Mutek’s strength has always been in its ability to piece together coherent events, where even the most unconventional of artists seem to fit in comfortably between their peers.
August 22 was the opening night of Mutek’s 19th edition. The festival opened at Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT) with rhythm-driven hybrid sets from Equiknoxx, Clap! Clap!, and DJ Lag. Each from an entirely different corner of the world (Jamaica, Italy, and South Africa, respectively), the artists’ stylistic differences were evident, yet seemed entirely natural alongside one another. The main floor of the SAT was outfitted with live visuals projected on the concrete walls, friendly “Party Support” staff, and a powerful sound system that prompted the use of earplugs by many.
The venue was nearly full when Equiknoxx took the stage at 9:50 p.m. It was clear that their performance was the main draw (rarely would dance music enthusiasts arrive so early). The two dancehall producers were joined by a third member of the Equiknoxx Music collective, Shanique Marie, whose playful vocals and witty comments added a welcomed lightness to the otherwise deep and dubbed out beats. The three were all smiles as they cycled through tracks that spanned their discography, never pausing for more than a split second between each one. The crowd seemed most enthralled with the sheer power of the low-end sound resonating through the high-ceilinged space; each kick drum seemed to rattle the subwoofer cabinets and quite literally jiggle the skin on the audience’s cheeks. While the incredibly heavy subs suited the dubbed out aspects of their music, they seemed to overshadow the intricacies in Equiknoxx’s sound design that impressed so many on their 2017 album Colón Man. While a slight adjustment would have pleased the audiophiles in the crowd, their set was otherwise flawless.
The biggest surprise of the night was the entirety of Clap! Clap!’s performance. The lighthearted and bubbly rhythms heard on his Soundcloud page were all but forgotten in favour of thunderous kick drums and cheap melodies, and the live performance seemed to continue on for longer that it needed to. The set’s dependence on theatrical bass drops, combined with eclectic and cartoonish visuals by A/V artist Binocle (pineapples, elephants, floating aliens in yoga po
ses) made the performance feel like an acid trip to one of the smaller stages at Tomorrowland. While this seemed exciting
for many faithful dancers happily bouncing around towards the front of the crowd, the style of performance was not what most Mutek-goers anticipated. This was apparent by the large number of people gathered towards the back of the venue, using the time to rest their legs or get some fresh air outside. Regardless, the energy that Clap! Clap! exhibited was remarkable. The Italian DJ jumped back and forth during his entire set, screamed during the brief silence before each new beat was introduced and ultimately did everything he could to engage the crowd. Never has anyone so gleefully pounded an AKAI drum machine for an hour straight.
If Clap! Clap!’s performance seemed to dwell on static rhythms for too long, DJ Lag’s music selection did the opposite. The South African dance music specialist shifted through tempos with each track, allowing for a dynamic set that challenged dancers to get creative with their moves. Despite the focus on bass-heavy music, the issues with the sound levels which were apparent in Equiknoxx’s set were absent throughout the entirety of DJ Lag’s hour behind the decks, and it was the complex drum patterns that shone through above all. Lag’s selections were fresh and diverse, and it was hard not to smile when he played out acapellas of Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” and Big Shaq’s infamously memeable “Man’s Not Hot” layered over raw, scattered claps.
Admittedly, the first Nocturne (SAT’s eclectic electronic audiovisual shows) of this year did not showcase all that Mutek has to offer — the “wow” factor of past events was not present. Nonetheless, it was a fun and lighthearted party that kicked off the 19th edition of the festival.