Mutek was founded in 2000 when the rave era was at its peak, but after the monster party scene collapsed a couple years later, the festival stayed strong because they traded in a style of electronic music that was more esoteric than ecstatic.
Now electronic music has exploded once again as Mutek celebrates its 13th anniversary in Montreal from May 30 - June 3, but festival programmer Patti Schmidt, famed for her stint on CBC Radio's late, lamented Brave New Waves, couldn't care less.
"Everyone wanted to know my opinion on Deadmau5 and Skrillex, which, well, snore..." she says. "But Justice and Daft Punk and Depeche Mode have all been big business, and all been stadium rockers. I feel like the penetration of the mainstream keeps happening over and over again and the 25-year-olds who are writing the articles are on some novelty angle that nobody can ever shake.
"I'm a refusenik about this."
Fair points all, but certainly Mutek no longer has the dancefloor to itself these days, as electronic tours like IDentity and mega one-off festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas now dot the summer calendar and every rock fest adds a dance tent. And the whole thing has become big money.
"There's a commercial angle to it and in the last few years, the fees and the agency structure around the bigger names in electronic music have really tripled or quadrupled," Schmidt says. "The money that they get is kinda mind-boggling."
And so she laughs off promoters who ask for $40,000 for some trendy producer and instead curates a line-up that pushes boundaries, paying homage to the past while fixing its eyes firmly on the future. And when Mutek does book a hot commodity, like Richie Hawtin and Amon Tobin last year, or Nicholas Jaar this year, it's because they have a longstanding relationship already.
"This will be the third time he [Jaar] has played at the festival and the first time nobody knew who he was," says Schmidt. "He had maybe one 12-inch out and [Mutek director] Allain [Mongeau] had a connection to him through Chile."
Jaar will be joined by a diverse line-up ranging from techno legend Jeff Mills and acid house icon A Guy Called Gerald to Juno-winning avant-garde electronic artist Tim Hecker on a church organ and a rare "live soundtracking" set from dubstep pioneer (and Hyperdub label boss) Kode9. There will also be sets from Canadian heroes like Mat Jonson, Solvent and Junior Boys' Jeremey Greenspan as well as "dudes with oscillators and scotch tape and rubber bands."
"The trick to it is that it's a festival, and not just a lineup," she says. "The context offers something special from a one-off show or one-off party. There's an experiential arc that's built into going to a few shows in a row, or several days worth of programming. There's the size of the venues and intimacy and the fact the artists are also circulating at the festival. The big nights at Metropolis are anchored by big names and then there is a lot of batshit art that's mixed in there."
Perhaps the mainstreaming of EDM will bring curious crowds this year, but Schmidt is ready to roll with anything.
"I think Mutek is unique and quite adaptable," she says. "There's always been an understanding of mutation in the name Mutek -- music is a moving target."