Not long ago, I trekked up to Rouyn-Noranda, a small city in the north west of Quebec that plays host to Festival de musique émergente — FME for short. The festival, which just celebrated it’s fifteenth year this past labour day weekend, is known for showcasing all kinds of emerging talent with no limit on languages.
Dive into my photo diary, in which I chat with various artists at the festival and discussed what it is about this small celebration in rural Quebec that makes it so special.
Kicked off the fest with Pierre Kwenders, who just released his dynamic & multilingual sophomore album, titled, MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time. Kwenders has attended FME in years past with his project ABAKOS but this was his first time performing at the festival under his solo project.
“It’s a family vibe here. Everybody’s doing it because they love doing it.” Kwenders told me. “You’d think because (Rouyn-Noranda) is far from the big cities that they’d be close minded… but people are open minded and willing to listen to different kinds of music from different kinds of people—and that’s amazing. It’s like eight hours away from Montreal and some of them have never left but they’re willing to discover new things. It’s cool.”
Fell in love with charismatic French Canadian pop punk kids Zen Bamboo after stumbling upon their secret show, which took place in a garage. Frontman Simon Larose told me a bit about how his first FME was going so far. “Before I came, everyone was hyping us really hard about how inspiring and moving it was gonna be. How it was gonna be the party of the year. Big expectations. But then I came and caught a few shows and they were moving and inspiring. I lost it completely.” When I asked him about what makes the fest special he reflected on the nature and location laughing, “I think everybody in the city needs a little therapy.”
A Tribe Called Red
Hopped on A Tribe Called Red’s tour bus before their headlining set on the opening night of the fest. “Getting out to play away from big cities is always fun. We did the whole res tour just to do that,” Bear Witness told me. “You never see a pig roast in the middle of a festival,” DJ NDN continued, describing FME’s opening dinner that took place earlier that evening, free for attendees, “it’s beautiful.”
Snuck backstage at the Petit Théatre du Vieux Noranda to chat with Duchess Says. “People are crazy! They’re here to have fun and let it go,” bad ass frontwoman Annie-Claude Deschênes told me. “They have a film festival too!” another band member chimed in, “and a really great punk scene.”
The next day Duchess Says slayed the annual poolside Bonsound BBQ.
“It’s very far from Montreal, but the fact that we’re all here and we’re making it happen gives me hope for the music industry,” said Marie-Ange (who works for Bonsound). “All the artists who come here are the next big thing. Once you’re here as an artist, it means a lot. I discover so many artists here. It’s important for us to have this community and space. There’s no bullshit. You’re here because you love what you’re doing. It’s your passion.”
Polaris Music Prize long lister Geoffroy was enjoying his first FME, taking in the nature, as he told me about how the night before he and his band chilled around a campfire. “I think it’s cool that people from outside of Quebec and Canada come here, from all over the world really. It’s nice cuz you’re stuck here and you have to be in the moment. That’s really cool.”
Later that day, the pack crowd at Scène Évolu-Son lit up Geoffroy’s set with their phones.
Hit up Lake Osisko as the sun began to set for Makwa, a collaboration between FME and the Pikogan Pow-Wow Abitibiwinni. The piece celebrated the music and riches of the Anicinabe culture. It was stunning.
Friday night, hit up Agora des arts (once an old church, now cool venue) to catch Polaris long lister Julien Sagot, who was joined onstage by Frannie Holder (of Random Recipe & Dear Criminals).
“We are proudly the first band to play a secret show!” Frannie Holder told me after the set, explaining how a joke about playing the local poutine spot turned into a reality years ago—and is now the stuff of FME legend. “They’re super cool & a small team. It’s a bunch of girls who are so devoted and dedicated,” Holder continued passionately, speaking about the fest. “There’s very few little cities that have this vibrant cultural shit going on year round and Rouyn is one of those cities that has film festivals, documentary festivals, literary festivals… so much shit!”
“I love the vibe,” said Julien Sagot (of Karkwa) giggled backstage. “You can enjoy the moment.”
Saturday we hit up Pub Chez Gibb to see Laura Sauvage, who recently released her new album “The Beautiful”. When I asked her to think back on a fav FME memory of hers, she thought back to a “unique experience when I found people shucking corn. If you shucked corn with them you could have a free corn. It was a corny!”
“It’s cool to come to another home,” she explained. “It’s a place where people are fucking chill, and it’s just a good time.”
Met this cool dude Clovis in the crowd of the Laura Sauvage set who, despite his young age (12 years old), is an FME regular thanks to his cool mom, who got him into the festival as a kid. Clovis also is a singer, so watch out for his tunes.
Ran into Les Deuxluxes who were in town playing with groovy psychedelic act Barry Paquin Roberge. “It’s the most interesting coolest festival in Quebec! It’s the bomb. It’s the fifteenth FME and they always nail it. It’s magic.” Anna Frances Meyer smiled when I asked why she digs FME. “It’s like a time capsule a little,” Étienne Barry continued. “You escape for a couple days. You’re in a twilight zone.”
Later that Saturday I met It It Anita, who were in town from Belgium to play the fest that night—their first time playing Canada with the project. “It’s like a family gathering,” one band member told me, as another explained about how they’d heard of the fest from lots of friends from all over Europe.
“It’s important to have the two languages here,” Louis Chenail explained to me. “It’s important to let yourself grow from other cultures.”
Caught up with Mehdi Cayenne after his surprise set at the industry dinner, who explained why he loved FME and was honoured to play. “Most festivals are usually filled with bands that are just passing by, but in this instance it’s a scene that gets together… I love this small town. They have more audacious programming than most other festivals.”
Barry Paquin Roberge
Later that evening, Barry Paquin Roberge kept us dancing as the stars shone bright in the night skye.
Met Dre, who grew up going to the festival and now comes up for the fest from Montreal every summer. “I think everybody is really chill. Even if you don’t speak French people will help you. And the music is awesome. That’s the main point.”
Refuge Pageau Animal Sanctuary
Sunday, a group of us had the privilege to visit the local animal sanctuary, Refuge Pageau.
We reflected on the importance of the local wildlife and fed local celebrity Chewy the porcupine some snacks.
Alex the coyote even howled us a little tune.
Brought FME 2017 to a close with synthy Polaris long list favs Le couleur, who got everyone dancing despite how tuckered out we all were from the exciting weekend.
Ah, FME. Such a beauty. Already dreaming of returning to this haven of sound and community.