With the summer winding down and as we start to look at the Fall season and the scene entering back indoors at the clubs, I think it's a good time to reflect on what an amazing summer festival Canada had. Canadians no longer need to travel long distances to find the best DJs and producers playing at the biggest shows, we have it all right here in Canada.
This summer Canada hosted almost every big DJ on the planet, and that's something that fans and promoter can be proud about. I have been fortunate in being able to attend a lot of festivals and below you'll find the 10 best sets that I found to have had the most impact this summer festival season.
1. RICHIE HAWTIN (ESCAPADE, OTTAWA)
From the moment Richie Hawtin took over the decks from Maya Jane Coles, he wasted no time to set the mood to a darker tone. Originally set to play an hour earlier, the weather issues that plagued Day 2 of Escapade had pushed his set to 9 pm. Hawtin wore his classic minimalist black attire, but instead of looser fitting sleeveless shirt he wore at a Montreal show 5 years ago, this time it looked like a custom fit.
The whole set was dark and moody as Richie Hawtin made frequent adjustments to the beat, bringing up the tempo and lowering it, adding a loop, a vocal clip, and whatever other sounds contained within the Canadian artists large arsenal. It seemed like there were no tracks played in a traditional sense as his show felt like one stream of consciousness as Richie Hawtin consistently analyzed the crowd and made adjustments based on how he wanted the crowd to react. At one point a fan from the front row caught his eye who was egging him on, in reaction he went to his mixer and within a few seconds the tempo was turned up. He then looked back at the fan and both nodded in approval.
With no graphics on the video screen and only minimal lighting, he let his music create the mood, and he did it to a powerful effect. Richie Hawtin wanted to be in Canada to help celebrate its 150th birthday, and he gave the country a special gift at Escapade.
2. JUSTICE (WAYHOME, TORONTO)
Justice possibly played the best individual set at WayHome this year. Seeing this French duo live with their full stage setup takes their music and overall atmosphere to a whole new level. The stage lightning would morph multiple times throughout the performance to suit the mood, and even though the lights were awe-inspiring, Justice's famous minimalism came through as the colour schemes did not surpass 1 colour at a time out of 5-6 total. While Gaspard was mostly busy at the controls, rarely looking down at he crowd, it was Xavier that took the time to interact and get the crowd even further into their performance. Both of them have such good chemistry that it was a treat to watch them riff off another during the set.
3. PORTER ROBINSON (WAYHOME, TORONTO)
The last EDM act of WayHome came from none other than Porter Robinson, who recently graced the mainstage of Coachella with Madeon. His atmospheric tracks from his now classic album Worlds filled the WayHome stage which was accompanied with vivid anime graphics and abstract computer generated art. Porter's set up is elaborate for a single artist as he had a mic for singing, 2 keyboards, a mixer, and a drum pad. At times he would be busy manipulating two stations at the same time, which was captured on the big screen in all of its glory. The simplicity of his set was magical. Listening to his big tracks like Shelter and Sad Machine was an emotional experience for everyone there, as the crowd did not hesitate to show their appreciation every chance they got. This was an intense Porter performance, and the best set I've personally seen him play out of the 4-5 times prior. His set at WayHome will not be soon forgotten.
4. MAT ZO (ESCAPADE, OTTAWA)
The MVP of the Anjunabeats Escapade experience goes to Mat Zo, who spun an Anjunabeats classic set that left the smaller yet enthusiastic crowd in awe. While Above & Beyond was on the mainstage, Mat Zo went 30 minutes over his planned set schedule to give us "Rebound", his track with Arty that was arguably one of their biggest singles back in the day. He then took the crowd on a true time warp as he brought out the Kyau & Albert remix of "6am" by Cressida (2008), the Wippenberg remix of "Needs To Feel" by Super8 & Tab (2007), and many more. Mat Zo looked happy behind the decks and was clearly feeling the set. It was a special moment to witness.
