It’s our first music festival back baby! Thursday, September 2nd we took a seven-hour bus (masks on) from Toronto to Rouyn-Noranda, in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of northern Quebec to catch some nature and hear some sonic stunners live. Remember live music?! This 19th edition of FME (Festival De Musique Émergente), taking place September 2nd to 5th, felt like the perfect place to make our festival return in 2021. With full vaccination being required for all attendees of the fest in this mining town (approx population 43k), outdoor stages and enforced distance with masks inside, the attention to safety helped calm our anxieties. And that line-up! THAT LINE-UP!
FME is known for its cutting edge curation and diverse bookings that range everywhere from indie-folk, to electronic, to metal, to rap and beyond. Of course this year they didn’t back down. With a strong focus on Canadian acts and a plethora of Polaris Music Prize nominees (past and present) plus previous winners on the bill, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to witness some beloved albums we’ve had on repeat, LIVE in the flesh – sound straight to our eardrums, FINALLY! The eco-conscious festival welcomed us and together we remembered what it felt like to be a community again, as the Quebec locals had patience while we practised our French.
Due to limited capacity and to make sure things were safe, there was much less venue-hopping allowed than in the past. That said, we did the best we could to see as much as possible, so check out our recap and 35mm film photos (+ a couple bonus digital shots) below… The first set of our FME fest, in this French-Canadian town, was Montreal’s own Paupièr on the Scène SiriusXM outdoor stage. The duo opened the fest with their 80’s Human League vibes, as band members Julia Daigle (check out her solo stuff) and Pierre-Luc Bégin (We Are Wolves) got us grooving with their slick songs.These two cuties got the great front row spots to Paupièr’s set.While at the Scène SiriusXM stage, we linked up with 2017 Polaris Music Prize winner Lido Pimienta in the kids section of the hub and chatted about her first impressions of FME. “It just feels really artistic,” Lido told us as she drew something beautiful on the community chalkboard. “I feel very welcome. I don’t feel strange. Sometimes you go to a new place and you feel like you don’t belong.”
“I feel like on this tour it can be done at any moment,” Lido confided in us. “I’m not in charge anymore, so I just want to let go. This might be the last show!”
Next we hit up our first Secret Show of FME 2021, venturing down a back alley to see SEULEMENT, the solo project of Mathieu Arsenault from Technical Kidman.
The dreamy trance tunes helped us acclimate as we tried to remember our social skills. Meditative music that perfectly matched the moment as we settled in.
That evening the opening night showcase took place at FME’s biggest stage, Le Poisson Volant, an outdoor stage located on the peninsula of Lake Osisko, where they’ve been hosting outdoor concerts all summer.
We were thrilled to finally catch last year’s Polaris Music Prize shortlisters Pantayo, the Toronto-based gong-pop group who got the night going with their vivacious percussion. 2018 Polaris Music Prize shortlist nominee Pierre Kwenders followed and got our hips moving from the moment he hit the stage.
The Congolese-born Montreal-based artist brought some Moonshine magic and comforted our souls with his borderless sonic beauties.From there we headed over to Petit Théâtre du Vieux Noranda to catch Cadence Weapon, who’s now tied with Drake for most Polaris nominations but no wins yet, shortlisted again for the prize this year for his incredible new album, Parallel World.As it’s still illegal to dance indoors (very Footloose), all the indoor shows were seated and distanced to be safe. Despite being solo onstage Cadence Weapon tore it up, making it very difficult not to get up and dance. Thus, we danced in our chairs.
The Edmonton-born, by way of MTL, now Toronto-based multi-hyphenate artist served up stand-up realness between songs, inspired by the comedy-type lighting, making jokes about his fav local restaurants and regaling us with tales of his time spent in Rouyn-Noranda. ‘Twas dope.We made our way back to Le Poisson Volant to see Lido Pimienta’s headliner set by the lake and under the stars. Playing songs off her albums Miss Colombia & La Papessa, it was as if she was conducting the wind, which blew perfectly in sync with her soaring voice, as we danced along with her. The ever-gracious performer, Lido even gave us a sneak peek of her upcoming compositional debut for the New York City Ballet Orchestra. The Colombian-Canadian artist will perform her commissioned score alongside the orchestra on September 30th as part of the New York City Ballet annual Fall Fashion Gala, soundtracking a choreographer/designer collaboration between Andrea Miller and Esteban Cortázar. What a treat to get such a stunning preview!
