Contributor Matt Hertendy checks in mid-way through this year’s 20th anniversary Festival de Musique Émergente (FME) in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Quebec.
September 1, 2022: Day 1
It had been a grueling day of sitting in a van for 8 hours, from Toronto to beautiful Rouyn-Noranda. By the time we arrived, checked in at the beautiful Maison d’Accueil, and then dropped our belongings at the hotel, and made our way to Scene Videotron, Bibi Club’s set was coming to an end. Not much to say about that, but look at the beautiful FME branded backdrop on the stage. Sorry, to have missed Bibi Club, as they sounded very good.
I wander the main festival space on Murdoch Ave to see what other exciting things the FME has to offer. I come across the Skate Zone.
At this time it is occupied by children. One child absolutely eats cement and their skateboard rolls away and comes to a stop at my feet. If I were a sk8erboi myself, I would have used it to do a cool trick that would hopefully inspire the child to try again.
8:00 pm: P’tit Belliveau
One artist I was most excited for takes the stage. P’tit Belliveau and his band would not look out of place on I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, as the dudes manage to break every single rule in the book. Shorts on stage, gratuitous choreography, and everyone is decked out in some sort of sports jersey. Not to mention an interlude in which everyone soloed, including the bass. I can hear the eyes of some apathetic hipsters present rolling back into their skulls.
I, on the other hand, am absolutely here for it. Let the guys have fun! P’tit Belliveau is endlessly entertaining, knows how to work a crowd, and can absolutely let it rip. I’ve never been to an Acadien frat house kitchen party, but I would be there in a heartbeat if P’tit Belliveau and his band were hosting.
9:00 pm: Les Hay Babies
Les Hay Babies are next up. The first thing you notice is the beautifully crafted retro rompers they each wear. I need to know who makes their stage outfits so I can commission a suit from them. They look sharp as heck.
Musically, Les Hay Babies are interesting. I love their album Boite aux lettres, but its grit does not come through… until a few songs in when Julie Aube trades her acoustic guitar. Soon enough they launch into the moody “Jacqueline” and they don’t look back, absolutely scorching through the rest of their set. The group handles multiple instruments seamlessly, and each Hay Baby gets a chance to shine.
If Scene Videotron had a roof it would be blown off, as Leblanc brings a high octane, and career-spanning set of tunes, including an extremely well-received rendition of “Gossip” off her new album Chiac DIsco. Leblanc belts and shreds her way through her set, and even brings back Les Hay Babies for a number.
12:00am: Le Couleur
After a quick break, I head off to see Le Couleur. Admittedly, I knew nothing about Le Couleur, as I had a different plan for my midnight show, but things change. “C’est la vie”, as they say here. However, my lack of knowledge of Le Couleur meant I could be blown away.
I literally show up to see the band already super-locked in with their fans. So locked in, in fact, that the singer is pouring splashes of rum straight into their mouths. They told me FME knows how to party.
Le Couleur is less extremely easy to dance to, but more impossible not to. They are extremely generous performers, physically giving it their all, climbing all over things and each other – so much so that at one point they accidentally unplug themselves from the sound system.
During this intermission, they share drinks and smokes with their fans, long after the technical trouble is fixed. At this point, it is nearly 1:00 am, and I am tired but super excited for Day 2.
September 2, 2022: Day 2
12:00 pm: Portrait Session
The continental breakfast is eaten. I take a gorgeous walk along Lac Osisko on my way to meet up with Gus Engelhorn, for the first shoot for our upcoming artist portrait series. We walk around the ground of the Maison d’accueil and the adjoining Rouyn-Noranda Tennis club. Gus and Estee are wonderful people. I could have gabbed with them all day, but…
1:00 pm: Bonsound BBQ
A happy change of venue for my artist portrait shoot with Montreal’s Chose Sauvages brings me straight to the Bon Sound BBQ — where media, international delegates and artists have come together to eat hot dogs, drink drinks, and watch a poolside set by Lisa Leblanc.
5:00 pm: Kee Avil
After taking an hour to edit some photos and do some writing, I’m back out to catch some shows! First I stop by Hub Desjardins – what seems to be a well-decorated but sparse community centre – to see Montreal noise artist Kee Avil. Dressed in what looks like a fishing net, and with gooey background projections, Kee Avil evokes a struggling and trapped aquatic creature — the main character in the horror movie in which their music would not be out of place.
6:30 pm: Secret Show
Surprise show alert! Former Swans member Thor Harris is here and he is playing a recorder and a synth in the middle of a poutine shop parking lot. That’s FME, baby.
8:00pm: Gus Engelhorn
Gus Engelhorn is very hard not to like. His newest album Dungeon Master, which he plays most of his songs from tonight, is simple, straightforward, sometimes ironic, but undeniably dark. I told Gus during our portrait session that his songs and delivery are like diving into the satanic world that Daniel Johnston always warns us about.
Engelhorn, and his dependable drummer Estee, are a dynamic duo on stage, putting more than enough into the performance, but never letting their stage presence overshadow Gus’ lyrics. I can think of maybe two moments where Gus’ feet unplanted themselves from the ground, but nothing felt missing from the performance. The audience warmed up to Gus with his bashful and giggling “Merci” after each song, and his long-winded explanations in French about what his songs are about were solid humour for French and English speakers alike.
9:00pm: Sheenah Ko
Next to the lake, the wind is strong. What else is strong? Sheenah Ko and her band create a vibe with their epic swells, steady dance beats, and Ko’s impressive vocal range that can travel from a low growl to a high whisper over the course of one line alone. Additionally, she is such a warm and welcoming party captain, and her engagement with the crowd even created a dance circle.
Sheenah Ko also has the ability to summon the wind. This is a journalistic fact. Her lyrics sometimes feature very powerful connections to the natural world, and she tapped into this tonight, as a number of times a gust of wind would come through bringing the song to an epic climax.
10:00 pm: Choses Sauvages
I don’t know what more to say about this than this was the best show I have been to in a very long time. Choses Sauvages is an incredibly tight group and they can switch so fast between precision and chaos. Led by the absolutely magnetic singer Felix Bélisle, the band tore up the patio stage, joining the audience multiple times, including laying down and encouraging everyone to sit until the beat dropped and it became party central.
There are no two ways about it. When Choses Sauvages come to your town, see them.
After the show, I ran into the three delegates from Also Cool Magazine. With my midnight plans up in the air, they talked me into going to see Gloin.
11:59 pm: Gloin
Gloin is loud. Gloin is noisy. Gloin rocks. Gloin doesn’t like to be lit very well, so there is no picture. They are pure noise incarnate.
After Gloin, I decided to listen to my body and turn in. FME is a marathon. In fact, FME could stand for “Freakin’ Marathon, Eh?”, but it doesn’t.
Halfway through FME and it is becoming apparent that the best thing to do is to follow your heart and go see things you don’t really know all that much about, because it’s about the experience – which FME crafts incredibly well. I am very excited to see what Saturday and Sunday have in store.
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