5. FLUME (BLUESFEST, OTTAWA)
In terms of electronic dance music, Flume was the biggest name to be booked by Bluesfest this year as he finished off the night to headline the mainstage on Thursday night. The stage was simple but carried a big punch as the graphics were crisp, coinciding with the style of his smooth, driving, and emotional tracks. The Australian artist had a setup that allowed to manipulate his tracks on the fly including a drum machine, that he used with frequency. The whole set was a celebration of Flume's impressive discography as he showed it off with pride and left the crowd with more than a few goose bump moments.
6. ORJAN NILSEN (DREAMS, TORONTO)
The trance tent was buzzing all day and especially during Orjan Nilsen's massive afternoon set. He didn't hesitate to unleash his biggest tracks at 5:20 pm and the crowd loved him for it. Orjan was highly animated behind the decks as his gestures could be a compared to a hybrid mix of Dash Berlin and Armin's emotion filled arm raising during euphoric moments. Without a doubt, Orjan's own productions were biggest crowd favourites including "The Late Anthem", "Los Capos"(With KhoMha), "Iconic", "Fair Game" (With Cosmic Gate), and one of his last tracks of the set, "Kilowatts".
7. RL GRIME (BLUESFEST, OTTAWA)
Following REZZ was RL Grime, who is no stranger to Bluesfest, and showed it by giving one of the best sets of 2017. By the time the L.A. artist took the stage the crowd was massive and went nuts every chance they've gotten. RL Grime has stepped up his game this year by playing mashups and edits galore, like mashing well known tracks like Galantis' "Runaway (U&I)" and Coolio's "Gangter's Paradise" with his own tracks. His set was fresh and clearly better than any other time I've seen him in the past. I was captivated with every track, every moment. Everything done during that set had purpose, like pieces of a puzzle when formed into a piece of art. The last track was his new single "Stay For It", a fitting end to one of the best moments of the year.
8. WHAT SO NOT (DREAMS, TORONTO)
The Australian artist Emoh Instead (Chris Emerson) of What So Not got his set to a quick start with an ID that led into a remix of the intro of "Stranger Things" from the hit Netlix show. The early time slot was ideal as he got to showcase his growing repertoire of chiller tracks, including many from his Divide & Conquer EP. When he wanted the crowd to move he dropped classic Baauer edit of "Tell Me" by RL Grime/What So Not or "Waiting", his collab with Skrillex and RL Grime to great effect. Since the end of the partnership with Flume, Emoh Instead has made What So Not into his own and has successfully given it a fresh direction.
9. REZZ (BLUESFEST, OTTAWA)
The sound system at Bluesfest in Ottawa got tested to the max as REZZ took control of the decks on Tuesday night. She started off the proceedings with "Warrior" by EPROM and G Jones, a personal favourite, due to its uncompromising distorted bass drop. The vast majority of the tracks played were from REZZ's own discography and the crowd loved her for it in return. The bass from the sound system was crisp, which allowed her best tracks like "Edge" to be properly showcased. With her debut album "Mass Manipulation" ready to come out on August 4th, the Canadian artist gave the crowd a sneak peek by playing a few tracks. The new stuff sounds like a continuation of her style but with certain aspects exhibiting a chunkier bass. REZZ's sound is part bass with hints of techno and dark industrial, but remixed into her own style and makes it fully into her own musical style and aesthetic. Expect a strong album and even bigger things from this quickly up and coming artist in the future.
10. BONDAX (DREAMS, TORONTO)
Day 2 started and ended with perfect weather and hearing the smooth sounds of Bondax was the perfect way to begin Saturday's packed lineup. The British duo were bobbed their heads and grooved to their own beat which the crowd fed off on Echo Beach. Fans took advantage of the extra room available to dance and made their enthusiasm known whenever a track came on and made them happy. Notable tracks included Joe Goddard's remix of "Giving It All" by Bondax, and Mall Grab's "I Just Wanna".