After the set, we linked up with Cadence Weapon (aka Rollie Pemberton) and shimmied backstage to be cool cats & tell Lido how much we love her. Can’t express how much we missed post-show backstage hangs to be honest.
Bonus backstage digital shot of two icons below as our film cameras couldn’t handle the power of both them together…Not yet done with the night, we headed with Pemberton to classic poutine spot Chez Morasse for a Gayance (right below) secret set in the parking lot. There we met the oh-so-cool rapper Hua Li (left below), got poutine and chatted with Rollie about FME. “It’s one of the best line-ups of any festival I’ve ever played in Canada by far,” he confided to us.Speaking on FME’s eclectic multi-language line-up Rollie reflected, “Playing a festival like this shows you how Canada is vaster than you realize… I recommend everyone come play FME, this shit is banging. You gotta open up out of your comfort zone.”
We kicked off our FME 2021 day two on Friday September 3rd at Bonsound’s annual BBQ pool party. The cool & kind Montreal label played host as Paul Jacobs played a psychedelic poolside set in a beautiful backyard while we kicked off our shoes and cooled off our already tired feet.
Kids at the school next door watched through the gates. We were fed hot dogs with coleslaw & corn and enjoyed the lakeside backyard view.
Made some friends on the dock. The band even got in the pool. Very cool indeed.We then linked up with Gayance to have a lil’chat, as the previous night she had just gotten in from Brussels (fancy). When asked about the last night’s straight off the plane secret show with the audience eating poutine as she played she giggled, “I felt like I was straight-up back in Quebec after this whole month in Europe. Like, baby you back in Quebec!” When asked if the late-night snackers were distracting she exclaimed “I would like to eat poutine while I play! Poutine with pulled pork please!”An old soul with an incendiary vibe, Gayance broke it down for us; “I try to channel the greats, channel their energy… I just want to make something timeless. I don’t give a fuck if I’m not famous in this lifetime. I want to do something that makes people go, ‘Oh shit!’ when they find the record. I collect vinyl. I want someone to find my own vinyl and be like ‘This shit is rare!’”
From there, we headed to Place de la Citoyenneté to hear Laura Niquay. She sang in her native tongue of Atikamekw, playing songs off her recently Polaris long-listed album Waska Matisiwin.
We clapped along to the beat, listened to her stories, and swayed to her sweeping indie-folk songs, accented with punching percussion.
Later that afternoon we hit up the Royal Mountain Records showcase at Cabaret de la Dernière Chance, featuring two rad Toronto acts.First up Ducks Ltd. played a jangly set of songs off their (recently expanded and reissued) debut EP Get Bleak, as well as new tracks off their upcoming album Modern Fiction, out October 1st. Lead vocalist Tom McGreevy (below) went shoeless and would go on his tippy-toes when a good chorus would hit. Art punk four-piece Bad Waitress followed, serving us up some piping hot punches of sound. Delicious.
After falling for Paul Jacobs’s rad tunes earlier that day at the Bonsound BBQ pool party we had to hear more, so we headed to Petit Théâtre du Vieux Noranda to catch more of the vibe.
Our toes tapped as the set’s mesmerizing visuals matched the grooves perfectly, the animated images drawn by Paul Jacobs himself, bringing you deeper into his world. Jacobs and his superb band played tracks off of his latest album, Pink Dogs on The Green Grass, released this past April.While we’re not sure of Paul Jacobs’ percussionist’s name, she was very cool. Couldn’t not mention & capture a photo of her coolness.
Went outside for some air between sets and ran into the delightful Les Deuxluxes. Their latest album Lighter Fluid is criminally slept on, so wake up! They weren’t playing a Les Deuxluxes set at FME, but instead in town with Barry Paquin Roberge.
And then it was time. The OBGMs time. People couldn’t help but get up and dance as soon as they hit the stage but quickly were told to sit down by security, understandably. Densil McFarlane was in true rockstar form, with his “POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS” guitar strap, making moves all over the stage, laying on the floor while playing and shredding on the speakers. When the audience didn’t take part in his call and response games to his liking he teased, “Sounds too Toronto… Do it like you’re from here!” A banter pro, McFarlane and the band encouraged the crowd to send Polaris jury members the fist emoji on social media as a threat (as they’re on the shortlist for this year’s grand prize, with the winner announced this Monday, September 27th). “We’re one of those punk bands that love accolades,” they joked. “I’m tired of being told we are underrated. I wanna be overrated!” Indeed they played like true award-winning pros, closing the set remarking, “After the show, we’ll be selling our souls.. and MERCH!” Oooh Baby Gimme More indeed. That’s what The OBGMs stands for, duh. Saturday the 4th of September marked our FME 2021 festival day three, which started with a stuffed secret show by Alias (another former Polaris long-list nominee). Who doesn’t love a little psych-rock? Fun fact: You may have heard Alias’s music if you watch Big Little Lies.
