MUTEK Montreal has been good to techno. Montreal’s greatest electronic festival has featured luminaries like Jeff Mills, Curtis Jones, and this week, Robert Hood. (And those are just the ones we’ve covered!) But there’s one figure who stands above the others, by virtue of seniority and the old pioneer spirit — that’s Detroit’s Juan Atkins. He’s part of the grand finale of MUTEK at Nocturne 5 on Sunday, presenting his Borderland project with German producer Moritz von Oswald.
For over 30 years, Atkins has been blazing a trail of techno, electro and who-knows-what. His genre-defining Cybotron releases of the early ’80s are way ahead of their time — a blend of robo-dance electro-funk in the Kraftwerk vein, the sensual vocal lines of Depeche Mode, and squealing guitar solos straight out of an ’80s Steve Vai release. Nobody had heard anything like Cybotron at the time. We still haven’t.
Juan Atkins‘ early work prefigured a long career of envelope-pushing and masterminding — he founded the influential Metroplex label in 1985 and went on to kickstart the careers of techno legends Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. Journos consider Metroplex central to the afro-futurist art movement and to the whole of Detroit techno. In short, Atkins’ influence can’t really be overstated, which is why it’s very exciting to have him with us in Montreal!
On Sunday Atkins presents Borderland with Moritz Von Oswald, and it’s another step forward for the two. Borderland, fresh off the presses and set for release on June 10, is hotly anticipated both here and abroad. Oswald, of course, is a techno legend in his own right, with over 20 years experience in lighting up Berlin dance floors. This isn’t the first team-up between Atkins and Oswald; their alliance goes back to the techno boom itself, with 1993’s Jazz is the Teacher LP, a dazzling fusion of Detroit and Berlin’s signature sounds.
That album was raw and urgent, the work of young artists. Borderland is elegant and expansive, the work of mature ones — a lovingly crafted and organic blend of techno, dub, jazz, and sounds for which we do not have a name. The showstopper “Electric Garden” is the main reference point of the album (its variations fill up half the running time).
The likelihood of hearing this cosmic banger (perhaps more than once) at MUTEK is about 99%. Step over the border and get yourself acquainted: