Review: Bonobo Live at Piknic Electronik

Bonobo live at Piknic Electronik in Montreal

Simon Green is one of the biggest chameleons in electronic music today. Not only does the 43-year-old British producer, best known as Bonobo, continue to infuse his organic, crisply-made beats with influences from across the globe, he’s been doing it since the late ‘90s – gaining a cult following through six albums and performing both DJ sets and full-band live shows while touring. If nothing else, his set at Montreal’s Piknic Electronik festival on Saturday, June 22 (as part of his OUTLIER event series) was further proof of his ability to keep his sound fresh and distinctive while wading through continually-changing trends in his genre.

Though the festivities began with acts playing from as early as 3 p.m., the bigger-ticket names on the bill arguably began with J-E-T-S (a collaboration between producers Jimmy Edgar and Machinedrum) and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs prior to Bonobo’s headlining set. Though the former played mainly deep house with some trap sprinkled in, while the latter’s set was defined more by harder-hitting – and at times, darker – styles of house music, neither seemed to truly grab the crowd’s attention. Though the crowd would gradually grow in size, many who showed up for the openers could be seen talking amongst themselves, taking selfies, and so on.

As far as Montreal-based summer events go, this one appears as millennial as they come: the crowd being largely within the same age range – likely between 24 and 32 – and some food truck options played very much to modern foodie trends; one major item from one truck being their “Beyond Meat” burrito. Nitpicking aside, the yearly event is nonetheless a fun one (especially when paired with Montreal’s beautiful sunset), and one that also goes nicely with the city’s carefree, music-heavy summer festival scene.

While the crowd tended to be a bit scattered and unfocused prior to Bonobo’s set, it would be a full house by the time he did come on, and the reception would be a rapturous one. Despite boasting a discography dabbling in various styles of electronic music, Green tended to lean more toward the dancier end of his expansive back catalogue, opening with the Moroccan-tinged “Bambro Koyo Ganda” and continuing with “Cirrus”, “Flashlight”, recent single “Ibrik”, and his superb remixes of Nuage’s “Flares” and Henri Texier’s “Les Là-Bas”, to name a few. It might seem like an obvious lack of variety on the one hand, but it’s probably for the best given the upbeat, laid back atmosphere of Piknic Electronik – an event that’s been taking place in Montreal since 2003, and one known for booking some of electronic music’s most cutting-edge artists.

Even if his set didn’t deliver much in terms of surprises or new material, Bonobo nonetheless showed how he’s able to get a crowd engaged and dancing wildly despite a largely downtempo, jazz and world music-influenced sound. He’s got a style as diverse as the city he played in on Saturday, and the chants of “Let’s go, Simon!” heard in the crowd further emphasizes why Piknic were lucky to have him.

Words by Dave MacIntyre