Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015SteveAngello TimSnow IleSoniq 20150815 35

Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015

The sophomore return of Montreal’s premiere electronic music festival, IleSoniq, emblazons the city’s current state of dance music: a balance between an undying devotion for “put your hands up” mainstage heavyweights and a growing curiosity for the finer print — albeit equally as talented — side stage acts. Parc Jean-Drapeau is home for the 2-day mega rave, located just across the Saint-Laurent river from downtown on the pristine forested Ile Sainte-Helene. The island hosted the historic 1967 World Fair, also known as Expo 67, as well as many water sport competitions in the 1976 Summer Olympic Games. With a lineup boasting dance elite like Above & Beyond, Kaskade, DJ Snake, Steve Angello and Canada’s own Deadmau5, the over 40,000 festival-goers found making their set schedules a competition with overlapping headliners.

Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015Parc Jean Drapeau 1

Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015DieAntwoord IleSoniq 20150814 41

Photo Credit: Tim Snow

Stingray Music Neon stage curated some of the weekend’s best talent

Nestled in the forest away from trafficked pathways was IleSoniq’s woodside oasis, the Neon stage, sponsored by Canadian music channel and phone app Stingray Music. Montreal native Prince Club — known for remixes of Banks’ “Drowning” and Route 94’s “My Love” — ushered in the house vibes on day one.

The erratic weather began to trickle rain as Anjunadeep’s rising star Lane 8 took the stage, drawing an ever-growing crowd piling in to hear his slew of melodic releases such as “Diamonds” and “Loving You” off his debut album Rise. His focused eyebrows gazed up at the audience and he smiled, feeling their chants, claps and whistles as he closed with a mashup of Dusky’s “Mr. Man” and Cirez D’s “On Off.” Gregory Porter’s soaring vocals blared from the speakers on the Disclosure track “Holding On,” signaling groovy LA house producer SNBRN‘s intro, subsequently prompting girls in high-waisted booty shorts to shuffle like they were being recorded for an Oliver Heldens YouTube tutorial. The sun began to peek out from behind the clouds as if it can feel the energy of his set.

Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015SNBRN By PierreBourgault IleSoniq 2015 5

Adorned in his usual 1700s war general coat, chill house chief Bakermat set the neon-lit forest ablaze with soul, dropping his church wave smash “Teach Me,” even enlisting the talents of a jazz saxophonist for a good portion of his set. Unsurprisingly, the best set of day one had to be Claude VonStroke and Green Velvet’s collaborative alias, Get Real, spinning two full hours (the festival’s longest set time) of techno bliss. While most of the younger festival crowd seemed to split their time between rival headliners Deadmau5 and DJ Snake — after all, they represent Montreal’s Canadian/French culture — revelers at the Neon stage went into a panicked excitement when Velvet grabbed the mic to sing the classic “Flash” lyrics: “cameras are ready, prepare to flash.”

Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015Lane8 By PierreBourgault IleSoniq 2015 6

No pyro or confetti canons were found at this stage nor were they needed. For fans more interested in uncovering new artists or musical styles, the Neon stage was their classroom with a rotating cornucopia of insane talent to school them.

Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015Bakermat By PierreBourgault IleSoniq 2015 1

Photos Credit: Pierre Bourgault

Artists actually sang, danced and played live instruments.

The sounds of live vocals and instruments were a refreshing and much-welcomed addition to the DJ-heavy roster, especially as frequent festival attendees around the world demand more of the live element made popular by acts such as Disclosure and Gorgon City. Electropop singer and musician Chris Glover, aka Penguin Prison, flaunted his multi-talented artistry crooning singles from his recent album Lost In New York and simultaneously played electric guitar in sync with his backing 4-piece band. With a voice befitting for an ’80s romantic comedy title track, couples in the crowd shared sporadic kisses as they swayed to Glover’s hypnotizing track “Caught In A Daze.”

Back through the woods over at the mainstage, South African grime duo Die Antwoord jumped around in Pokemon onesies and booty-popped to hits “I Fink U Freeky” and “Baby’s On Fire” while entrancing psychedelic visuals played out behind them. The crowd appeared overcome with a mild case of trepidation as they witnessed the menagerie of weirdness happening, but they head-bobbed through it knowing Kaskade would be on after to usher them back into some state of normalcy.

Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015Kiesza TimSnow IleSoniq 20150815 14

Photo Credit: Tim Snow

Dance pop star Kiesza‘s choreography and wide-ranging vocal acrobatics were greeted with a warm reception from the crowd who sang and danced along to her breakout radio smash “Hideaway” and the Jack U-produced “Take U There.” No shooting fire or CO2 blasters; just a small woman’s big voice and her two backup dancers. Emotions ran high for the 26-year-old Calgary native who offered a heartfelt “thank you” speech to the audience remaining teary-eyed as she dedicated her ballad “Sound of a Woman” to her best friend who recently passed away from cancer.

After an exceptionally massive past year of gigs and another headlining tour coming this fall, Odesza proved why they have quickly become a festival staple. Closing out the final day at the Neon stage, the Seattle duo dazzled a sea of fans who have clearly seen them multiple times before and still can’t get enough. Equipped with their standard (but still impressive) drums, cymbals, keyboards and synthesizers, they side shuffled like they were at football practice juggling each instrument that once again left the crowd awe-inspired by their musicality as they shouted the lyrics to “All We Need” and “Say My Name.”

Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015Odesza By PierreBourgault IleSoniq 2015 57

Photo Credit: Pierre Bourgault

Confetti, fire and lasers

Lined with ultra VIP tents and endless gourmet food and liquor stands around the perimeter, the Oasis stage remained the nucleus of IleSoniq — both geographically and musically. With a billing of top dogs from each genre, almost every act on the mainstage was considered a “headliner” because they surely would be closing out at most other festivals. Last year’s inaugural event brought out Tiesto, Laidback Luke and Iggy Azalea, while this go around nearly tripled in legendary household names.

Kaskade expectedly dazzled with his catalog of melodious anthems past and present like “Angel On My Shoulder” and “Never Sleep Alone” and even tested out a couple new tracks from his forthcoming tenth studio album, Automatic. Lasers, screen visuals, ethereal vocals and a Disney-like fireworks show left the packed audience starry-eyed. (Note: Ryan’s stage crew showed up at 3am the night before to set up and test all his set mechanics.) After a few minutes of silence, he returned for an encore and dropped iconic crowd favorite “I Remember” triggering fans to yell “Bring out Deadmau5!” That was a no go but it made for a hilarious transition into the notorious troll’s set.

Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015AboveBeyond TimSnow IleSoniq 20150815 8

Photo Credit: Tim Snow

In scorching 88-degree weather, the mainstage crowd continued voraciously jumping for Showtek as girls sat atop guys’ shoulders with their arms raised in the air to get sprayed by massive water hoses as they mouthed the duo’s David Guetta collaboration “Bad.” The glistening lights from the city skyline made for an alluring mainstage backdrop as the sun thankfully dipped below the horizon just in time for a pyro-filled set from Steve Angello. Thousands sang along to Swedish House Mafia’s “Save the World” and Sam Feldt’s reproduction of his 2007 “Show Me Love” remix before a cataclysmic fireworks display induced the crowd to uniformly express an “ooooo” like the little green aliens from Toy Story.

Zoe Johnston’s haunting vocals on “We’re All We Need” initiated Above and Beyond’s enchanting performance signifying their untouchable 15-year trance reign. Tony and Paavo relished in the moment with ear-to-ear smiles still just as excited getting to bring up special fans from the crowd to press the holy grail of drop buttons.

Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015Kaskade IleSoniq 20150814 42 1

Photo Credit: Tim Snow

The pre and after-parties were well worth not getting any sleep for

Official festival pre-parties kicked off the night before with the most anticipated of the bunch being SNBRN and Will Sparks headlining the 3-level waterside bistro turned nightclub Terrasses Bonsecours. The packed club seemed to be able to smoothly adapt to the shifting musical styles from EDM pop records to deep house to big room bangers — this best captured the erratic listening patterns of Montreal’s dance scene at both IleSoniq and the city’s nightclub culture.

The weekend nightlife in Montreal was bustling on St. Laurent Street — pizza and poutine shops were littered with hungry drunks and the pulsating sounds of techno and house reverberating between the old-style bars and clubs. At Friday night’s biggest after-party, Claude VonStroke spun for another two hours until a 3am close time at this dark sweatbox of techno, and the city’s newest nightclub, Ecole Privee.

Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015Get Real By PierreBourgault IleSoniq 2015 7

Photo Credit: Pierre Bourgault

The weekend capped off with Deadmau5’s official party at Stereo nightclub’s famous afterhours, boasting one of the nocturnal world’s most praised sound systems. With open hours between 2am-10am, many of the club’s attendees tested their rave endurance by staying till close and immediately hailed Ubers to the airport for their flight back home right after. Forever young.

Merci Montreal: A wanderlust weekend at IleSoniq Music Festival 2015SteveAngello TimSnow IleSoniq 20150815 35 1

Photo Credit: Tim Snow

Gazing out the shuttle bus window on the way back to the hotel, the weekend’s memories played out in the drifting firework smoke. From Montreal’s hospitable citizens and its abundant culture to IleSoniq’s larger than life production and eclectic ear for music, make this international festival experience the next stamp on your passport.

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