Mutek ES: Barcelona – 9th-13th of April 2024


A couple weeks ago, Cyclic Defrost had the pleasure of attending Mutek ES, a cult classic for the electronic music and art scene in Spain – made all the more special this year due to it being the 15 year anniversary. The festival offered a city-wide setting, with events being dispersed in iconic venues around Barcelona. Mutek was in session from Tuesday to Saturday late night, showcasing revered artists whose innovation continues to impress, as well as fresh faces with a diversity of countries, technique and subject matter represented. Here’s what we saw.

Sculpted with Light & Sound: Roca Barcelona Gallery
Wednesday night kicked off the festival in an interesting location where we were welcomed by Mutek’s organisation. There we saw Datum Cut with a diverse set, oscillating between noise and edgy effects, contrasted between accelerated rhythms and atmospheric morphings. There was also space for different artistic expressions, this time from Martin Messier with his installation “Impulse”. A poetic analogy with tekhné twist about the function of the human brain. The aesthetic of the piece presented in a cloistered modern basement reminded us of some Lynchian contraptions in Twin Peaks: The Return.

Inaugural Concert @ Sala Apolo
Apolo is one of the most emblematic venues in Barcelona nightlife, and our host for the late night activities of the festival this year. Starting off strong with none other than Autechre Tuesday night. The event had been sold out for months, and exceeded expectations, it was the best live performance we’ve experienced from the Warp Records duo in the last decade.

As usual for them, they performed in the dark, narrowing the concentration to audio effects. Autechre brought a live set carrying in the tradition that they have held since working with Max MSP a decade ago. The confidence and comfort in the setup was noticeable – and no exceptions here, mind blowing. There was a bit of everything, from deconstructed hip hop, to transmuted vocals coming through (yes that’s right, vocals! In an Autechre way of course), we journeyed through every type of BPM possible, futurist techno, sped-up futurist techno, totally alien techno that eventually lulled into moments of magnetic deep listening, and sounds that reminded us of their recent work ‘Sign’. More than an hour into their set, we heard a luminous sentimental keyboard as a prelude into a track influenced by their 90’s rhythmic era. It was as if past discography of Autechre was revisited and regurgitated, but with all the complexities of the present – a fascinating trance for those looking for the pattern in it all.

Datum Cut

Nocturne 1 & Nocturne 2 (Apolo)
Over the weekend we witnessed Mutek’s night-time offerings, with some last minute cancellations. Either way we danced like crazy with Michelle, who started with her own productions a few years ago on the label My Own Jupiter. The Uruguayan artist had a tight set, filled with grooves made to move your hips, and knew how to handle a filled dance floor.

Actress returned to Mutek ES in Sala Apolo, and once again he showed his skills at sound hypnosis. Presenting LXVIII, his new work on Ninja Tune, he crafted a notorious and exciting transition for a Saturday night. We heard Push Power (A1), but we also dived into many of his sonic tapestries, sometimes filled with bass seems to breath, and sometimes with a level of detail, tone and texture that are his trademark.

JLIN: Planet Mu’s revered gem reminded us that we should have listened to her in the beginnings of her career, when she was already being praised. Broken beats, bass, dubstep and drum and bass, mixed with a surgical delicacy. Our favorite of the stage.

It was a pleasure to be introduced to HiTech, the ghetto-techno trio from Detroit. They brought the high energy music and the party like no other. The crowd was feeling the broken beats they were laying down, techno to shake to, drum and bass, and we think we heard some crunk’d up styles throughout the night. A blast.

A/Visions (Paral·lel 62)
Especially of note to us was Hatis Noit, the japanese singer debuted her EP Aura, which she had already showcased at other editions of Mutek in Montreal, Tokyo and Mexico City. With her only instrument being her voice and a looper, this was quite the show for a festival whose acts are often highlighted by innovative high tech acts. Nevertheless, it proved to be extraordinary and innovative tech. Creating bases of rhythms, ethereal sound effects, bird calls and vocalizations of the goddesses, displaying her talent and dazzling the audience. Hatis also commented herself that she thought it a bit strange to be playing Mutek without a laptop in tow, she also took the time to explain the origin of one of her most lauded pieces that evening, and how it was created to pay homage to the victims of Fukushima, including sound bits recorded from the area near the nuclear accident.

Martin Messier – Impulse

Later we caught the presentation of Martin Messier’s audiovisual work ‘1 drop 1000 years’. In quite the departure from the previous act, this was all high tech, accomplished by using mapping on top of controlled streams of water. Finally, to close the night we had Daito Manabe, founder of the studio Rhizomatiks and one of our picks when it comes to A/V performances. Extremely loud, the set was in crescendo, with epic glimpses of bass and futuristic footwork, with some of our favourite visuals of the festival: a psychedelic generative AI trip that goes beyond high definition.

Play (Antigua Fábrica Estrella)
The essence of Mutek can usually be found in the old beer factory which occupies a full block in the Eixample neighbourhood. We’ve had memorable experiences here in the past, and even if this time the event didn’t make use of the entire building, they kept the magic that happens in this location. With its characteristic stage in the old machine room and this time an interactive art installation from Sian Fan in the basement. The journey left one of our best memories of the festival with Grand River’s set. Aimée Portioli’s continued the tradition of artists from Editions Mego killing it at Mutek, and in her case it was sublime. She presented her album All Above, and already from the opening with ‘Quasicristallo’ we knew we were in for a sonic path that submerges in the fusion of acoustics and electronics. Evolving piano motifs, and the hypnosis taking us from a sound collage to the other, with melodic touches and digital processes oscillating between deepness and beauty, Grand River knew how to blend this in order to provide one of the most emotional sets in this edition of Mutek ES.

Grand River

We also highlight the brief presentation of the up and coming Yamila, who offered an intimate approach to different musical traditions and showed the deepness and strength of her voice, while blending it with her cello as well. On the other side of the spectrum, Swiss artist Noémi Büchi’s maximalist approach to electroacoustic exploration shook the walls of the old machine room stage, while the visuals offered a slow-burn narrative worth watching.

Maybe one of the most important European festivals of the Spring season, Mutek has grown solid and beyond its roots in Canada, where they turn 25 this year. The festival also celebrates 20 years in Mexico, and with editions worth noting (and micro editions) orbiting in Santiago de Chile, Dubai, Tokyo or Buenos Aires.

Article by A. Sixta & Paranoid
Photos: © Víctor Parreño


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