Fruitful Francophone Discoveries at FME 2017

September 05, 2017

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FME 2017 Lake Stage. Credit: Matt Williams.

There’s a little city in southwest Quebec that, for the past 15 years now, has spent its Labour Day weekend coming alive with some of the most exciting and under the radar (at least, especially for anglophones) music in the world. Rouyn-Noranda (pop. 41,012) is the home of Festival De Musique Émergente—or, the Emerging Music Festival, for those less fluent in the more romantic of Canada’s two official languages. Without fail, it’s a vibrant time for the city. The streets downtown swarm with festival attendees throughout the four days, whether they’re around for a noon show or posting up at the Agora des Arts for the night. It’s more or less a non-stop party, with a regular Saturday tradition being a dance night that doesn’t end until 5:00 am on Sunday morning.

To kick things off on Thursday night, though, Ottawa Powwow Step titans—and likely frontrunners for the Polaris Music Prize—A Tribe Called Red finished the outdoor mainstage programming after Afro-Canadian pop whiz Pierre Kwenders. Off in the distance at the Agora, Prairie folk rocker Andy Shauf was singing his delicate tunes. The scene buzzes around the main hub of the festival, just off 7 Street, with massive art installations, bars schilling festival old-fashioneds on the cheap for those who buy the reusable mugs, and a second stage just across the square from the big one. The second stage hums all night every night with strange lights and fritzy old televisions, providing everyone somewhere to drink or dance or chat or eat. A record store that also sells locally made clothing keeps its lights on for the duration of each night as well. Any wires that have to run through the grounds are covered with actual grass, and off in the alley you can find even stranger parties, like sound art installations of noise and drone music, impromptu car and van parties, and the back of the Cabaret de la Dernière Chance (The Last Chance Cabaret, which is a very cool name for such a divey, kitschy bar). Smoke billows out over the night lights from the smelting plant not far from where everything happens.

Other highlights at this year’s festival included Montreal’s Elephant Stone and their sitar-dipped psychedelia, which made Le Petit Théatre du Vieux Noranda pulse and swell on some pretty strange trips; Le Bleu’s chilled out synth-pop prepping Agora attendees for Antoine Corriveau’s spooky, dusty rock ‘n’ roll; Betty Bonifassi’s absolutely electrifying combo of blues, gospel, soul, and R&B, where she shook and tossed a heavy chain on a big gear crate for extra percussion; Le Couleur’s hyper-danceable neo-disco in the early evening on Sunday; and weirdo punks Duchess Says, whose midday BBQ set saw frontdemon Annie-Claude Deschênes crawl and slink and dance around a pool, throw berries at people, and share her bottle of wine. And this year, for the first time in the festival’s history, they teamed up with Pikogan Pow Wow for a free show on the banks of Lake Osisko, an artistic and cultural collaboration that’s been in the works since last year.

  • FME 2017

    FME 2017 Antoine Corriveau. Credit: Matt Williams.

  • FME 2017

    FME 2017 Betty Bonifassi. Credit: Matt Williams.

  • FME 2017

    FME 2017 Betty Bonifassi. Credit: Matt Williams.

  • FME 2017

    FME 2017 Duchess Says. Credit: Matt Williams.

  • FME 2017

    FME 2017 Duchess Says. Credit: Matt Williams.

  • FME 2017

    FME 2017 Le Couleur. Credit: Matt Williams.

  • FME 2017

    FME 2017 Le Couleur. Credit: Matt Williams.

  • FME 2017

    FME 2017 Le Couleur. Credit: Matt Williams.

To cap everything off on Sunday night, there was another show on the water at the shores of Kiwanis Beach, where a massive stage was set up in front of the lake, with a gorgeous view of the sunset and some of the beautiful landscape that the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region has to offer. The final set of the night was a tribute concert to Quebecois folk singer Richard Desjardins, who headlined the festival’s inaugural edition and was born in Rouyn—a fitting end to a 15th anniversary celebration.

As a third time visitor to FME—and a woefully undereducated anglophone—I can say that part of the festival’s major attraction for English-speaking music fans is simply the chance to experience live what French Canada is privy to all the time: groundbreaking music from a wildly eclectic scene. It’s also a chance, if you’re feeling daunted by the sheer amount of great tunes coming out of Quebec, to ease yourself into Francophone music via a brilliantly curated group of acts. And if you do end up treating yourself to a broader musical education in Rouyn-Noranda, don’t forget to stop at the 24-hour Chez Morasse for a wicked good poutine—at least once, but it’ll likely be your end of the night snack for the whole weekend.

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About the Author

Matt Williams

Matt Williams is a writer and photographer living on Canada's beautiful East Coast. He was born and raised a flatlander. He's on Twitter @MattGeeWilliams.


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