebrates the creativity of these tools.
BM: Can you think of any personal highlights from over the years?
DN: Sure, there are plenty, many of which we’ve recorded and released on our website just this year. Vladislav Delay in 2000, Closer Musik in 2001, Luomo in 2002, Tim Hecker in 2003, Jamie Lidell in 2004, Apparat in 2005, Modeselektor in 2006, Kode 9 & The Spaceape in 2006, Underground Resistance in 2007, The Field in 2008, the list goes on…
It’s worth checking out www.mutek.org/podcast for a sense of what has passed through festival stages over the course of the past decade.
BM: And what about this year, the 10th anniversary edition?
DN: Personally, I’m really looking forward to the disco-leaning sounds of Pilooski, Trus’Me, and The Mole; the Suicide-influenced electronic rock of Turzi and Zombie Zombie, and can’t forget Gas, NSI, and Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Photos: Miguel Legault.