Migos at Ile Soniq 2017. Photos by Cindy Lopez (see her full gallery here)
For a fourth year, Montreal’s babylon of electronic excess ÎleSoniq once again turned up the watts that have made it increasingly identifiable as its own entity since its relatively modest beginnings.
A site relocation to Île Notre Dame, in the same space where Osheaga broke ground last week, kept the ever-shaping spirit of the event in step, despite having achieved what I consider an impressively rapid signature style in its third year.
Reimagined touches to familiar decor, stage design, site layout and the general magnitude of several billings, especially on the hip hop end of things, helped further define the EDM fest’s image and value in this market, and this without perhaps as many younger headlining draws as years previous, in a sense paying respect to the old school in a musical realm where purists are quick to call bullshit on obvious profiteering without the skills to back it up, in a city that served as an early hub for transcontinental DJ culture, importing and exporting with a DIY savvy intrinsic to Montreal. Given the relatively local, teenage, suburban demographic in attendance at Île, as compared to Osheaga’s destination-fest draw power, it’s a nice — if maybe less noticed — touch, one promising to further distinguish its intrigue for travelling fest-connoisseurs.
A healthy number of people behind ÎleSoniq have been around the electronic scene, culture and music long enough to both know what they’re doing, and still care enough to get it right, not just pull it off.
ÎleSoniq is still working towards its status as the city’s big dance music event, but its confidence is showing and its moves are getting slicker. (Darcy MacDonald)
My first ÎleSoniq experience dates back to the inaugural festival in 2014. As a weed-loving 17-year-old who dreamt of the day he could finally be let into New City Gas, I was without question a perfect fit for the event’s target demographic.
Interestingly enough, my time spent at the very first ÎleSoniq saw a shift in my attitude that would ultimately lead to me become the festival scene’s “youngest old person,” a sobered-up cynic who learned to hate everyone around him through the power of EDM.
My transitioned self decided to hit the festival one more time to see how the new-and-i̶m̶p̶r̶o̶v̶e̶d̶ deteriorated me would enjoy ÎleSoniq a whole three years later. (Mr. Wavvy)
Coco for megahits
For all I know — and not to understate the number of arguably more streetwise presence of South West youth in attendance — all the South Shore/Montérégie/campagne kids gathered in droves early Friday evening at the Bud Light Life Stage think the “CoCo” is their morning breakfast egg.
Atlanta-born, Long Beach, CA raised, drawler/baller and hitmaker OT Genasis brought the low end of the trap to a crowd you might see at LaRonde or the Mini-Putt any given Sunday afternoon, and the thousands gathered ate it alive.
Wavvy and I were privy to a side stage view of the proceedings, with a close range view of the heart and soul Genasis puts into his live show — which, I’ll confess, I had no particular hopes for, either way — and the happy faces in the crowd bouncing to their generation’s pop bangers. If we’re being fair enough to categorize this as legitimate hip hop, at least he brings a certain danger and fuck-you vibe to the airwaves by comparison to a lot of the ass-shaking hot garbage proliferated in club rap for years.
Further, Genasis’s presence is powerful without looking practised. He’s not just doing a lot with a little: what he’s got is honest and compelling. Granted, he is 30 years old, and that wisdom gives his style raw believability.
I was told by a booker he handpicked the rapper off the strength of his 2017 SXSW appearance, an example of how the festival is curated. Something for kids, brought to you by people who actually want you to make memories while you spend your money. (DM)
What better way to spend hip hop’s 44th birthday than to watch a “turn-up rapper” challenge the principles the genre was based upon? I’ve been a fan of O.T. Genasis since I first heard about him during his brief stint at G-Unit Records in 2011.
Flash-forward six years, the Long Beach native is one of rap’s biggest forces when it comes to making hit club records. Such a role, along with his undeniable buoyancy, made him seem like a perfect fit to serve as one of the EDM festival’s few hip hop representatives.
Despite not touching upon his heavy-hitting tracks like “Cut It” and, of course, “Coco” until towards the end of his set, the rapper managed to hold the crowd’s attention through and through with plenty of easy to learn sing-alongs and onstage antics (namely, downing a quarter of a vodka bottle within his first 20 minutes onstage). I’m no friend of cocaine, but this rapper’s drug-praising party could have damn near turned me into an addict! (MW)
The kids are all lit
Immediately following OT Genasis on the same stage came Bed-Stuy raised, Yeezy-signed next-up kid Desiigner, whose 2016 mixtape New English spawned “Panda,” the type of summer hit that will remain timeless despite the current era of forget-me-ever-after meme rap.
