Montreal Electronic Music Festival The role of ÎleSoniq has never been more vital

The festival has long been an outlet where the cares of everyday life are out of mind and the dance floor is all that matters.

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“I love my job more than ever, but it’s harder than ever,” said Evelyne Côté, co-founder of Montreal’s biggest summer dance party, ÎleSoniq.

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The seventh edition of the electronic music festival takes place from Friday to Sunday at Parc Jean-Drapeau. And after a canceled 2020 edition due to the COVID-19 pandemic and last fall’s pared-down ÎleSoniq Redux, it will be a relief – and a release – to get back to the work of descent.

“It was super difficult (trying to book the festival) for the last two or three years,” said Côté, director of programming, concerts and events at promoter Evenko, which puts both ÎleSoniq and Osheaga. “But it gave meaning to what we do. It also showed how volatile it all can be.

With clubs closed and dancing banned for months at a time, electronic music culture has been neglected from all quarters over the past couple of years. Dance clubs were the first to close and the last to reopen during the shutdowns, leaving club DJs and kids in trouble.

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“Stillness became almost good and moral,” Côté said, “and being able to express yourself and dance and get lost, lose control, became dangerous. There was an implication that our culture is not important.

The experience allowed Côté to see the role of ÎleSoniq in a new light. The festival, like clubland in general, has always been about providing an outlet where the cares of everyday life are far from anyone’s mind and where the dance floor is all that matters.

In the midst of a pandemic, this mantra has acquired a new sense of urgency. As ÎleSoniq prepares to welcome young fans to full capacity for the first time in three years, its mission has never been more vital.

“Self-expression, entertainment and even escape have always been things that ÎleSoniq is all about,” Côté said. “It’s larger than life. Now, with artists needing to express themselves and commune with fans, and fans needing to be together and express themselves, it has become political, in a way, to assert our importance.

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Level Up is among the artists performing on Saturday, on a bill devoted to what Evelyne Côté describes as “fist-pumping party music.”
Level Up is among the artists performing on Saturday, on a bill devoted to what Evelyne Côté describes as “fist-pumping party music.” Photo by Evenko

Some of the biggest names in electronic music will descend on Parc Jean-Drapeau this weekend for a party bigger and better than ever. ÎleSoniq saw record attendance for its last full edition in 2019, leading to the expansion of the festival from two to three days this year.

Previously, ÎleSoniq was content with a single main stage from Osheaga; this year, it takes the two and links them together to create a mega-stage, with DJs stationed on a platform between them and the rest of the area devoted to lighting, video screens and visual effects.

Sound will be dramatically improved, with dual speakers on the Bell Oasis main stage and surround sound on the Coca-Cola Neon Stage dance floor.

Musically, the festival presents what Côté describes as its most diverse and balanced line-up to date, with some 70 artists performing on three stages, anchored by a few big-name headliners: veteran Swedish DJ-producer Eric Prydz Friday; a doubleheader from American DJ Illenium back-to-back with Canada’s Excision on Saturday; and clubland supergroup Swedish House Mafia on Sunday.

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“Prydz represents the underground, while the Swedish House Mafia represents the mainstream on the other side,” Côté said. “In the middle is the bass headliner with two of the biggest bands on the planet – Illenium is more melodic and Excision is harder and dirtier, so you get the best of both worlds.”

The rest of the lineup follows suit, offering something for everyone, or at least for a wide range of contemporary electronic music lovers.

ÎleSoniq illuminates Parc Jean-Drapeau in 2017.
ÎleSoniq illuminates Parc Jean-Drapeau in 2017. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Côté highlights Friday’s list, marked by key names in underground house and techno – “center-left” artists who share a “more mature sound”.

She is particularly enthusiastic about Prydz. She calls it a “huge catch”, often contained in clubs, who will relish the outdoor festival environment. There’s also “super fun” Aussie tech-house DJ Fisher; the bass sounds of French house producer Tchami; the Montreal bass trio Black Tiger Sex Machine, on the Mirage stage; and British techno icon John Digweed, German tech-house producer Dixon and deep/progressive house DJ Ben Böhmer.

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Saturday’s line-up is all about “traditional, upbeat party music,” Côté says, led by Illenium and Excision on the main stage, alongside the harder sounds of LA Level Up and metal-tinged offerings from the Australian Marauda on the Coca-Cola Neon Stage; and unexpected offerings, including reggae Don Sean Paul and rapper French Montana on the Mirage stage.

Sunday’s lineup complements Swedish House Mafia’s old-school international superstar with a look at some of the best arena artists in North America, including moody house vibes from Denver-based producer Lane 8 and the energetic sound of rising Chicago duo Louis the Child. Svdden Death from Los Angeles and Ganja White Night from Belgium bring different textures of rumbling bass to the Mirage stage, and Germany’s Markus Schulz travels back in time with a sunset trance.

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Chicago's rising duo Louis the Child performs Sunday at ÎleSoniq.
Chicago’s rising duo Louis the Child performs Sunday at ÎleSoniq. Photo by Evenko

“What we try to do is get the best artists that we think represent different trends and genres that impact us,” said Côté, who is proud of ÎleSoniq’s music curation.

“You can be diverse and all over the place, and not really say anything about what you’re programming,” she noted. “We engage in the genres we choose (to highlight).”

Although smaller than American festivals like Miami’s Ultra, ÎleSoniq offers maximum value for money.

“If you look at the lineups for our first editions, you would see this desire to be diverse,” Côté said. “It wasn’t as eloquent, but there was still one main brand that we’re loyal to, which is great artists and great production. We want to be Canada’s Ultra, but with our own tangent.

IN ONE LOOK

IslandSoniq takes place from Friday, August 5 to Sunday, August 7 at Parc Jean-Drapeau. Tickets start at $135 per day or $335 for the weekend, available at ilesoniq.com.

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  1. Crowds will be considerably thinner than they were in 2019, but two major elements of the ÎleSoniq experience – people watching and sound quality – will not be compromised.

    The ÎleSoniq Redux Festival returns without compromising on sound or experience

  2. Some of the huge crowd on Day 3 of the Osheaga Festival at Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal on Sunday, July 31, 2022.

    Osheaga brings back the crowds and the community joy of live music

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