The top bands at Quebec’s nordic music fest

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The northern Quebec mining town of Rouyn-Noranda, in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, right up against the Ontario border, isn’t as sleepy as you’d think. The provincial government — which, along with the fed, presumably employs most of the non-miners in the town, judging from the high volume of government buildings — has made it rain on the cultural scene, bestowing the population of 41,000 with 20 new festivals over the past decade. AND they’ve (allegedly) got the world’s best poutine? Not too shabby.

One of said festivals is FME, the Festival de Musique Emergente, which flies (mostly) Montreal journalists up to watch (mostly) Montreal bands. And so, with apologies to those who played the festival’s opening night (when I was still in 514 territory, partying at a synagogue in Westmount, of all things), here are FME 2013’s Top 5 shows:

5. Fire/Works

Montreal duo Jonathan Peters and David Lagacé produce a timeless folk-pop sound that’s especially compelling live. It’s pretty across the board, with haunting and melancholy qualities, at times reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, without quite as much vocal showboating. Their album Grand Voyageur was released nearly a year ago.

4. AroarA

Musical duo/married couple Ariel Engle and Andrew Whiteman (ex-Broken Social Scene) released their debut LP, In the Pines, last week. Whiteman tried out his busted Ontario French on an appreciative crowd who lapped up the duo’s musical interpretation of Alice Notley’s poems. The sound has a gritty kind of beauty to it, at once elegant and hard in the delivery of the melodies and the words. Not that most of the people in the room understood them, until they threw in a Brigitte Fontaine cover.

3. Suuns

The Montreal band laid their sparse brand of heavy on a largely unsuspecting crowd. Suuns derive some of their rhythmic energy and discordant touches from krautrock and other alt retro scenes (both rock and electronic) without sounding dated at all. The intense light show was perfect for the venue, a former church renamed Agora des Arts, where the lack of AC had reportedly made some members of the previous night’s crowd (for Besnard Lakes) nearly pass out. For Sunns, conditions were better, but minds were altered regardless.

2. Success

The surprise triumph of the festival (from what I saw, anyway) was this ridiculous band from France, who inspired crowd devotion with the kind of absurd showmanship and shameless solicitation I haven’t witnessed since the Swedish wave of the early aughts (the Hives & co.). Their airtight entertainment package had vocoder rawk, a touch of old-school rap, weird punk energy, three-piece-suit stripping and pseudo-primadonna antics that inspired crowd-surfing and hollering. The show ended with the singer, “Misterz Eleganz,” ripping out chest hairs and sprinkling them over the front row. The R-N cops behind me loved that shit.

1. Rich Aucoin

But despite all that, the crown still goes to Halifax’s Rich Aucoin, and his ongoing one-man exercise in inspiring electro-pop anthems, lo-fi multimedia lols, prop razzle-dazzle, crowd participation and sheer energy, and all this at 4 a.m. (following a great set by Ghislain Poirier’s new project, Boundary, feat. drummer Christian Olsen). The crowd ate it up, especially given the efforts Aucoin made to adapt the show for a Queb crowd. He’s been touring the show for a few years now, with updates, upgrades and different shout-outs to openers and local peeps every night, and the partly translated content went over great. You can’t leave a Rich Aucoin show minus a shit-devouring grin, and that’s how we all left the venue, walking back to respective homes and hotels at 5 a.m., grateful for our time together on Earth, and under that parachute. ■

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