By now the crowd gathered on the considerably vast floor area was comfortably reaching critical mass both in terms of fans present and the anticipation of seeing a genuine young star on the rise do the thing that makes them get loose.
Setting the mood with a brief hype set of crowd-pleasers, the DJ/sideman warmed up the revellers, jumping up on the LED-lit, triple-sized “booth” and demanding the noise a real party DJ in such regal conditions deserves.
(Funnily enough, this particular day was hip hop’s 44th birthday, Aug. 11, 1973 being the first time Kool Herc threw down a jam in the Bronx.|)
I’m not gonna get into it all here, but I’ll say that despite prevalent, almost parental old-heads-syndrome, and the notion that hip hop used to be one thing and now it’s not (and that change is scary), Desiigner’s edge is the understanding that his basic function is to throw a party, have fun, dance and raise hell.
If energetic, frenetic, nearly symbiotic engagement with the people has to take the place of stronger lyrical delivery above and beyond deafening crowd call backs and dizzyingly inclusive hook sing-alongs as the 20-year-old talent finds his foothold, the power he puts into connecting symbiotically with his crowd make Desiigner a potential threat when his message finds its intention. Meanwhile, hip hop had a good 44th birthday party, even if no one mentioned it. (DM)
Life advice from Desiigner
Upon exiting sidestage for O.T., Darcy and I bumped into the one and only Desiigner, a fellow 20-year-old who took the world by storm last year with his Grammy-nominated smash, “Panda.”
I approached him to let him know I appreciated all he has done despite his age, and how seeing someone accomplish so much at such a young age has been nothing short of inspiring. In that very moment, Desiigner turned from an incomprehensible rap superstar to Tony Robbins, telling me, “You can do anything you want in life as long as you keep grinding.” On that note, I “grinded” my way over to the media tent to try and snag a fairly last-minute interview with O.T. (MW)
Afrojack and Tiësto: Dumb and dumber
While waiting on what would ultimately turn out to be a foiled O.T. Genasis interview (as it turns out, drinking heavily throughout the day apparently makes your manager want to avoid the press later on…), I was able to catch a glimpse of a couple of mainstage performances from a distance.
First up was Afrojack, a Dutch DJ whose set could best be described as “calculated corniness,” a cornucopia of overplayed EDM hits from 2013 and beyond, with “1,2,3, GO!”s and “Everybody fucking jump”s sprinkled before numerous drops.
Next on the stage was the legendary Tiësto, who essentially presented a similar “calculated corniness,” only with high-level pyrotechnics added to the mix. It is particularly upsetting to see Tiësto stoop to this level. Once an ahead of the curve player in the world of trance music, the DJ ultimately sold his soul for further appeal into the mainstream market. Nevertheless the artist otherwise known as Tijs Michiel Verwest still knows how to draw a crowd, attracting what was debatably the largest audience of this year’s fest. (MW)
Usually, one of the highlights of being a p̶r̶e̶t̶e̶n̶t̶i̶o̶u̶s̶ ̶m̶u̶s̶i̶c̶ ̶s̶n̶o̶b̶ journalist at events like this is reaping the benefits of the festival’s VIP sections. As far as ÎleSoniq’s “secluded” mainstage-side section, the crowd up there was almost indistinguishable from the contents of the festival’s porta potties. From juiceheads to airheads, the douchebagery of the area could be likened to some of the egregious videos that have surfaced from Toronto’s EDM-driven Cabana Pool Bar.
Luckily, another VIP area near the Neon Stage served as a saving grace. Equipped with discounted drinks and delicious food, the zone became a favourite way to cap the nights off for Darcy and I. A special shoutout goes out Passovah founder Noah Bick, who capped the final night with a ’90s-heavy hip hop/R&B DJ set, arguably the festival’s best (undeniably so, as far as “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” went). (MW)
Sussies and tushies
In comparison to its hipster sister, Osheaga, ÎleSoniq’s fashion is in a world of its own. Trends like all white, neon or booty-exposing short shorts may be more evident to the average passerby, with items such as kandi and baby suckers giving the crowd a bit more communal unity. In regards to the rather confusing sussies, I am later told that this is an increasingly frequent trend for MDMA users, in an effort to avoid biting (and inevitably swelling) of their lips.
