Fouki. Photo by Dominic McGraw

Loving FME: A report from Quebec’s festival town

A long weekend of “emerging music” shows is well worth the northwest trek to Rouyn-Noranda.

Whereas Cult MTL are no strangers to the town of Rouyn-Noranda, the region of Abitibi-Temiscamingue, and its annual Festival de Musique Émergente (FME), these particular two reporters from our Music Team were. 

After a summer of burning themselves out on fun, crowds and loud music at city fest after city fest, they decided to go get some fresh country air and try something new from Aug. 29 through Sept. 1. Reporting back after four days of kinship, tight-knit media community cavorting, hotel breakfasts and awesome fucking shows, we can safely advise the Montrealers looking for a different way to end a summer of live indoor and outdoor entertainment to consider making the visit to FME next year. 

The town and the fest receive musical tourists with open arms, accommodating smiles and a laid-back vibe born at least partly of the fact that everything here is in within 10 minutes walk of everything else, no one is in a rush to get anywhere and time seems to operate on a casual 15-minute delay that, frankly, us city slickers would do well to allow ourselves now and then. (DM)


Kid Koala

What better way than to kick of a weekend of weirdness than with the not-so-subtle wax-stravaganzic stylings of Kid Koala’s Vinyl Vaudeville show. Always a crowd pleaser — no matter what crowd you roll with — the most entertaining DJ on Earth cut Abitibi to shreds with his decks and pads, his Gypsy Rose Lee-channeling trio of dancers, puppets, crowd participation, paper airplanes, and a call for the crowd at the outdoor Desjardins Stage to dance in super-slow motion to a sped down groove from a fictitious octopus trance DJ duo reuniting on stage for the first time in 27 years, stars of a documentary he may or may not be really filming, but for which apparently he had no budget for strobe lights. Cheeky beast. This was worth staying under the evening rain to witness. (Darcy MacDonald)

The Young Gods

Drying off at the Petit Théâtre du Vieux Rouyn for a late night date with highly influential Swiss industrial rock band the Young Gods was a safe bet for a noisy bit of startling groove-time. The trio, who appear not to have enjoyed a single sunbeam since founding in 1985, have inspired the likes of Bowie, Reznor and Patton. In Rouyn-Noranda, they at least inspired a lot of heavily shrooming patrons to stay in one place for an extended period, and at least a few to dance awkwardly. The Young Gods provided an appropriately deep voyage for the damp, dilated fans gathered at this dark northern altar. (DM)


La Julia Smith

La Julia Smith. Photo by Thomas Dufresne

This Chilean experimental garage/punk trio found their way all the way to Rouyn-Noranda and FME’s Agora des Arts space (a humble church with angelic acoustics) by way of a chance encounter with Montreal’s We Are Wolves at a festival in Santiago. And behold, their first show outside of their own country was here. The threesome was impossible to miss as they explored the festival over the course of the weekend, the coolest looking mob of haircuts and vintage styles in town for these four days. They easily wowed the sizeable crowd gathered in sheer curiosity with their groove-and-riff heavy mélange of everything under the rock gods’ many suns.

A secret basement show the following night went punkier at one end and all the way to Cameroon by way of a cover at the other, effectively morphing into a different band at the snap of a finger and repeated switch arounds of their instruments.

Watch out for my interview with them later this week and hope to whatever power you believe in they visit Quebec again soon. Montreal rock fans will eat this up. (DM)


You already know I love Loud. Having followed his rise closely from the very beginning with Loud Lary Ajust to his monumental two-night stand as the first Quebec rapper to headline the Bell Centre last spring, it was definitely an experience to witness his presence in the province’s heartland, where the kids dress like him, talk like him and, because of the way he wears his success and bends his bragging rights, hope maybe one day to be him. With Ajust on decks and a guest appearance from Lary Kidd, the Tout Ça Pour Ça hip hop star didn’t disappoint the huge crowd gathered at the main outdoor stage, despite some brief sound glitches. Opener Sarahmée’s alternating blend of hard-hitting rap beats and reggae influence set up the pins for Loud to knock all the way out. 

