by Christine Leonard
An otherworldly affair that will have you speaking in tongues, Festival de musique émergente (FME) in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Quebec entered its 17th year with a flurry of feathers, flying objects and intermittent rain showers.
Running August 29 to September 3, the annual celebration of up-and-coming Canadian musicians literally chases summer as it heads deep into the woods of northern Quebec each Labour Day.
Set against the smokestacks and evergreens of the unassuming village of Rouyn-Noranda, the festival takes full advantage of the many small and medium-scale venues that play host to the throngs of curious and dedicated sound-seekers who cross their thresholds over the long weekend.
Thursday, August 29
Storm clouds and crowds gathered on FME’s opening night, packing the main thoroughfare that leads to the towering scène extérieure Desjardins in anticipation of the evening’s entrée – a trip through veteran disc hustler Kid Koala’s “Vinyl Vaudeville” experience. Hyping the huddled masses with an aerobic 80s-inspired work-out, opening act Adira Amram and the Experience electrified the crowd with a jazz-handful of neon dance numbers before swapping out their Hammer-Time look for burlesque costumes complete with ostrich plume fans. Titillating the audience with saucy breakbeats and scratchy loops, Kid Koala pulled out all the family-friendly material he could muster.
The rain and wind proved no deterrent as hands reached for the hundreds of paper airplanes hurled from the stage and circle pits stampeded under the legs of a giant spider marionette that stalked through the crowd. Drying off at Cabaret de la Dernière Chance afterwards, the Pink Floyd-esque sounds of “Nunu metal” duo Ellemetue painted a strange and sweat-stained picture of wailing synths and fallen guitar gods.
Up next, Red Mass took over the podium clad in red and black. Stomping out demons and strumming with a biblical fervor the punk provocateur cast out any doubt that this sepulcher alone was the final refuge of the damned.
The Young Gods would challenge that statement. Stirring the old deities of Switzerland like a techno-fluent Dr. Frankenstein, the scientific trio illuminated the Petit Théâtre du Vieux-Noranda with laser precision before burying the congregation in an avalanche of angular gestures and dancefloor dominanting synths.
Friday, August 30
Copper. That’s pretty much the big employer hereabouts, so if you’re interested in what makes this town tick you should take advantage of any opportunity to tour the massive Fonderie Horne to see where the magic happens. Speaking of magicians, blues chanteur David Marin made the transition from afternoon pool party to evening showcase disappear into thin air with his smooth keyboarding and Jimmy Buffett of the Canadian Riviera swing.
Outside the walls of the Salle-des-Chevaliers-de-Colomb, the streets overflowed with rainbow lights and hip-hop vibes as locals and visitors alike swarmed towards the open-air spectacle featuring rappers Sarahmée, KT Gorique and an encore appearance by Drake-like crowd-pleaser Loud.
Back at the Cabaret, 20-year-old booking agency Preste treated attendees to a BBQ complete with musical accompaniment by singer-songwriter Elliot Maginot, while around the corner at Diable Rond the vintage vibes of The Televisionaries and The 5,6,7,8s packed the room with ‘50s licks and surfy hooks. Bumped-up hairdos and fantastic fashion ruled as the two retro-fixated bands put on a hot and shaky show that was easier heard than seen. Vertical challenges aside, there’s no greater equalizer amongst festival-goers than the hunt for some soul-satisfying late night eats. And in Rouyn-Noranda that can only mean one thing: a trip to the legendary 24-hour poutinerie Chez Morasse. Maybe you’ll feel remorse the next day. But for now — nous allons manger!
Saturday, August 31
You’ve made it this far, so why not unwind with a detour into the deep dark woods to meet some of the (other) resident wildlife? Wolves and lynxes and bears, mon dieu! The Refuge Pageau rehabilitates over 150 creatures a year and gives visitors the opportunity to stroll through their sprawling forest facility while catching glimpses of some of the current patients. Pink flamingos are not to be found here, but The Flamingos Pink of Montreal were certainly on the menu back at Bar Le Groove later that day.
Hot to trot drummer/vocalist Julien Corrado and singer/guitarist Sacha Gubany striped down to their denim in order to make better contact with the people. Pushing up the thermostat with thick rock ‘n’ roll riffs and door-booting percussion, the twosome squeezed every drop of juice from the afternoon’s atomic orange afterglow.
Banishing the inclement weather with a flick of their supple wrists, hard rock outfit LA Julia Smith demonstrated why three guys from Chile are allowed to call their band whatever the hell they want. Burning a hole through the ceiling of Bar Le Groove’s spartan cement basement, the position-swapping trio belted out a tightly wound set of heartburning tempo tantrums.
What better way to cool your heels than with a dip in the bottomless sea of …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead? Swamping the Petit Théâtre in swirling string crescendos and romantically tortured vocals, they carved a trench through dark and emotive sonic waves as a thirsty audience surged and heaved at their feet.
Sunday, September 1
And just like that, you wake up and it’s September. Disillusion aside it was a beautiful day to explore the lush Parc Botanique À Fleur d’eau. Strolling along pathways and boardwalks the sounds of pop-folk siren Salome Leclerc followed at every turn as she entertained residents and wristbanders who gathered around the central gazebo stage.
Next door at the public library Matt Vezio set up shop in an outdoor plaza as people spread out picnic blankets to soak up some sunny rays and funny lines from the guitar-strumming folk pop troubadour. Famous for their velvety stouts the diminutive watering hole Le Trèfle Noir Brasserie Artisanale is the perfect place to chill out, recharge and survey the influx of black T-shirts into Rouyn-Noranda as FME’s notorious metal night festivities approach. A sold-out attraction that could easily be extended in size and scope, the heaviest show on the docket brought Quebecois headbangers and intrigued onlookers from out of the woodwork. Local stand-outs Archons impressed with an evocative thrash stance that left plenty of room to jump on their momentum machine.
Oxygen levels dropped suddenly as Necrotic Mutation seized the stage. Lead singer Daniel Jalbert had his work cut out for him as he struggled against the confines of a straitjacket while snarling his visceral vocals into the microphone. Closing out the evening and the entire festival with a crack of lightning and roll of thunder, Despised Icon divided, conquered and then reunited the crowd at will. Dual deathcore vocalists Steve Marois and Alex Erian vacillated between furious howls and caustic commands as easily as they switched between speaking French, English and what I can only assume is some regional dialect of Tolkien’s Black Speech. Oh, man. A third language to brush up on before returning for FME 2020!