The Piknic main stage. Photos by Cindy Lopez
Once upon a time, if you wanted to dance outdoors on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Montreal, spring through fall, you had an option, albeit one that required a patience for mono-rhythmic circle drumming, too-friendly hippies, gnarled hacky-sack vendors and, in more recent generations, LARP-ing medieval re-creationists with the gall to look you in the eye like you’re the one with the problem.
Yes, the Tam-Tams have their time and place (like, for example, the summer of 1991 when the Spin Doctors were all the rage and pot was cool again). But for the musically inclined looking for a little bass and melody to go with their drums, the past 15 summers have delivered an alternative that grows and grows each year in scale, sound and significance with Montreal’s cultural landscape and reputation as a party town.
Piknic Électronik, the city’s outdoor, daytime answer to fabled rave culture and afterhours clubs of yore, takes place each week from late May to late September. In its 15th season, on a brand new site (though still at Parc Jean Drapeau), Piknic has grown into something of a weekly mini-fest, with world-class bookings playing alongside locally based talent in an atmosphere of sun, fun and dancefloor sweat.
We spoke to Piknic co-founder Nicolas Cournoyer and talent programmer Marie-Laure Saidani about what makes the party so live, every week, after 15 years. Here are five reason Piknic Électronik is the Sunday destination par excellence, every week.
The new site
We all loved dancing under the Calder statue at the old site, Cournoyer acknowledges, but change is not only inevitable, but welcome, and the new area for both of Piknic’s stages (permanent for this season and the next, as of this interview) is gorgeous: a mix of trees, rolling grass and a soft, stompable dancefloor built on a cushion of extra bounce to keep feet happy till the lights go out, all overlooking the river. As the bridge lights up at dusk, the effect is magic.
“It’s also amazing not to have to put it up and take it down every week,” Cournoyer notes, citing that lower production costs allow the event to invest in other areas, be they sound or keeping costs low for bigger bookings.
Saidani has been programming Piknic for several years, having done all manner of tasks in the event promotions world, and hand-picks the talent each week based on a number of key factors.
“Is it a good musical choice for a day party?” Saidani considered by email. “How many times have they already played in Montreal? Where was it and who promoted the show? Will the Piknic crowd love it? Have we ever booked them? How did it go? And last but not least: do I like it?!”
Thankfully she likes good stuff. This summer’s highlights so far have included Roman Fuegel, Prins Thomas and Motor City Drum Ensemble, Saidani’s dream booking for 2017 and quite possibly the greatest three-hour set this reporter has ever heard.
Whether legends or upcomers, your favourite DJ or a complete unknown, the odds your ears and limbs stay delighted at Piknic are high.
The beautiful people
Cournoyer points out that when the event began with two turntables, some speakers and a few hundred dancers, the idea was to give the nightlife crowd, now settling into career, marriages and families, a place to keep their fire for fun burning without crashing until Wednesday a.m. after a weekend of raving.
“Piknic has always had (that) as a mandate,” said Cournoyer. “The demographic changes and we see new crowds turn over every couple of years, but we find a balance between keeping it interesting for the younger crowd while pleasing the old-schoolers. The vibe this cross-section of people creates is unique and is part of what makes Piknic the good time that it is.”
The party plan
“We’re permanently thinking about it. It depends on the opportunities offered,” Saidani says of the strategic element that goes past simply booking solid DJs. “Sometimes I talk to artists for ages before it actually works, like MCDE, Seth Troxler, the Black Madonna.
“Sometimes an agent contacts me in September for a North American tour the next summer. I need time to be able to work on it. It’s the same in the local scene. I meet a lot of people — DJs, label owners, crews, festivals — all year long, and we’ll talk about projects for a long time before we make it happen.
“We try not to bring back the same artists two years in a row and have different kinds of genres through house and techno.”
The value plan
Piknic costs $12 before 3 p.m. and $15 after, offers hour upon hour of lush sound texture, boasts many well-stocked, efficient bars, reasonably priced drinks and signature bucket cocktails, appropriate food options for a day of dancing, and, after all, it’s a picnic, still! Bring your own food, though outside drinks are not permitted.
“We want to do this for as long as we can,” Cournoyer enthuses. “As long at the response is good and there is a market for these festivities, we will keep it fresh.”
Sunday Aug. 24: MUTEK All-Stars: Seth Troxler, Vincent Lemieux, Alicia Hush, more
Friday Sept 1: Special 15th Anniversary Edition: Sebastien Leger, Alix
Sunday Sept 3: Mistress Barbara, Green & Lateez, Paskal Daze
Monday Sept. 4: Nicole Moubader, Ostrich, more
Sunday Sept. 10: The Black Madonna, more
Sunday Sept. 17: Honey Dijon, more
Sunday Sept. 24: Josh Wink, more.
Please see the Piknic Électronik website for precise listings, set times and prices.