Culture  Dancers in the dark

Exploring Montreal’s unique music culture in the cold

Now in its sixth consecutive year, Igloofest has become something of a Montreal institution. The winter counterpart to Piknic Electronik, it’s a weekend activity on every McGill student’s to-do-before-you-graduate bucket list. Although I’m in my third year, this was my first trip to the neon ice igloo village. I may be adventurous in some ways, but night-time winter outdoor raves are not exactly my forte. Accordingly, as I bundled myself up in preparation, I had three key pieces of advice stuffed in the pockets of my winter coat: wear layers, show up early, and get as close to the stage as you can.

The idea for Igloofest was originally concocted by the same four men who started Piknic Electronik. Ever since its inception in the winter of 2007, nine evenings every January have filled the Jacques Cartier Pier with walls of ice, spiked hot chocolate, famous DJs, and screaming (mostly) twenty-somethings. This year has featured DJs such as Montreal native A-Trak, south London’s dubstep legend Mala, and French DJ Sébastien Léger.

Igloofest, though, has evolved – it is more than just an outdoor music festival. Since its creation, the event has grown – as The Star described – to signify “Montreal’s importance on the global music scene.” Few would deny that both Igloofest and Piknic Electronik have been a large part of advancing Montreal’s house, dubstep, and techno culture, even within the context of Montreal’s music scene at large.

But one could easily argue that Igloofest is not entirely about the music. It is also the particularly unique experience of an interactive igloo village in which you can eat, drink, and dance. Many can say that they’ve been to Bonnaroo or Coachella or Sasquatch for their favorite musicians. Most McGill students have heard stories about how their friends spent a weekend of their summer after Grade 12 camping out in tents, waking up to the heat, scorching their skin in the sun, and gorging on fried food. These don’t sound much different from Piknic or Osheaga.

Yet, Igloofest is a completely different experience. I was red-faced from the cold, not a sunburn. I was sweating from the layers under my hat and gloves, not the heat. My toes were frozen, my brain was dizzy from dancing. Sure, I got elbowed in the face a little bit and I lost my cell phone (Note, add to that advice list: helmet, cell phone tether), but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a fun night.

Accessibility is also a major factor in the draw to Igloofest. I might have felt different about the imperfections of my night if I’d had to shell out more money. Igloofest and Piknic Electronik general director Nicolas Cournoyer told the Montreal Gazette, in an interview, that their  “mission from the start, with both Piknic and Igloofest, was to democratize electronic music and make it accessible to everyone.” And when you consider that every winter approximately 60,000 people, many of whom are students, gain access to world quality techno DJs for only $15, it seems that they have succeeded in that endeavor.

As Cournoyer explained, “it’s no longer the underground event it once was, but people who love the music still come. We’ve come a long way from the prejudices of the early 2000s, when many people still saw techno and house as nothing but a series of silly, repetitive beats.”