Not all in attendance favoured Loud, though. As we later waited in line for Half Moon Run, two agitated locals went out of their way to stop and tell myself and Mr. Wavvy how little they enjoyed the show. Quote of the night: “J’prèfererai des ‘tites pûtes du Subway dos-a-dos-a-dos-a-dos au lieu d’ça, man!” Jesus, Felix and Fred, it was just a rap show, not a personal attack on you! (DM)

Half Moon Run

Half Moon Run is not a band I particularly listen to on my own time, but one I will always gladly indulge in if they are playing a festival I am attending. Not unlike American Football’s performance earlier this festival season at Santa Teresa, the Montreal rockers took to local church l’Agora des Arts for an intimate performance. It’s the type of place with acoustics seamless enough to record a live album at, and this band just so happen to record all of their live shows for personal use.

“Not quite alone but maybe I should be,” weeps lead singer Devon Portielje on one of the many new songs unleashed throughout the set. The venue quality allows such words to hit even harder, piercing lyrics in all of their glory being augmented by the lossless soundscape. (Mr. Wavvy)


P’tit Belliveau et les Grosses Coques

Straight outta the Maritimes, this soulful bluegrass outfit brought Acadian charm to a sun soaked, lazy early Saturday afternoon as the friendly little township of Rouyn-Noranda took its time to get up and about for the first and last truly gorgeous day of summer weather we experienced over the weekend. Ostensibly billed as children’s programming, the banjo-clad, Chiac-drawling bandleader Bellieveau and his Coques entertained kids, parents, grandparents and early-day drinkers, with some crossover among the last three demographics (and a circle pit of toddlers spinning themselves silly around the front of the stage). The recent Bonsound signees have a song about a bear, one about a bay, another about an Acadian Flag purchased in Taiwan, and were just one of my favourite things at the fest. “Sing along with me,” Belliveau implored the crowd for the last song. “The words are simple because I’m the one that wrote them!” (DM)

Naya Ali

Naya Ali. Photo by Christian Leduc

Naya Ali has had an absolutely illustrious summer. She performed at just about every festival under the sun, from Festival d’été de Québec, to back home at Osheaga. But the rapper couldn’t close out her summer without one last dance up in Rouyn-Noranda.

With gold belt buckles gleaming beams off of her bulletproof vest, the young talent looked something like a hip hop Wonder Woman. Her razor sharp tongue game keeps her audience on their feet. Winning a crowd over was a non-issue for Naya, with a mob of young girls banging their hands on the floor of the stage to demand an encore. (MW)


Three years ago, doing a concert at Le Belmont seemed like a mighty feat for Keb rapper Fouki. These days, a show of such a size seems laughable with the milestones he has since accomplished. 

Fouki is the rapper from the province with the best understanding of how to do “mumble rap” flows without sacrificing his own authenticity. The formula is simple: putting his own originality at the forefront, sprinkling in the Atlanta-based flavour in between. 

The man is a true entrepreneur, his leafy logo asserting a strong brand down to the grinders available at the merch table (you can be certain he makes sure to plug this before leaving the stage). With Loud’s Bell Centre show setting new ceilings for local rappers, my guess is that Fouki is next in line for an arena gig — though the Zay rhymer still has a ways to go. (MW)

Alaclair Ensemble

It had been way too long since I’d seen my favourite Bas Canadien rap organization take the stage as one. New solo projects from members KNLO and Robert Nelson both hit the spot this summer and their respective Francos shows were high energy as always, but the only thing that can beat a full-form Alaclair show is one that takes place outdoors and in front of a ton of fans, which the band is in no shortage of across the province. A thousand people signing along to entire verses of homegrown hip hop will never, ever get old, and neither will the band’s signature of wit, power and sincerity, stars, each one. That said: where was Maybe Watson? 

