best albums 2021 backxwash

Backxwash. Photos by Christian Leduc

FME 2021: Goddamn, it was good to be at a music festival again

Backxwash, Cadence Weapon, the OBGM’s and Bad Waitress are among our highlights of the 19th annual festival in Rouyn-Noranda.

Well, life may not be exactly back to normal, and we probably shouldn’t allow ourselves to get too comfortable with the relatively relaxed state of affairs the summer months afforded, but goddamn it was good to be at a music festival again. Scaled down for 2021, yet as always excellently curated, even with the obvious challenges in booking international acts, the 19th annual Festival de musique emergente (FME) brought joy to its home of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, and the many visitors who decided to make the trek north and enjoy four days of music and togetherness, vibes that can’t be stopped by any force of nature. Seated shows and distancing measures were a small sacrifice to make for an otherwise incredible party. 

Here are my personal highlights, in chronological order.

Lido Pimienta 

Lido Pimienta FME 2021 music festival
Lido Pimienta at the FME 2021 music festival

Due to scheduling conflicts, I didn’t get to see Toronto-based, Colombian-born Lido Pimienta, which is unfortunate because I forewent the chance to see her at POP Montreal last year in favour of caution over the then-looming second wave – and this despite her 2020 album Miss Colombia ranking high among my faves that year.

I did, however, have a chance to chat with her, and she offered this perspective on the FME experience at large.

“I don’t know if a town this size in Ontario would ever book an act like myself or Backxwash or Pantayo. The curation has been really excellent. I feel so grateful but I’m also scared. I’m just like, ‘Is this a game show?’. 

But when we were doing our soundcheck, our tour manager said an elderly couple was walking by and they sat down to hear it and said, ‘Oh, that’s Lido Pimienta! I’m so excited to see her show!’ That makes me feel welcome, and makes me feel okay that people are excited to see me even though I feel like I’m so removed. It’s also good for me. I’m not that special! 

“We’re all living through the same stuff. I’m over here thinking that people don’t understand me. Nah – people understand me! Relax. You’re okay. So that’s great. In Colombia, I come from a big city, but I was raised in a small village, so I’m super comfortable with being in a small town. People don’t have big city attitudes, either. In Toronto there’s still that thing where you have to prove yourself or whatever. Here, people are happy to see you because it’s something special and unique. I can’t wait to be on the stage!” 

Cadence Weapon

Cadence Weapon
Cadence Weapon

My first live show since early 2020 was back in July at SAT to see hip hop artist Cadence Weapon, who’s new album Parallel World is among my favourites in any genre so far this year. That night, the Edmonton born, Toronto based former Montreal dweller combined his one-man rap show with support from a live band to mark his return to the live stage. Thursday night at FME, the crowd met eye to eye with Cadence, solo, from our seats in the Petit Théâtre du Vieux Noranda. As much fun as it will someday be to join in his stage energy and dance along with him, he did such a fine job commanding the COVID-restricted room that it barely mattered. The strength of his latest, Polaris-nominated material combined with a selection of classics, some jokes and a healthy dose of Doug Ford bashing made it a set to remember.



This was my first Backxwash experience and it was worth the wait. This month’s Cult MTL cover girl has an extraordinary way of making her metal-inspired, pummelling rap show still feel light and fun. From end to end, the performative consideration of visuals, song selection, sequencing and stage energy levels make a Backxwash concert a balanced, immersive experience. The repressed crowd energy that would under normal circumstances naturally have manifested itself into a mosh pit instead filled the venue with another kind of exhilaration that promises bigger things for this deservedly buzzed-about young talent. And a secret show the following day at a local garage reportedly got a little wilder.


Drogue at the FME 2021 music festival

This Quebec punk rock supergroup features members of Galaxie, le Nombre and Gros Mené, and brought the kind of old-school, hard riff energy only seasoned post-punk vets can deliver. Absent was notable member Fred Fortin, but the performance of frontman extraordinaire Ludwig Wax backed by the guitar muscle of Stephane Papillon and Jean-Sebastien Chouinard was more than adequate to make a small standing room venue feel either like a normal, pre-COVID show, or a superspreader event, depending on how you look at things. When a 50-something guy in leopard pants suddenly does the splits, flawlessly, you know it’s on. “Drogue t’aime!” Wax yelled. “Est toi, tu aimes Drogue!” Hopefully he didn’t mean Ivermectin. 

Bad Waitress

Bad Waitress FME 2021 music festival
Bad Waitress at the FME 2021 music festival

This Toronto fourtet of limb and attitude was my favourite discovery at FME. Their early evening set probably would have been better suited to an outdoor alley show, but whatever. It was pure punk grandeur. Adding to their obvious delight in belting out loud, aggressive and unrelentingly interesting song structures was probably the fact that their new record, No Taste, had dropped the same day. I’m excited to see them again in Montreal, hopefully soon. Considering their current lineup formed in 2018 and have survived a pandemic, it’s insane how tight, fun and present Bad Waitress is on stage. Bumping into them later outside a hotel elevator, I asked them how old they are, because they honestly look barely out of high school. Secretively, they declined to answer, other than to say, “We’re older than everything. We’re older than you, man.”


FME 2021 music festival
The OBGM’s

With their Polaris-nominated 2020 sophomore The Ends ripe for a live excursion, the Toronto punkers graced Rouyn-Noranda with only their third actual in-person concert since the release of that excellent project, and the swagger the OBGMs are known for was once again in full effect. This is music that lends itself to dance floor expression of every kind, and again, fans had to settle for our seated enthusiasm, but it was fun to watch them enjoy themselves together and feel out the potential for what’s next. With the urgency of early Fugazi, the OBGMs are one of those bands that make punk rock worthy of each new generation that discovers it, putting a fresh face on a tried and true form of emotional expression. For the old heads or the new, this band is worth your time and energy. 

Robert Robert

Robert Robert FME 2021 music festival
Robert Robert at the FME 2021 music festival

What happens when a club kid grows up and moves out from behind the DJ booth laptop to front a three piece, smooth electro-pop trio? Well, if the number of people singing along with all the words to his latest album, Silicone Villeray, is any indication, he does quite well, in fact. An early day, family-themed outdoor show was well attended and appreciated, and a secret show later that night on a double bill with Ragers at a Knights of Columbus hall were both excellent, giving people exactly the right atmosphere to rediscover their dancing legs. 

Janette King

Janette King FME 2021 music festival
Janette King

Despite her show being moved indoors due to bad weather — to a church basement that otherwise would more likely welcome an AA meeting — the mood, sound and space proved perfect for the incredible talent of Monteal’s Janette King and her house/R&B blends. Combining slow jams, dance tracks and even a couple of covers (including a soul-soaked take on Radiohead’s “Nude”), King showed a healthy, truly all-ages early evening crowd the full range of her vocal abilities and the charm of her presence. One can only hope that when the time is right, King will assemble some live players to grow her concert experience from essential to ethereal. Meanwhile, don’t sleep on her debut LP What We Lost and read our recent interview here

Yoo Doo Right

Yoo Doo Right at the FME 2021 music festival

The Montreal-based, krautrock-affected trio of melody crashers was new to me, and a welcome blast of droning intricacy for a Saturday early evening where not much else was really drawing me in. I’m not prone to listening to this type of music at home, but in concert, the drawn out concepts the band has clearly engineered with clinical accuracy make them a must-see for fans of truly experimental, moment-making live experiences. 

Sunday was all around a quieter day, but acts I enjoyed included the moody vibes of Montreal’s Ouri, the metal mayhem of Quebec’s Reannimator, and the general weirdness of experimental duo Fahng.

Merci, FME! ■

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