IleSoniq is fast becoming one of the standout events in Montreal's summer music season. The festival, this year on August 14 and 15 at Parc Jean Drapeau, brought together a host of electronic music stars and some of the biggest names in the rap and hip-hop game.
The writing on the wall wasn't always so clear, however. When the debut edition of IleSoniq was announced last year, it was met with a healthy skepticism. Montréal is not short on the festivals front—from Igloofest, Osheaga, AIM, MUTEK, the monthly Piknic Electronik, and La Bacchanale, the city has long been spoiled with top-notch choices for electronic music. Throw in the event options from Ontario and those south of the border and you've got a plentiful choice of audacious outlets to lose your shit at. Adding another multi-day electronic music event in the mix was a mammoth task for Evenko, Live Nation, and INK Entertainment. But the palpable success of this year and last is a testament to their efforts and a predictable longevity.
The party kicked off on Friday under cloudy skies. Similar to last year's wet weather, rain regularly showered the crowds. First Nations headdresses were a notable absentee, but the animal onesies, bandana–clad bros and floral tiaras were out in force. Although conditions were less than ideal, there was no stopping this dedicated, rave-ready troupe from enjoying the custom-built wonderland before them. Eye-catching giant inflatable mushrooms, food trucks, and numerous chill-out areas encircled three well-equipped stages, the smallest of which was concealed by trees like a hidden forest paradise.
Early sets shone the spotlight on local talents like Paris & Simo and Prince Club before an impressive ensemble of big hitters disembarked on each of the three stages. Borgeous turned up the heat while Tchami and DJ Snake set fire to the Scene La Vie stage. As expected, DJ Snakes' Lil Jon collaboration "Turn Down For What" did considerable dancefloor damage.
While Claude VonStroke and Green Velvet led the underground resistance with a back-to-back set as Get Real, closing the Neon Stingray Stage with them, Kaskade and Deadmau5 assembled a monumental gathering at the main arena. Mr. reliable (AKA Kaskade) excelled with a typically energetic performance. His set welcomed the night with a scintillating fireworks display. He even manned the microphone on a few occasions to share his love of the city's penchant for all things electronic music. Kaskade's quaking set left Toronto producer Deadmau5, with the perfect lay-up; a mass of music lovers as far as the eye could see. A drawn out break between sets, however, did smother the excitement just slightly as stage roadies constructed the now eminent Thunderdome stage set up. Zimmerman's arrival, though, revived the atmosphere as he pumped the system with his distinct electronic blend. The Mau5 was his usual mischievous self, trolling everyone yet again with his costumed friend, the legendary Superbowl "left shark."
Despite intermittent showers early on, Saturday offered an idyllic late afternoon with Blasterjaxx, Will Sparks, and TJR all reveling in the sun drench setting. Dutch duo Blasterjaxx brought a legion of classics back to life with edits of Guru Josh Project, ATB, and Clean Bandit all satisfying the main stage. Elsewhere, Diplo accomplice Mija, returning to Montreal after her recent Full Flex Express date, offered a tidy following between the trees at the Neon Stingray Stage with the likes of Shiba San's hit "Okay."
It was in the darkness that IleSoniq truly came to life, as the pyrotechnics added yet another level to an already intense atmosphere. The main stage hit lift off with a fiery 60 minutes from Showtek. The duo were followed by ex-Swedish House Mafia (SHM) member Steve Angello. The man possesses a stage presence like few others. His ability to command an army of loyal followers, Angello brought IleSoniq to its peak. He roused the crowd with snippets of SHM anthems like "Greyhound" and "Save The World" and his recent release, "Children Of The Wild," before trance legends Above & Beyond stepped up to close the maxed out main stage.
It was DVBBS, who had the last laugh, however. Their Mount Woozy party with Tommy Trash, Will Sparks, and TJR over at the Scene La Vie stage staked a solid claim for the most insane throw-down of the weekend. The Toronto boys' head-banging electro made for a stellar finish to the festival. Even Deadmau5 himself made an appearance. Armed with a confetti canon, he marched to the front of the stage to flippantly drench the crowd in paper dust, only for the canon to jam at the drop. Blissful awkwardness.
While rap and hip-hop did make an appearance, it appeared only as dance music's awkward older brother. Die Antwoord's mind-warping, rave-infused act did catch fire on Friday, but Azealia Banks only impeded Saturday's predominantly dance-focused trajectory. With the success of the DJ game obvious, next year's main stage line-up could very well veer solely in that direction.
On the whole, the big event experience and evident professionalism from behind the scenes assured the steady flow of operations. Incredible stage and site design transformed Parc Jean Drapeau into a veritable fantasy island. The on-point production was justly met by unparalleled energy and enthusiasm from both hometown revelers and nomads from Toronto, New York, and beyond.
IleSoniq is flourishing in Montreal's diverse electronic ecosystem. The two-day party followed Digital Dreams, Escapade, VELD, AIM, Osheaga and everything in between, yet its unique take on the modern festival experience assured that a motley crew of Montréalers left Saturday night with sights firmly set on next year's extravaganza. The concoction brought a French-flavoured slice of EDC to the city of saints. As other Canadian festivals seem to flounder, IleSoniq is finding its feet, offering a most enticing possibility for what may be to come in 2016.
Dermot O'Sullivan is on Twitter.