In the strange yet sweet town of Rouyn Noranda, where the air smells of copper after a rain fall, lies a musical Mecca. Every labour day weekend for the past 10 years musicians, journalists and most of all music lovers converge in a celebration of art, discovery and of course, la musique at the Festival Musique Émergent (Emerging Music festival).
Over its lifetime FME has billed a vast array of acts, from the world famous to the newly minted. The entire town becomes immersed in music, with restaurants, legion halls, churches and other venues opening their doors to musicians and music lovers alike. Streets close down and poutinerie parking lots are invaded by stages and speakers, making for a beautiful, inclusive and most of all incredibly fun and unique musical experience. 2014 was my first time at FME and I am a convert for life, especially since it helped me see two artists I had long needed to see.
It’s a shame that, writing about music for as long as I have, I had yet to see a Rich Aucoin performance. While Aucoin’s recorded music makes for a perfect life soundtrack; a beautiful background, his live performance makes for an unparalleled experience that takes centre stage from start to finish. He curates a full sensory experience, and that starts the moment his feet hit the stage. The screen behind him flashes with cartoons, countdowns and captured iconic moments from films, cartoons and television shows that will be familiar to anyone and everyone. But it’s not just the images that are familiar. I found myself singing along to nearly every song, even though moments before I knew none of the words. And I wasn’t the only one: Aucoin’s largely francophone audience was singing right along with me, and with him. That’s part of the magic Aucoin’s music; every song is recognizable, even though much of the set came from Ephemeral, an album that has yet to be released, but has still sewn its seeds into the Canadian indie music landscape. The audience’s appreciation of the music, and our enthusiastic participation was rewarded as confetti bursts rained glitter on our heads, and our intrepid entertainer would rush into the crowd, the floating lightbulb clutched in his hand a beacon keeping all eyes and ears on him and his antics at all time. And if that wasn’t enough, Aucoin pulled out what must have been the only surfboard in Rouyn Noranda, and brought crowd surfing back to a far purer definition, before pulling out his now ubiquitous parachute, returning all present to a beautiful moment of childlike play as we threw up the coloured fabric and ran to cluster under it, a wondrous dance party erupting within its embrace.
A Rich Aucoin performance goes beyond music to all levels of entertainment, and was the perfect beginning to my FME journey.
Owen Pallett’s final night performance at FME was as beautiful in its minimalism as Aucoin’s was in its ostentation. Pallett’s technical skill on the violin, his passion for music and his creative composition were the stars of his show. Add his silky smooth voice into the mix and you had a theatre full of people absolutely mesmerized by the simple, yet formidable spectacle before them. One of Pallett’s many talents lies in his ability to combine the classical with the futuristic. Utilizing all manner of musical gadgetry to loop, layer and link pieces of his violin playing, Pallett becomes a one man orchestra, playing one symphony after another while his audience sits in wide eyed wonder. The man’s soundtrack influencing talent was clearly evident; this was another artist that makes music you can picture living your life to. More than that, in that theatre Pallett’s performance served as a reminder of how powerful and impactful music can be. And in an industry that seems to have lost its heart and soul in so many ways, it’s a wonderful thing to have people like Owen Palett making that kind of music: music for people who truly love music. Another seminal Canadian indie artist I had yet to see live, I was thrilled to experience two such stunning shows in one short weekend.
Stay tuned for more tales of my musical adventure at FME.
*photos by Nadia Elkharadly