WORDS AND PHOTOS BY MYLES HEROD
The town’s name is Rouyn-Noranda. It’s a strange, foreign-sounding mouthful with a beautiful secret. Over the course of August 29 to Sept 1, the northern Quebec community of 42,000 was transformed into a music festival named FME (Festival De Musique Émergente).
Created as a festival for both Canadian and international artists, there was something downright magical about Rouyn-Noranda’s 17th annual event. From smiling residents and prominent advisements in shop windows to the sheer enthusiasm to the townsfolk involved.
Helped by the festival’s all-encompassing app, seeing the artists of one’s choosing was never simpler either, providing precise start times, bios, and their social media handles. ADDICTED Magazine was there this year to experience FME firsthand and soak in the sounds of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec.
Officially kicking things off on Thursday evening, renowned Canadian scratch DJ Kid Koala headlined FME’s Desjardin mainstage while onlookers swayed and raised their collective beverages.
Branded as the Vinyl Vaudeville, a gamut of burlesque dancers, puppets, and projections all made cameo appearances accompanied by Koala’s sonic collage of techno and hip-hop. It made for great fun, setting in motion a distinctive theme of experimentation and showmanship that would typify the rest of the festival.
Later that evening, duo Ellemetue captivated those at Rouyn’s Cabaret De La Dernière Chance with their moody synths and off-kilter arrangements.
Consisting of singer Nunu Métal and multi-instrumentalist Mingo L’Indien, their mixture of clarinet solos, analog textures, and haunting vocals provided a refreshing remedy to the rain outside – marking them a tried and true discovery of the evening.
In an attempt to feature more women on stage in 2019, FME took the opportunity to highlight female-oriented acts across countless genres during the four-day event. On Friday, the Desjardin stage hosted a handful of rappers commencing with Quebecois artist Sarahmée.
Shimmering in yellow, she bounced between dancing and signing, hip-hop and guitar chords, winning the crowd immediately as they fed off her infectious energy.
Following Sarahmée’s triumphant set, Swiss rapper KT Gorique harnessed the leftover momentum, delivering lyrics with quicksilver precision and her megawatt smile.
While most of her performance was spoken in French, Gorique threw some English into the mix, enthusiastically shouting, “what’s my name!” while engaging with ecstatic fans over lively drums and a pulsating DJ tack.
Elsewhere, Atlanta’s Mean Girls came as complete misfits compared to everyone else. Wielding winning styles of glam and punk, their electric charisma harkened back to the talents of NYC’s legendary CBGB’s house bands.
A rotating fivesome of lead singers and multi-instrumentalists, it soon became apparent that the sweltering Cabaret De La Derniere Chance venue was the place to be. Indeed, with members dressed in velvet and animal prints, their assault of dance and post-punk was not easily shaken, leaving everyone mesmerized as night turned into early morning.
Hailing from Montreal, Half Moon Run were touted as direct heirs to Arcade Fire. Packing the local church l’Agora des Arts for an intimate performance, that prediction partially came true as their booming, athematic sound elevated well into the rafters.
Delving into songs from their past two albums, the foursome showed off their rich range and willingness to venture beyond their parameters with experimental flourishes. For singer Devon Portielje, he was refreshingly unpredictable, which only complimented the beautifully stark light show and searing musicianship of the other band members.
Over at Diable Rond the all-female Japanese trio The 5,6,7,8’s played the jammed venue, which was perfect for their garage punk aesthetic.
While they may not have been the most disciplined musicians, they did excel at creating a hip-swivelling mix of surf and rockabilly. Even with minimal hard-to-pin-down lyrics, they were an instant jolt of retro fun.
Capping off the night, post-rock luminaries …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead ripped along at a deafening pace as lead singer Conrad Keely screeched his voice over the swelling noise.
As the pounding chords flew out of the speakers in Petit Theatre du Vieux Noranda, one was left to think about how rejuvenated the band sounded. By this point in their 20-year career, it can be easy to fall into the predictability of phoning it in. However, there was tremendous passion on display that it felt akin to watching a band of youthful twenty-somethings giving it their all.
As the final day concluded at FME, it was a joy to be adventurous and choose any host of bands at sheer randomness. The choice was set on Adam Naas with rumours spreading that his style was similar to Prince.
Heavily made-up in darkened eyes and a mop of brown and peroxide hair, the Parisian singer arrived on stage with an almost bashful naivety. However, when he soon began to sing, the room became enraptured by his languid voice. Making shyness his strength, he delivered a combo of indie rock and soul, cementing his set as one of the best of FME 2019.
One of the final acts to close out FME was Toronto’s The Sadies who frequently vocalized how vital the festival was to each bandmate. With twang in their music and country in their souls, frontman Dallas Good routinely remarked how mediocre his French was, much to the amusement of the crowd.
Chugging along with guitar reverb and sounds of the upright bass, the perfectly dressed outfit sent their Rouyn-Noranda fans into rarefied musical air, leaving a fitting end to the magical fourth day.
As things wrapped on another year, one of the main charms of FME was the lasting impression it imparted. By Monday, one felt as if friendships had been forged, music had been heard, and the town of Rouyn-Noranda had been trekked from top-to-bottom. Whether it was the trap-loving hipsters, middle-aged metalheads or townsfolk welcoming the influx of business, rarely has a town festival felt so invested in its community. In the end, it is safe to say that music does make the world go round after all.