The surroundings for the first ever AIM festival at Parc Carillon, tucked into the border between Ontario and Quebec, are more than impressive, they're breathtaking. Hugging the shore of the Carillon Canal, the festival's grounds extended across large swaths of grass and forested pathways, while campsites on opposite sides of the park looked out onto a massive hydroelectric dam. Between them lay three adjacent stages made for easy access to the more than 50 performances that would occur over the next three days.
But getting festival-goers to move smoothly provided a significant logistical challenge for festival staff. When arriving at the main entry point, some confusion about the two campsites was exacerbated by the distance between them. Groups of eager attendees were made to wait with their tents and coolers while school buses ferried some to a premium campsite with showers and ample shady space, and others trekked on foot to the regular site 200-feet away. A lack of communication between drivers, parking, and ticket attendees pushed the time from entry to tent set-up to about two hours.By Friday afternoon's festivities at the Moog stage, those initial struggles were evaporating. As the growing crowds took in the sight of an alluring arrangement of stone monoliths, locals Shaydakiss and Shah'u set the table nicely for Moscow import, Tesla Boy's sunny disco ensemble. At this point, the afternoon seemed to breeze by and as the sun set Iron Galaxy worked his way through a brooding collection of house and techno, including the Palms Trax remix of "Osiris Resurrected" and DJ Boom's "Kinda Kickin."
Following him, Kieran Hebdan's consummate live performance marked one of the weekend's glowing high points. Moving seamlessly through both his work as Four Tet and Percussions, bits of playful micro house were interspersed with an utterly infectious supply of percussion-led grooves, like the much adored "KHLHI." Bookended by the ambience found on his newest release, Morning/Evening, he left the relatively small but enthusiastic crowd captivated by the seemingly endless Hindi bridal prayer that crooned for a thousand lifetimes on his closing track.
On day two, more eastern motifs could be found at Thomas Von Party and THUMP's Multi-Culti stage. As it was being adorned with parts of the surrounding flora, Thomas relayed the concept behind the stage's visual and musical aesthetic. Pointing towards the massive LED set-up at one of the main stages behind it, he insisted that they were, "just trying to do something different." As the midway point of Saturday and Sunday's 32-hours of non-stop music, Axel Boman provided the stage's peak point of excitement with a chorus of uplifting, synth flecked house numbers that seemed more like ballads than bangers. That vibe made some inhibitions unravel, like on Sunday morning when a man invited to improvise some vocals over the morning's sets began eating a whole pineapple, previously used for decoration, through the rind.
Elsewhere, a similar respite was hard to find at the Moog and Heineken stages. After an impassioned set from local veteran Lost Heroes, the Moog stage basked in the day's brief stint of sunshine as Kerri Chandler made his presence felt with classic house cuts like Elements of Life's, "Into My Life" and some no-nonsense mixing. Similar vibes would not be felt again until Kevin Saunderson's sunrise set at 6 AM Sunday morning. Though the stage's artists each brought their particular to the form—Paranoid London's live vocal work, Tiga's choppy 'forest techno' and The Martinez Brothers' shimmering synth leads—placing them back to back seemed the perfect curatorial choice.
Aside from its extensive line-up, promotions for the AIM festival promised an array of extra-musical amenities including multimedia art installations, music workshops, and food trucks. As far as art installations go, I could only spot three—there was a tall panel of LED lights rigged to a motion sensor that shone and sounded with fractured patterns when participants touched it, and a giant disco ball hanging around. Plus, a large-scale projection on the monoliths that adorned the front of the Moog stage that featured repeating animations of hot dogs and beach scenes amongst other seemingly random graphics. Other tents did include gear tutorial and turntablism workshops from Native Instruments and Red Bull Thre3style, but these two were markedly less popular than a tent run by National Park Services offering temporary tattoos of whales and other animals.
These underwhelming aspects of the AIM's ambiance are indicative of some of the festival's understandable first-year struggles. The extensive lineup, continuous stream of music and pristine location were no doubt strong draws for the weekend, but very few festivalgoers had the endurance to take on all of Saturday's day and nighttime lineups. Likewise, those who did make it through the night probably found it hard to recover from their afterhours revelry for Sunday afternoon's performances with the booming sound of three stages echoing through the campgrounds. By early afternoon on Sunday, morale was clearly seeping from the festivalgoers as rain and fatigue drove much of them home early. A two-hour delay of headliner Jamie XX's performance only added to the crowd's diminished sense of enthusiasm. Had the three-day weekend been cut down to fit into one long evening stretch, that final scene might have looked very different.
But, AIM's highlights certainly outshone its less impressive features. The continuous stream of music seemed to attract the model festivalgoer for this particular weekend's events: one unintimidated by long stretches of evening activity, limited opportunities for rest, and a few rain drops. If the festival is to continue on annually, it will have to keep catering to that segment of the dance market, consolidate its efforts and trim the fat from some of its grander ambitions.AIM Montreal is on Facebook // TwitterAll photos by Arthur Rad.