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Mutek: On the Front Lines with Underground Resistance


is the North American electronic-music wet dream: five days and four very long nights in a handful of clubs/galleries in the center of Montreal with some of the most fawned-upon producers, DJs, and visual artists on the planet. (Though it helps to not be "electro" anything or mix with breakbeats.) While you'd think a music writer might spend his vacation in a very, very quiet place, I'm up here dancing my little heart out and, you know, writing about it.

Wednesday, the festival's first night, already made it worth the 14 hours on the train. Detroit's

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--label, DJ/producer collective, progenitor of techno music, force of nature--lives according to its name: A live appearance is a rare thing, particularly one recounting its 2006 opus compilation,

Interstellar Fugitives 2

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. The show happened at the

, a large gallery/performance space that might resemble Sonar with white walls, an effing NASA-designed sound system (the sound booth looks like Mission Control), and an almost entire wall of screens, some TV-style monitors and some for projection. It's impressive, and, aside from Boh and other can/bottle cheapies, beer is still cheaper than anywhere larger than the Ottobar in Baltimore.

The set was awe-inspiring and just plain inspiring. UR is ferociously political and comes off as a sort of techno answer to Public Enemy, if Public Enemy never compromised to celebrity/whoredom. While fellow techno originators

and

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went off to become stars, UR's Mike Banks took the opposite tack and built an army for a war against personality, rejecting his own status in the music world, a key part of which is staying/hiding in Detroit. As he recently told

The Wire

magazine, "I believe that if you put your ego in front of the music and place it in front of the speaker, then the people trying to listen to the music can't hear your music, they just listen to your ego." Community is much of the dance-music ideal but is so often conflated with rock music's idol worship.

In fact, the music that is huge right now in electronic music, the sounds selling out rock clubs, is UR's hell. Whether it's the nihilism/narcissism of

Justice or the hedonism and revivalism of Cut Copy, DJs and producers were never "supposed" to be on pedestals. Nor was dance music and dancing itself meant to be apolitical or an escape. Politics/protest and dancing aren't mutually exclusive. Dancing isn't necessarily the thing you do after the day is done, metaphorically speaking, but so often it's meant to be taken as indulgent now. The basic point of it is community. (One of a few things lost in the electro-house movement is the ability to dance with people as opposed to dancing at the stage.) With a group such as UR, who damn well has problems with this world--which it espouses in music that is sharp and industrial, but mainly in peripheral lore and self-mythology--dancing to it together is something more than a show of solidarity.

Wednesday's performance was made up of a UR compilation album that came out a few years ago and encompasses a range of the label's subgroups and solo artists. On this evening the assembled group of five went by Interstellar Fugitives. Probably one of last things you imagine seeing on stage at a techno show are five angry black men--DJ Skurge, barking hypeman Atlantis, a bandanna-masked Ray 7, MIA on drum pads, and Mike Banks himself--but, at a festival celebrating electronic music populated by a whole lot of white people, it's probably a good reminder that house and techno were started in and maintained by black communities. The show was about an hour and a half and covered what sounded to be most of the compilation, including an encore whose slow rhythmic build recalled, oddly, Dan Deacon (minus the nitrous).

A great deal of the music of Interstellar Fugitives is a very strange and fantastically captivating sort of tribal techno, helped by murderous drum-pad play. There was a great deal of sloganeering by Atlantis, but none of it felt unwelcome. And you have to love dystopian sci-fi that comes via both screen and sound, which is a huge part of UR. At one time techno was a supposed to sound like the future, or some imagining of it, and it's nice to hear that dark revivalism--because, you know, we're still not in the future yet, no matter how much we like to pretend. As Atlantis half-chants, half-raps over sharp electro lashes, "This might be a mirage."

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