DIGITAL CULTURE IS heading for the mainland, in the form of Mutek, a Montreal-based annual celebration of electronic music and media arts that's become one of the most important festivals of its kind during the past five years. Organisers have selected China as the festival's first Asian stop, with a series of performances and workshops scheduled for various cities next month - but it's a choice that might surprise some, given Japan's dominance of electronic music in the region. 'The fact that we're playing electronic music might have led us to think we'd be performing in Japan first,' says Guillaum Coutu Dumont, half of Canadian duo EGG, which combines glitchy sounds and cartoon-tech sensibilities. 'But we like to do things differently.' Mutek director Alain Mongeau says Japan is definitely an important market, 'especially for such a niche genre as electronic music'. But he says Mutek has 'never had the chance to make it there'. Japan's loss is China's gain. 'China not only is ready for Mutek, it needs many more similar events,' says Christiaan Virant, who is one half of Beijing-based minimalist laptop duo FM3. Mutek-affiliated events have been held throughout Europe and the US, and the festival has gone on the road before, to Mexico and Chile. Next month, Beijing, Chengdu and Shenzhen will be added to the list. 'Mutek is not only a music festival,' says Francis Acquarone, of  Productions, a Beijing-based promotions agency that's organising the festival with the Canadian embassy. 'It features visual, digital, new technology and education elements, while also serving as a gathering platform for industry contacts from around the world to exchange ideas.' The festival involves performances, workshops and panel discussions. Mutek is dedicated to promoting, producing and developing digital culture, and promoting and supporting innovators. The China tour will be no exception. 'Part of the idea behind Mutek China is to open new horizons for Chinese clubbers,' says Acquarone. 'Some won't like what they hear and see. Others will be delighted. We've prepared a programme that's not too experimental. Most of the artists, either through live or DJ sets, have very energetic dub and housy sets.' EGG will perform alongside mainland artists, DJs and VJs. However, China's representation has confused some performers. 'It appears that the only local talent invited to perform are uninspiring club DJs,' Virant says. The 2003 Sounding Beijing festival of sound art was a better model for Mutek China, he says. One of its successes was in providing a venue for fringe musicians and forcing them to 'get their acts together'. 'It will be good for the [local] crowd to see and hear some of Canada's top electronic acts,' Virant says. 'But will the kids who are really interested in pushing the envelope of digital music in China even bother to show up, given the DJ-heavy local line-up and the megaclub venue [in Beijing]?' Virant's FM3 will play alongside Canadian duo Skoltz_Kolgen for the second time, having played together at a Mutek event in Germany last year. 'Skoltz_Kolgen work on the extreme high-end of digital video and audio, while FM3 is decidedly lo-fi,' he says. 'But the combination works so well that they invited us to open for them.' Among the education events scheduled, Scott Monteith, of participating groups Deadbeat and Crackhaus, will host a workshop on production and sound design software Ableton Live. Mongeau will host a workshop on organising electronic music festivals. And there'll be a panel discussion on Digital Identity in a Global Electronic Scene. In Beijing, all the events except the workshops will be held at popular disco Tango, which may prove confusing for clubbers turning up in search of commercial house music. In Chengdu, the festival will be held at gallery Chengduart. In Shenzhen, ever the commercial city, events will take place at the OCT Contemporary Arts Centre, run by Overseas Chinese Town (one of the city's biggest companies, which owns real estate, hotels and theme parks, as well as IT and electronic appliance companies). 'We've been working on this project for close to a year now,' says Acquarone. 'While we were always interested in Asia, we were just waiting for the right opening.' Mongeau says the very fact that the festival is going ahead is 'a success in itself. Whatever happens on site will have mid- and long-term constructive elements, I'm sure, because we've seen it with everything we've been involved with so far. I see this project as opening little doors, connecting little dots in a large cultural map.' Acquarone offers an added bonus for local artists: 'Who knows,' he says. 'If they impress Alain Mongeau, maybe they'll be able to attend Mutek's next edition in Montreal.'