Party bliss at Île Soniq. Photos by Cindy Lopez (see the complete gallery here)
This past weekend (Aug. 5-6), Parc Jean-Drapeau was the place to be for the biggest party in town: the third edition of Île Soniq, Evenko’s two-day celebration of EDM and sensory overload.
Despite thorough security checks at the door, the island was jammed with teenagers and 20-somethings tripping balls, loving life and loving the beats, the drops and the cartoons (while wearing next to nothing — see our Île Soniq style gallery here).
Check out our 10-point report from the field:
Local DJs and producers dominated Île Soniq’s Neon stage, and like a lot of the programming on the two smaller stages, provided a respite from the formula EDM happening across the park. Producers GrandBuda and Pomo (see full reviews below) and DJ duos Ponsolo & Ledisko and Shaydakiss & A-Rock eased us into the afternoons with a broad range of beats and rhymes. Tiga closed the Neon stage and classed up the vibe significantly with a live, counter-Skrillex headlining set, playing the North American premiere of his new live show. And when Miami duo GTA cancelled their Saturday evening set, Black Tiger Sex Machine stormed the main stage and whipped the crowd into a frenzy. (Lorraine Carpenter)
GrandBuda and Pomo
Neon kept Montreal on deck over the weekend, and these two sets bookended sunny summer afternoons nicely. On Friday, producer/DJ/rapper GrandBuda, who works closely with local management/promotion outfit Moto Made, hit the stage in style and got the early congregation smiling and swaying to the sounds of uptempo sound clashes, but unfortunately met with some sound difficulties when he went to grab the mic mid-set to rap some new ish from his upcoming LP 1992, through no fault of his own. Too bad, but hey, GrandBuda puts it out all over town on the regular, so no shortage of chances to see him again if you dug. And if you like dark, dope, lyrical rap stylings, get ready for the album — it’s a hot one.
Another locally affiliated upcomer, Pomo, took the same stage Saturday afternoon. Though the crowd was a little sparse, the grooves were thick and dense, a kind of mix of boombap, house and ’80s funk that provided perfect sunshine workout fare for the dancers gathered. Pomo first made waves in Montreal as a member of short-lived live act Panther & the Supafly, but when the rest of the collective defected back to Vancouver, the key player stuck around and refined his beat-making chops, coming up pretty closely with Kaytranada. If you’ve heard the new Mac Miller/Anderson .Paak single, that’s Pomo, and if you read the liners of some more recent works of genius coming out here and there in the rap world, you’ll notice he’s a little bit everywhere. Absolutely one to watch.
Interviews with both talents will hit cultmontreal.com in the coming weeks, so keep ’em peeled. (Darcy MacDonald)
Less live, more lit
The first two editions of Île Soniq worked rappers and the occasional live band into the programming, driving a little variety into the weekend’s sonic aesthetic with high-energy, high-attitude sets by the likes of Die Antwoord, Azealia Banks, Tyga and Iggy Azalia. This year the only bona fide live act was Montreal-born producer, songwriter and nightlife entrepreneur Tiga, whose set started nearly a half-hour late due to software problems, at which point he lost a chunk of the crowd to festival headliner Skrillex. (As Darcy mentioned in his GrandBuda review above, he also had to scrap the rap in his set due to technical problems on the same stage.)
Over on the main stage, the humans working their machines were dwarfed by IMAX-sized screens filled with dizzying psychdelic animation — while a few of the artists hopped up to dance on the deck or gave a leg up to a guest singer for a few minutes, Skrillex, being the pop celebrity he is, was the only act to turn a camera on himself and the crowd.
This is more of an observation than a criticism: this could change in the future, but in 2016 Île Soniq went all club, throwing nearly no bones to anyone who’s not a fan of new-school EDM/dubstep (ie. anyone over 25). The fact that thousands of tripping kids prefer to watch cartoons than people singing, rapping and playing instruments is kind of a no-brainer — anyone who partied in the mid to late ’90s, in blacklit rooms full of lasers and funky projections, can probably relate to that. (LC)
Holy fuckin’ fuck. Without wanting to date myself or be too cliché, I remember hiding out in dark rooms to rave it up, the threat of police breaking up the party an ever-present reality. Think you’ve seen a DJ booth? With no live acts, per se, featured on Île Soniq this year, organizers went all the way in with a mainstage that is essentially one enormous DJ booth, surrounded by screens. Even in the light of day, the visuals were exhilarating, totally consuming the festival grounds with light and colour. By night, the effect was eclipsing. By the time Skrillex started launching heavy ammunition fireworks midway through his fest-closing set, the overall effect of overstimulation reached peak wavvy. Even more telling: when the dubstep posterchild jumped up on the booth to wave an enormous Quebec flag, all the lights went out, and he looked like an ant carrying a leaf — this from a very intimate vantage point. This festival went huge this year, and I think I like it. I could watch these things all day. As Skrillex said in his PLUR-evoking closing speech, “Keep it moving forward.” (DM)
As the second day of Île Soniq took place at the same time as Heavy Montreal, the city’s annual headbanger paradise, organizers were kind enough to permit media access to both fests. And since I am a man of many moods, I headed to Heavy first and took in, of all things, Fear Factory. Not sure if it was the sun or the respite from the previous day’s wobbles at Île, but they were pretty cool. That said, this isn’t about music.
