Summer is always rather festive in Montreal, especially for electronic music fans. Lots of international attention is given to MUTEK, and there's also a lot to be said for the more highbrow Elektra festival (essentially dedicated to digital and media arts). 15 years ago, the Montreal Electronic Groove festival debuted as an outlet for more populist bookings with strong underground credentials. The 2013 edition confirmed its increasing relevance not only on a local level, but also on the North American festival circuit.
MEG kicked off in style with a set from Agoria at Phi Center, a dazzling new venue in Old Montreal. Instead of going for the deep house serenity of his latest single, "For One Hour," the French artist opted for the anything-goes vibe of his At The Controls and Balance 016 mixes. During his 90-minute set, Justin Jay's "Static" intertwined with hints of "Pump Up The Jam" and Wayne Williams & Cajmere's twisted "Acid House," eventually ending with "Parade," a track from Agoria's protégé, Rone.
MEG always casts its net very wide, booking pop-rock artists (like Duchess Says or The Besnard Lakes this year) next to hip-hop and electronic acts. This doesn't always work. For instance, if you were feeling nostalgic and wanted to catch French agit-pop outfit Sexy Sushi at Belmont, you had to sit through local Pussy Riot wannabes Géraldine et les Narines Lepen. This was a shame, considering Hissy Fit, another Montreal up-and-comer, was delivering a playful, Mouse On Mars-esque set of bouncy house at the same time at Le Divan Orange.
The next day, the same venue showcased the Artbeat crew and their so-called "PIU PIU" sound. Under the patronage of Poirier and Prefuse 73, local 20-something beatmakers such as TTT, Bongiovanni, Quills and Bueller offered a visceral approach to sound conception. With their knack for improvisation, they gave a more adventurous take on the hip-hop/electronica cross-pollination that's been in vogue for a few years now. In fact, this telescoping of genres is by now so common that nobody blinked an eye when Sound Pellegrino Thermal Team and Para One dropped the likes of Aaliyah ("Are You That Somebody"), Ginuwine ("Pony") and Ludacris ("What's Your Fantasy") in the middle of their skewed techno set at Club Soda.
It's worth noting that MEG teams up with other local events happening at the same time—namely the established Piknic Electronik and Osheaga festival, a three-day outdoor event that happens on the first weekend of August. Sometimes MEG is the weaker of the two: local producers Locomote and Omni had the spotlight stolen from them as the My Favorite Robot posse delivered a rousing set on the main Piknic stage. But it also meant you had another chance to catch Jimmy Edgar's digital funk (after his Osheaga-sponsored Boiler Room set) or Rone's spirited electronica at a MEG-Osheaga showcase at Société des Arts Technologiques.
In the end, the Montreal Electronic Groove did a good job of delivering established artists while also taking a chance on promising new producers. The festival makes you appreciate the Québec metropolis in a different light. Truth be told, you haven't really experienced the Montreal underground unless you get on the MEG Boat, take a middle-of-the-night cruise on the Saint-Lawrence river surrounded by concrete docks and overarching bridges, and hear The Hacker and Zombie Nation playing "Energy Flash" by Joey Beltram. And you can only thank MEG for that.