*all photos by Nadia Elkharadly
A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of attending Festival de musique émergente en Abitibi–Témiscamingue (FME), or the Emerging Music Festival for our Anglophone friends, and this past Labour Day weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of attending again.
Founded in 2002, FME is a truly immersive music festival experience. The entire town of Rouyn-Noranda literally opens its doors to music for the four days of the festival. Streets become stages, churches become concert theatres, lakes and rolling fields become picturesque backdrops, and the entire community and its visitors join together in the enjoyment of amazing live music. A mining community in the Abitibi–Témiscamingue region of Northern Quebec, the people of Rouyn-Noranda are just as hospitable to festival goers as the festival itself. Indeed the festival team works side by side with resident volunteers to ensure that everyone is well fed and watered, with its volunteer staffed bars and the beautiful free lunch they hosted on opening day. For us media types, FME is not only a great time to enjoy music, but to catch up with our friends in Quebec. At various events with more awesome, home cooked food and never empty glasses, festival delegates from all aspects of the music industry came together from all over Canada. Blessed with unseasonably yet most welcome warm weather, FME was all the more enjoyable, with multiple outdoor shows under the shining sun, and very comfortable late night walks home with a serving of poutine from Chez Morasse to keep you warm if you needed it (which I did…every night).
Like every year, 2016’s FME was inspired not only by new and emerging music, but by the rich history of Rouyn-Noranda. The festival artwork for this year was inspired by an old photo of Jos Dumulon, one of Rouyn’s early settlers famed for establishing the general store on beautiful Lake Osisko. The whole town was taken over by his likeness and the artwork it inspired, adding to the immersion effect of FME.
Another wonderful aspect of FME, for a Toronto based writer like myself especially, is the discovery of artists from French Canada, and the ability to share those discoveries to spread the wealth. So here are my FME discoveries, rediscoveries, and just had to share artists!
Québec Redneck Bluegrass Project
You can’t put a band called Québec Redneck Bluegrass Project and not expect me to check them out. Founded in China, the Rednecks were a group of hard partyin’ Quebecers that had the good fortune of finding each other in the massive country, and decided to make music for hard drinkin’, hard rockin’ folks like themselves. Rowdy rock and roll with a side of country, served up in English and Chinese. These guys definitely lived up to their name, and I loved every second.
If you want to feel bad about yourself, go see Charlotte Cardin live. This barely 20 something young woman has already accomplished more than most of us do in an entire lifetime, and she does it with style, grace and incredible talent. A former model, Charlotte broke into music by taking part in the 2013 Quebec edition of The Voice. With the voice of an angel, the face of a goddess, and the mind of a composer, she’s a triple threat that is taking the music industry by storm. I got the chance to see Charlotte at Osheaga earlier this summer, so she was on my must see list for FME. She played at L’Agora, a beautiful church turned music venue, and her performance left me with goosebumps.
Six musicians, 2 singers, tons of instruments, all beautiful music. With three albums under their belts, including the newly released A Wider Space (Sept 2016), Groenland treated the audience at the Agora to an eclectic set that ranged from the ethereal to the ecstatic. They’re clearly a group that love making music, which made them a pleasure to watch.
The Toronto contingent at FME all raved about Partner on the flight over, so naturally our Anglo FME fam came together to watch the New Brunswick band do their thing at the charmingly named Cabaret de la dernière chance (Last Chance Caberet). Reminiscent of Luscious Jackson, The Breeders and Veruca Salt, this nineties gal was really digging Partner’s nineties rock vibe, along with their endearing stage presence and charming sense of humor. Keep up with these gals, they were one of my favorite discoveries at FME.
Half Moon Run
If you can see Half Moon Run live, do yourself a favor and do it. The Montreal natives have been climbing the ladder of fame for the past few years, but they still call Quebec home, and in turn the province welcomes their prodigal sons home with open arms. The band’s set at the large outdoor stage was completely sold out, the street a sea of bodies beaming with pride while enjoying some beautiful folk pop tunes. I’ve always said no one loves music in Canada the way the Quebecois do, and this show was the perfect embodiment of that.
Another Anglo-Fam reco, the Dead Obies were on my must see list, and I was not disappointed. From the moment I arrived at the Paramount Theatre and felt the heavy, sweaty air and the loud, thudding beat I knew I was in the right place. Formed in 2011 in Montreal, the Dead Obies have cornered the market on killer, bilingual rap. Indeed, these guys rhymed effortlessly in English and French, and it sounded epic. Their latest album Gesamtkunstwerk has been on repeat in my car since my return from FME – I can’t get enough.
I actually discovered les Deuxluxes at my first FME back in 2014. I was one of maybe 7 people, standing in the rain, watching a drenched Les Deuxluxes play out of the back of a van. The tenacity of the band drew me in: most would probably have just canceled, but they played on. Their style caught my eye: they were dressed to the nines, and matching, in vintage glam garb, despite being soaking wet. And their music, beautiful noise, made by just two people, had me hooked. I followed their career since then, catching shows in Montreal, Quebec City, and Toronto. So to return to FME and see them not only play to a massive crowd, but to sell out their show AND play a coveted showcase at an industry party; it all made my heart swell with pride. Now signed to the french Canadian Bonsounds label, these guys are going nowhere but up
Plants and Animals
If there was a “best setting” award given out at FME, Plants and Animals would have won it for their picturesque show on the shore of Lake Osisko. Music lovers of all ages gathered, basking in the late summer sunshine as these Montreal icons played their beautiful tunes. It was one of those moments where you realize how wonderful life can be: sunshine, happy people, great music. What else do you really need to make a great experience? Not much.
Another previous FME discovery was Les Hay Babies from New Brunswick. Our Anglo fam mom Rebecca Webster tipped us off to Laura Sauvage, the brainchild of Hay Babies Member Vivianne Roy. Considering how much I loved the HBs, this was a no brainer. With her whiskey soaked, smoke roughened voice and casually hilarious banter, Vivianne was the consummate front woman. Another female fronted, grunge era influenced band, Laura Sauvage won their way into my heart, and I’m telling you know, you need to check her out.
The festival’s closing band, at least at the Agora, was legendary Montreal group the Barr Brothers. Their dark folksy, Americana influenced sound, set against the ancient feeling Agora stage toed the line between eerie and exquisite. It’s no wonder the band has attained near global success; theirs is a sound that seeps into your very soul. They balance darkness with light, beauty with pain. Singer Brad Barr, originally from the US, thanked Quebec for saving his life. And while Montreal may have been where Brad and Andrew Barr were finally able to plant their musical roots to watch them grow, Quebec is just as grateful for the Barrs’ presence as they are for their new home. This prominent spot at this music loving festival is more than evidence of that.
So take a chance, and venture to Rouyn-Noranda and experience the magic of FME for yourself. The festival takes place from August 31st to September 3rd, 2017. See you there?