For the next two and a half weeks, Consequence of Sound’s Sasha Geffen will be exploring Montreal and its music scene, attending the mammoth three-day music festival Osheaga (featuring The Cure, Beck, New Order, Vampire Weekend and many more), and taking in the local culture. Follow her adventures here, or through the hashtag #MTLMoments on Instagram and Twitter, and visit Tourisme Montreal’s website to learn more about the city.
We come out of the Metro and follow a distant bass pulse through Montréal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau. Silhouetted against a low sun, Alexander Calder’s public sculpture L’Homme looms over the yellow gates to Piknic Electronik. It’s barely late afternoon, but thousands of people are already here, dancing at the festival’s two stages and sipping lemonade on the grass.
Currently on its 11th season, Piknic Electronik rolls around every Sunday during the summer in Montréal. As a weekly event, it’s less of a calculated destination for most attendees. “People are less prepared. They can decide on the day, ‘oh, I’m going to Piknic,’” says the festival’s artistic director Michel Quintal as we chat by the river that circles the park. “It’s different. It’s really friendly. You’ll see; there’s people from all ages. There can be 16-year-old people dancing.” There’s no shortage of alcohol here, but kids and teens are welcome alongside young adults and former ravers. I spot a few babies riding their parents’ shoulders, decked out in brightly colored noise-canceling headphones.
The smaller stage, closer to the river, blares French-style house, while the main stage under the sculpture throbs with dubstep. Today, all but one of the artists are locals. By focusing on up-and-coming producers and DJs rather than guaranteed draws, Quintal is free to share the music that he’s personally been enjoying in Piknic’s lineups. “We’re working together to find the things that we think will work, but at the same time, we don’t have the pressure of the big names,” he says. “People will come anyway. I think they trust us after 11 seasons. They trust us that they’re going to have fun.”
Quintal’s goal has been to bring a variety of people together under the same beat: “When we started this, it was part of our mission to try to democratize electronic music.” While five a.m. DJ sets tend to maintain self-selected audiences, Piknic’s early start time and outdoor setting lets those with families and day jobs come out to dance. ”It feels good. It feels like there’s a place for that kind of music,” he says. “It’s not just for a limited group.”
It does feel friendly. Plenty of people dance, but plenty lounge on plastic chairs between the stages with bottles of wine. The atmosphere is inebriated but not boisterous—relaxed, open, welcoming. I see almost as many animal onesies as I see club outfits. Piknic’s the kind of place that can double as a summertime Halloween.
As we’re sitting, a college-aged guy who’s drunker than us and wearing fingerless gloves comes over with his friends. Soon enough, he’s telling us that the gloves aren’t a statement; he’s “not a fashion boy,” he says. They’re compression sleeves. Last fall, he woke up on fire after his roommate fell asleep smoking a cigarette. He stumbled onto the sidewalk, passed out, regained consciousness two months later in new skin. Eight months later, his arms are still healing. Almost in the same breath, he’s asking us to drink with him, asking us to get up and dance. It seems Piknic selects its own crowd too—those who’d rather hear club music out of dark basements and under the sun.