As I exited the Heavy grounds, legions more black-and-denim clad apostles of distortion made their way in, and as I crossed over back to Île, the change in atmosphere made me actually stop in my tracks. Going from doom ’n’ gloom to colour and flesh was the fest equivalent of dropping into an air conditioned dep on a sweltering summer day. I’m more metal than EDM at the end of the day, but I definitely felt among my people back on the Île side of things. (DM)
One of the most sought-after, forward-thinking producers in modern club music, L.A.’s DJ Mustard, had a good time up on the mainstage and definitely got the crowd turnt, as the kids say. But for those of us who hoped for a set of his own hit repertoire, it fell a little flat. Granted, I only heard the second half of the show, as I was out in the woods for the first half of POMO, but it seemed as though he played it safe by dropping recognizable bangers from a more mainstream pool of modern pop gems. You kinda got the feeling it could be anyone up there, but hey, somebody has to make tens of thousands of dollars to push those buttons. Bonus points for the aquarium light show. Mustard didn’t disappoint, but neither did he quite impress. Nonetheless, a solid rush of drops and shouting. (DM)
Speaking of the ’90s, it’s hilarious to hear huge, terrible pop songs ringing out from the main stage, hitting nostalgia buttons for mid-molly teenagers with tunes from their infancy. This time it was the ubiquitous “Wonderwall” by Oasis and “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion (yeah, the Titanic song). The way I feel I about these songs is probably the way a lot of ’70s kids feel about “Bohemian Rhapsody” (which Skrillex featured prominently during his set): Surely there are hundreds of better songs from that era; why is this the one that keeps popping up?
Amid this weak blast from the past, it was a relief to hear fresh quality pop songs by Major Lazer (feat. MØ), (the one) Drake (song I like) and Bieber — yes, Bieber (as produced by Skrillex and Diplo), better than Queen. (LC)
The Joliette-ish kid made a big move at Île Soniq this year. Snails’ set last year, in the shade of the woodsy Neon stage, was my personal highlight of the 2015 edition, so I was curious to see how a repeat performance would translate to the vast main stage. “Montreal,” demanded Snails toward the middle of his high-velocity “vomit-step” beat bonanza, “Are you ready to go hard as fuck?” Yes, we were, and it was perhaps just a coincidence that M.O.P.’s banger “Ante Up” was the next chopped up groove to blast the considerable afternoon crowd. What a difference a year makes. Awesome. (DM)
Let’s be totally honest and acknowledge that there’s a reason half the decor on the main stage consists of giant, inflatable ’shrooms.
Yes, many a reveller had the glow of something a little deeper than the music at Île Soniq, and I’m glad to report that apart from seeing one guy, dazed by an apparent fall on his noggin, assisted by security out of harm’s way, for all the dilated pupils on display, there were not too many reports of serious trouble for heavy partiers on site.
But can we please, please, please leave the pacifiers alone now? I hate to break it to you, but unless you buy your shit from a guy named Michel at a carwash in HoMa, you don’t need to suck on a nipple through your entire trip. This isn’t 1994 and your molly is likely more cut with echinacea than amphetamine by-product. Lose-your-face rave ’n’ rolling is finished. Why not keep a little self-respect and get off the tit? A grown man sucking a glow in the dark soother is, frankly, creepy. Take your fuckin’ drugs like you mean it. (DM)
Skrillex then and now
During his headlining, festival-closing set, Skrillex gave a shout-out to everyone who’d attended his Full Flex Express tour back in 2012, and was met with complete silence from the crowd. I was at that festival (which also featured Diplo, Grimes and a handful of other acts) — it was the first show I ever reviewed for cultmontreal.com — and times have changed.
Back then, Skrillex performed from the bridge of a laser-spitting spaceship that was mounted on the stage; now, like the rest of Île Soniq’s main-stagers, his sound is accentuated by a massive video spectacle, fireworks and volume that felt 50 per cent louder than all the acts who played before him. In 2012, Skrillex was as new to electronic music as he was to fame; now the remodelled emo bro has broadened his sound a bit, cherry-picking from different genres and sliding in some huge pop hits, like the aforementioned Bieber collab, and learned how to pander to a crowd, waving a massive Quebec flag and yelling “we’re the future” with all the power his elfin voice could muster. Skrillex, supersized. (LC)