Oh, well. Five outta six maigres made for formidable starting line-up, tucked between fan fave Fouki and closer Koriass, both of whom gave fans what they came for. But whereas these artists use (admittedly brilliant) tricks with talent, the fellowship of Alaclair wield real magic. (DM)


As mentioned throughout the week, both on social media and in the duo’s interview with Cult MTL, FME is Heartstreets’ favourite festival. And despite being one of FME’s few anglo entities in a deeply French region, the love was mutual from all in attendance.

“We make anglophone music that doesn’t play on the radio…yet. But it’s nice to know we have fans across Quebec,” says member Gab Godon towards the end of the set. She and partner-in-crime Emma Beko have known each other for two decades, their chemistry flowing strong through and throughout. A duo like this could importantly broaden the spectrum of the ever-soaring term “Rap Keb,” which more often than not is a total boys’ club. (MW) 

The Televisionaries

Who doesn’t love a good ol’ rockabilly show? This Rochester trio kept the niche genre alive, musically and aesthetically alike. Each band member draped themselves in Buddy Holly-like tuxedos, though their young age had them looking more like the Steve Buscemi Pulp Fiction version than the man himself.

Local legend Bloodshot Bill made a cameo for a passing of the torch-like moment, an omnipotent rock ‘n’ roll force transcending to the next generation. A sign of the times — the audience is in fact more receptive to the new blood than the surprise appearance of a seasoned vet. (MW)

…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead

The Austin, TX rock legacy followed the trail northbound to get down with a loud, fast, crunching assault of riff intensity, giving the strangely low turnout at le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Noranda a command performance of their 1999 Merge Records Madonna album au complet. By past midnight on day three of non-stop shows, the volume was securely pumped up to ensure that weary ears were shown no mercy, and the whole shebang was fully exquisite. I hope it was worth their trip because it was certainly worth ours. (DM)


FET.NAT. Photo by Louis Jalbert

It’s just past 1 a.m. at Cabaret de la Dernière Chance, and I am about to witness the weirdest show of the festival. Hull, Quebec’s FET.NAT have recently made their rounds with Le Mal, a new album that was both shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize and earned a 7.3 rating via Pitchfork.

FET.NAT are anti-music, comparable to how comedy nihilists Eric Andre or Neil Hamburger manoeuvre within their field. Their sound feels like a group of people going out of their way to make the most uncomfortable noises known to man — but translates so well. The band can more often than not be found playing deeply off-key, sometimes with demonic voice filters. Their lead singer holds up absurd signs throughout the show, one that reads “Trust Cops,” another simply stating “Jazz.” It is repulsive in a manner only few will understand, and even fewer will appreciate. 

Consideration for the Polaris Music Prize does not require any commercial success, it’s all about the quality of the music. FET.NAT bring something so left-field to the table that you can’t help but acknowledge an originality like no other. (MW)


The Sadies

Third time’s a charm may be a bit of a cliché, but the Sadies’ third time at FME suggests there’s something to the old saying after all. The band frequently emphasized how important this festival was to them, holding a dearly special place in their hearts. While vocals were otherwise on point, main man Dallas Good’s interludes in-between songs showed French abilities reminiscent of a classic Au Bon Marché commercial. In a summer led by Lil Nas X, this group offers a far more traditional authentic country sound to lasso out the season (no disrespect to “Old Town Road”). (MW)

Structurally speaking, FME is not all that different from Santa Teresa. Both draw talents from across the province in interesting venues, for respective weekends that can be likened to Grand Prix Weekend levels of excitement for each town. 

One of the main charms of FME is the overnight experience, giving the extra-long-weekend event the feel of a hangout festival. By Monday morning, you feel as if you have really gotten to know Rouyn-Noranda from top-to-bottom. (MW)