MUTEK Mexico 2015: review

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MUTEK Mexico 2015: 12th Edition
21st – 25th October, Mexico City

Fresh back and fully inspired by my experience at MUTEK Mexico, I felt compelled to write a review, despite not being a writer, or a reviewer. For those that don’t know, MUTEK is a festival originating from Montreal with the remit of exploring the intersection between sound, music and new media. They hold events in Barcelona, Bogota, Montreal and Mexico, with in its 12th edition.

The programming of local artists in whichever territory they are in, and the support they receive from local institutions makes this not only an excellent mix of lesser-known and international players, but a celebration with local communities who attend the festival, and dare I say, actually dance.

Play1 at Hotel Reforma was the club setting for “Low End Dreams”. Dance would have been possible were it not for the packed audiences. There was a diplomacy of restraint here, especially for Nosaj Thing, whose beautiful hip-hop tinged and joyful performance left everyone wanting to move more. The back-lit halo of lights, never revealing his face, added a modest drama. Local artist Kampion contributed a lightness of touch with his 80’s beats and tongue in cheek-iness, and his students And The End of Everything added a shoegaze element with guitar and dreamscapes, nicely contrasting the other acts.

In terms of novel interface, the show was stolen the next evening by Martin Messier for Field. Aptly presented in the Teatro de la Ciudad, the dramatic arc of this performance almost distracted from the brilliance of his system. He seemed to patch illuminated cables between 2 large metal plates, with a moving strobe casting huge shadows behind as he paced back and forth collecting cables. The electromagnetic fields between the 2 plates, contact microphones, and a violin bow created the rhythmic and pulsating soundtrack, and the bowing onto the plates towards the end was reminiscent of the intensity of the Rite of String. The formality of the setting made me want to see audiences riot as we are told they did in Stravinsky’s time.

Martin Messier. Image: Caroline HayeurMartin Messier. Image: Caroline Hayeur

At the same concert, we saw an impressive laser display from Robert Henke for Lumiere, seeing here the relationship between visuals and music in the most meaningful way. The theatrical setting reminded me of early scientific demonstrations, where audiences were spell-bound by some new form of technology or invention. If it were not for the lush sonic clarity of the soundwork, I might have felt that this laser demo lacked dynamic.

Moving on to Foro Normandie for “Dance into Oblivion”, which lived up to its name, the performers played surrounded on all sides. Local artists Los Mekanikos raised energies with live drums, but the show was dominated by female performers Lena Willikens (who played with a freshly broken leg!!) followed by Paula Temple. These sets never allowed for the classic structures of techno to be lazily employed for the sake of satisfying dancers, but instead meandered from plateau to plateau. I found this challenging, deliberate and refreshing.

Lena WillikensLena Willikens. Photo Official

Paula TemplePaula Temple. Photo Official

The largest venue, the Foto Museo Cuatro Caminos (FMCC) provided the stage for the next two nights, offering a hard mix of visual techno across three rooms (surely the genre Techno can no longer encompass all of these forms?). The FMCC has been redeveloped over the last three years with a view to facilitating both fine art photography exhibitions, and MUTEK, it certainly felt like an eccentric venue.

Highlights of the first night here were UK-based Lee Gamble with visuals from Dave Gaskhart, whose 3D renderings alluded to his personal synaesthetic experience of Lee’s music. Visual highlights came from Patrick Trudeau who appeared to collaborate with at least three musicians over the two nights.

Dave GaskhartDave Gaskhart

Alessandro Cortini was possibly the most ‘live’ techno experience of the festival in terms of performance interface with the use of hardware and homemade synths, pushing feedback signals to the edge, and with an organic growth that didn’t rely on backing tracks or pre-recorded loops. Unfortunately, the glass wall surrounds made for a harsh tinny sound overall. Due to the multi-stage programming, I missed half of Shakleton (which was perfectly suited to faceless dance), in favour of catching the incredible Dasha Rush, whose dreamy and violent elevations somehow left audiences unable to move in usual ways.

Dasha RushDash Rush. Photo Official

ReflectionsTakami Nakamoto & Sebastien Benoits. Photo: Nonotak

The final night saw a fantastic light installation-come-dance act between multi-talented Takami Nakamoto and drummer Sebastien Benoits for Reflections, which was clearly the most popular and cherished of performances that evening, followed by the well-known Clark who gave audiences precisely what they expected. I was disappointed to only catch the end of Lucrecia Dalt whose artistic development over the years from techno to experimental pop to somewhere in between has been a pleasure to follow. Lee Bannon satisfied with spontaneous genre-bending classics, but really, the hardest set came from Lotic, whose movements on stage could only inspire, skipping from one side to the other spinning clothing over his head. This made me realise how static most of the other acts had been.

LoticLotic. Photo: Official

On the conference side, Takami Nakamoto presented his incredible installations as studio Nonotak with partner Noemi Schipfer. A combination of architectural light and shadow installations, with incredibly well-designed sonic accompaniments, it was almost too much to consider that this body of work has been created in just 2 years. The all male panel on audio-visual composition inspired local or lesser known artists to realise that these successful artists ‘play’ and discover as part of their process, that there is no single method towards achieving meaning between sound and visual, and that personal exploration and instinct is key. It was also clear that each artist felt limited by slow technological progress in regards to the tools they use. EAVI alumn Bruno Zamborlin gave a talk about Mogees with a curious and impressed audience from SAE in awe of his invention.

The consistently strong programming of this festival, combined with the local connections, welcoming crew and excellent venues make this a uniquely impressive event. There is really no concluding tag line that won’t sound trite, so you should just go and see for yourself.