Following a “Pro Dinner” featuring a performance by the suave Maky Lavender, we left early before the food could come, determined not to miss 2020 Polaris Music Prize winner Backxwash, who was playing a secret show in an auto repair garage. We solo moshed trying to stay in our bubbles and keep our distance, but as Ashanti Mutinta rapped we couldn’t help but thrash our heads along, watching from the garage’s parking lot outside in the rain. The phenomenal set left us shaking with joy from the transcendental experience.
We bumped into Montreal singer Janette King (below) – Who’s set we had sadly missed earlier that day, due to a rainy day stage change. What can we say? We’re out of festival practice but we were happy we got to see *the* King regardless.
We walked to the Poisson Volant outdoor stage in the rain to see Barry Paquin Roberge do that disco glam thing they do so well.
Playing songs off their latest album Exordium to Extasy, we shook off the raindrops to their ABBA meets Bee Gees inspired songs, filled with flute and fun.
Next on the Poisson Volant stage was the divine Marie Davidson & L’Œil Nu (below), who played tracks off their oh so rad record, Renegade Breakdown.
While we wanted to stay and keep dancing in the rain, we had to run to the basement of the Petit Théâtre for Visibly Choked, who describe their sound as “a hardcore Kate Bush-fronted five-piece having a panic attack”. We were sold the moment they hit the stage and were thankful to dry off for a min. The new punks on the scene acted like seasoned pros, getting in the crowd & screaming over the seats. Lead vocalist Gabby Domingue dominated the stage as swirls of guitars and hard-hitting drums hit us in the heart. Needless to say, we are newly obsessed. And then we ran out of film. Bonus digital fake film shots below for good measure. Visibly Choked’s self-titled debut EP comes out this November. At a post-show after-party, in a random tent in a nearby parking lot in the rain (what a mood), we ran into another Polaris Music Prize 2021 shortlister & sensational shoegaze moccasin gazer – Zoon! As mentioned, we were too shutter happy at the start of the fest & ran out of film, so bonus digital/fake film shots from the moment for you…
Zoon, aka Zoongide’ewin, aka Daniel Monkman was kind enough to step out into the rain for the photos. Their debut album *is* titled Bleached Wavves; so serendipitous to shoot in a downpour right? Wild water. Sunday the 5th of September marked our fourth and final FME 2021 day. We took in our last moments in Rouyn-Noranda walking around Lake Osisko, feeling blessed and a bit haggard from all the merrymaking. After a last-minute venue change and lots of running around, we got to Ouri‘s set just in time. The venue was as packed as possible (while remaining safe) to see the Montreal-based multi-instrumentalist (harp!) & producer, whose much-anticipated debut LP, Frame Of A Fauna, comes out Oct 22nd. Her ethereal music soothed our out of practice festival fatigued bodies. While we were stuck at the back we were simply grateful to be in the room. Please enjoy her new video for “Chains” below.
That night, we couldn’t get into the super sold-out metal showcase featuring VOIVOID so instead, we hung around by the Scène SiriusXM stage where some DJs played. We sat on a bench and simply chilled out, people watching.We relished the last FME sets of the 2021 fest at the aptly named Cabaret de la Dernière Chance. Synth duo FHANG brought their avant-garde pop tunes from MTL but again we couldn’t get into the small venue because of pandemic precautions. Luckily, the venue had a livestream projecting on the back patio’s wall so we could watch & listen from outside! Lastly, was francophone indie-pop act Valence from Quebec City (pictured below), who just released their debut album Pêle-mêlea.
And just like that, it was over, all feeling like a lovely dream. We already miss the fest’s FME branded kombucha that was sold at the local gas station, the late-night French conversations, the Aperol spritzes, the poutine diet, the clear starry sky, and the local organic energy drinks. Thanks for having us FME, it was a privilege & a pleasure to celebrate our first festival back with you. À bientôt et merci!
All photos by Kate Killet