In any case, however trashy some of these trends might be, a good portion of audience members looked in top form. It is clear that EDM has become as synonymous with drugs and raving as it has health and fitness, with the genre serving as the soundtrack for gym rats around the world. (MW)
Man, Migos were polished and boring. I expected something a little looser and grittier. If the crowd, tired from a day of bobbin’, weavin’ and dippin’ (heh), indeed seemed to enjoy the “Bad & Bougie” trio, I had way more fun freestyling off to the side with Mr. Wavvy (who gives Migos the time of day, to be balanced). People love them, nothing wrong with that at all, but if I were a fan there to see them specifically — and there were quite a few — I would want more. They were enjoyable, but their bark is louder than their bite.
With all that in account, ÎleSoniq scored a major coup for hip hop programming this year. Each year previous, rap has been experimented with, and the formula improved on day one (Saturday had no rap programming) by keeping things relevant thematically and devoting nearly half of a day on a stage this size to current players who know how to make young blood come back for more. Desiigner or Migos would easily have been welcome choices for Osheaga and it is nice to see ÎleSoniq push forward with bigger, bolder rap bookings each year. (DM)
Migos’s karaoke night
Whether or not you’re a fan of their music, Migos’s appearance at ÎleSoniq was objectively Montreal’s biggest rap show of the year thus far. After arriving roughly 15 minutes late, the Atlanta trio wasted no time running through their collection of hits. Crowd engagement was through the roof, no thanks to Quavo, Offset and particularly Takeoff delivering a particularly phoned-in performance with the track’s vocals left on every song.
Ultimately, although the energy was there, the overall talent was not. A tipsy Darcy uttering freestyling to me throughout the entirety of the set made for more “mumble rap” than I was ready to handle. Bonus points go to Quavo for screaming ‘BOOBIES” with Auto-tune during “Bad & Bougie,” an arguable highlight of my life. (MW)
Excision’s bass bash
Closing out the festival’s Neon Stage, an extravagant setting with a dancefloor placed upon the water (otherwise known as the Bacardi stage at last week’s Osheaga), Excision’s dubstep-filled performance had his crowd leaving with a sufficient amount of bass in their faces.
At a glance, all of the mosh pits and head-banging from the audience might have one thinking this was a metal show. A good indicator of a stellar set is when the festival security damn-near drop everything to fully listen, with one looking back and forth from the stage to (occasionally) the crowd telling me “I’m here to have fun, but I also need to do my job” after finding me dancing a little too close to one of the rotating lights shining down on the audience. (MW)
Aside from the last 10 minutes of Kerri Chandler’s Friday night set at the Neon stage, I witnessed no electronic music in the traditional sense until an abrupt, spontaneous return late Saturday night care of Israeli old school rave dons Infected Mushroom close out on the Life stage, and it was far from traditional.
I haven’t kept up with these guys at all since happening to see them in the late ’90s, and last time I checked they were a production/DJ duo. In 2017, with an 11th album out recently (and having never lost worldwide popularity or credibility, in case I came off sassy there), they are a fully formed, five-player band, with a fury and funk that attack like Angus Young and Wolverine trading licks in an orchestra pit. Everything old is new again, and like their namesake fungi, renewable life gives eternal wisdom to ancient principles of peace, love, unity and respect, vibes infectious among the enthralled if modest crowd gathered. There was space to boogie so we boogied to space till the music stopped. And in that sense, it was entirely traditional. (DM)
Porter Robinson’s grand closing
Over the years, many have strongly recommended I see a Porter Robinson live set, using terms like “emotional roller coaster” and “best live DJ.” So I cut my time with Excision slightly short to catch the final 45 minutes of this electronic powerhouse’s closing slot.
Indeed, the inclusion of a live piano and drum kit, mixed with the omission of overly predictable builds and drops allowed for Robinson to provide what was without question the best performance of the festival’s mainstage.
However, does such a statement really mean anything? Practically any other performer at Fido Oasis Stage embodies the corniness and overly formulaic approach that has resulted in a potent dismissal of EDM since its culture began to skyrocket in popularity.
Although I could see the appeal of Robinson and can acknowledge his originality in comparison to the likes of Afrojack and Tiësto, the DJ finds other ways of being predictable in his own right. This is especially seen in his overplayed use of “sad Anime” in his onstage graphics, and narrow range of pseudo-dramatic synths throughout the majority of tunes. (MW)
Don’t get it twisted: despite my general cynicism about EDM (and life in general), fun times were had at the festival. This isn’t to say ÎleSoniq is without blemishes. My hope for the EDM culture is that it navigates towards the same, position metal has taken: once a powerhouse genre, now acknowledging its scaled back yet dedicated fandom. With signs throughout the weekend that this is indeed occurring, hopefully Evenko can take the proper steps to ensure that ÎleSoniq comes back in 2018 under more suitable circumstances. (MW) ■