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Is FME Quebec's Best Kept Music Secret?

Four days of sun-soaked sounds and home-baked talent close out another summer in Rouyn-Noranda.

by Stephan Boissonneault 

Photos by Stephan Boissonneault

We all pile out of the eight-hour long Montreal bus into the Sol Minor (maison d’accueil) media HQ for the Festival Musique Emergente (FME) and our excitement and bewilderment clings to the air like sap on invisible trees. A few of us immediately open a few tallboys, crushing some liquid courage before a full weekend’s worth of live music in the heart of Northern Quebec’s Rouyn-Noranda. 

There are more than 85 acts; ranging from balls-to-the-wall punk, consciously charged hip-hop, dance club electro, hazy shoegaze, and so much more. The first-timers seem a bit puzzled on what to catch, but the festival staff and locals will graciously tell them where to go, and invite them to a few “secret shows,” before anyone has struck their first guitar chord.

Space Dreams with N NAO, Laurence-Anne, and Yocto

N NAO (Photo: Louis Jalbert)

In a dimly lit venue called the Agora Des Arts, the experimental pop sorceress, N NAO, takes the stage. Decked out in her baby blue show dress, N NAO (real name Naomie de Lorimier) and her band dive into wave after wave of droney and tranquil dream pop with an ethereal edge. At times it feels like a set in the Bang Bang Bar on Twin Peaks, especially when N NAO begins misting her hair and body with a spray bottle during the track “L’eau et les rêves.” 

Laurence-Anne (Photo: Stephan Boissonneault)

Laurence-Anne arrives on the Agora stage, dressed in a purple cloak, surrounded by a few differently pitched gongs. The new songs off of the upcoming, Oniromancie album seem a bit darker than Laurence-Anne’s previous work, with nebulous shoegaze guitar, heavy synth work dipping its toes into the dark wave realm, and Laurence-Anne’s powerful, valkyrie-like voice. Most of the lyrics are in French, referencing the unexplainable feelings and landscapes in the dreamworld, but one called “Flores” is entirely in Spanish and conveys Laurence-Anne’s powerhouse falsettos. She sometimes decides to loop these, creating an uncanny valley kind of vibe.

Yocto (Photo: Stephan Boissonneault)

Down the road, Yocto, one of Montreal’s newest art rock/new wave acts, guides the Cabaret de la Dernière Chance crowd through their space age story of chained stars and totalitarian doomsday, found on the super new album, Zepta Supernova. Fronted by the charismatic Yuki Berthiaume Tremblay, Yocto is unbelievably tight and catchy, giving me that warm fuzzy feeling when a band continues to surprise you. 

 

Rap Gods and Prog Rock with Myst Milano, Population II, and Emma Beko

It’s easy to get lost in the bad bitch hip-hop energy of Myst Milano, a young rapper and DJ from Toronto. She might have the most confidence of any FME performer, synchronizing her dance moves with heavy bass and confessional, sometimes self-absorbed raps about hooking up, growing up, and being too much to handle. She’s unstoppable. 

Myst Milano (Photo: Stephan Boissonneault)

Another bonafide rap show is taking place at the legendary late night food joint, Morasse Poutine. We hear the thundering raps of Emma Beko, playing an early morning set in the parking lot. It looks like a rap music video from the ‘90s with Beko wearing an NBA jersey and a red lit-up Camaro parked right next to the stage. 

Emma Beko

At midnight, one of the most hyped up acts of FME, Population II, a prog rock/psych three piece from Montreal, absolutely annihilates their set in the country-punk bar, Diable Rond. The drummer, Pierre-Luc Gratton, also doubles as the vocalist while guiding the band through King Crimson level prog rock and fuzzy jazz freakouts. It’s loud, but not too loud. That comes later. 

Population II (Photo: Stephan B)

Electro Dance and a dash of Nourriture 

TUKAN (Photo: Stephan B)

A secret show is announced on the FME app, but the location is a bit unorthodox—well, maybe not for FME—right off the train tracks of the Horne Copper Smelter, the monolithian cloud of twisting metal and smoke stacks that overlooks the FME Main Street. Late at night, this gives the Rouyn-Noranda scene a Middle Earth’s Mordor vibe. The band playing on tracks is TUKAN, an analog electro dance band from Brussels that becomes a festival favourite. Droves of festival goers and locals shuffle in to witness the exhilarating sounds. The brutalist landscape of rusted trains and rock underneath a slow sunset, mixed with computerless electro jazz feels like a Berlin postcard. 

Annie-Claude Deschenes (Photo: Stephan B)

The festival continues to do it again with the combination of the alternative pop misfit, Rip Pop Mutant, and the POV restaurant-themed synthy cold wave of Annie Claude Deschênes. Rip Pop Mutant (Alex Ortiz) is definitely weird, playing a faux saxophone in a leopard print cloak with post-punk flair, but it’s hard to out weird the theatrics of Annie-Claude (Duchess Says, PyPy). Her latest live show starts off simple enough, but morphs into a fever dream as she takes the orders of a few unsuspecting audience members, sits them down at a table, and recites a eulogy on good dining etiquette before serving plates of “food,” sprayed out of a whip cream canister.

La Sécurité (Photo: Stephan Boissonneault)

The night, or early morning, ends with dance punk/new wave group La Sécurité tearing up the Diable Rond. I’ve personally seen La Sécurité three or four times, and I can say this set was their most varied, sometimes switching up the instrumentation and vocals between members for the slower, nostalgic number “K9,” or the tongue in cheek, “Waiting For Kenny.” Perfect way to end the night.

 

Sunshine Pop and Power Violence

Night Lunch (Photo: Stephan Boissonneault)

By day three, my feet feel like forgotten leather and my brain is fried, but I must persevere. I mean, this is FME—I can sleep when I’m dead. There are some pleasing sounds coming from the outdoor Osisko lake shore venue, La Guinguette, and that’s from the creme de la creme of the Bonbonbon label, Vanille. The chill, vintage sunshine pop project, led by the wonderfully talented Rachel Leblanc, is the quintessential way to start the day. Next up is lunch, make that Night Lunch, a weirdo art pop group with a penchant for catchy ‘80s guitar and bass hooks and mind-blowing falsettos. Looking at one of the guitarist/vocalists, Lukie Lovechild, it’s hard to understand how he has that vocal range, but by god, he can switch from a Springsteen-esque croon to a Supertramp “Goodbye Stranger” vocal high note on a dime.

Later that night is one of the heaviest acts to ever grace the Cabaret. Known as Truckviolence, or Truck, this three piece decimates the stage and floor with punishing blast beats, thick molasses guitar chugs, and passionate screams and growls. A tube TV balances off on the monitors, playing skate videos and back room tour videos of Truck. The singer wastes no time stripping down to his boxer briefs and barrels into the crowd to incite some fun mosh violence. We’re all thrashed and mangled by the end of the set and left better for it.

Saints Martyrs (Photo: Thomas Dufresne)

There’s more violence at the Saints Martyrs show the next night in the Petit Theatre basement, but this time with more gothic flair. After a seven minute introduction featuring drone and eye buzzing strobe, the singer, who goes by Frère Foutre, dressed like The Crow, lets out an intense hair-raising scream before grabbing the hanging light and swinging it directly at the crowd. The light turns to scarlet red and for the next 30 minutes, we’re all in  Frère Foutre’s version of hell. It’s a little over the top—ending with him literally crawling on the floor outside of the venue, but I’ve never seen anything like it. 

And with that, this year’s sun-soaked FME is a wrap. As explosive of a program as ever, We are already waiting in anticipation for next year’s edition.