FRKY Montreal Black History Month music DJs events

FRKY pays tribute to the Black music we grew up on and love

This Saturday, la Sala Rossa will be the place to be for two back-to-back Black-music-focused events as part of Montreal’s Black History Month. 

This Saturday, Feb. 4, Sala Rossa will be the place to be for FRKY, two back-to-back Black-music-focused events as part of Montreal’s Black History Month — the second of which is a hot dance party on what promises to be one of the coldest nights in recent history.

The goal is to bring people from all walks of life together to celebrate and pay tribute to Black artists who transformed the club scene and house music by inviting non-Black DJs to showcase the music they fell in love with and which in turn transformed them and their sets. 

“We’re a queer-positive collective of people of colour geared towards the unification of people, and what we noticed is that a lot of Black History Month events are usually Black promoters catering to Black people with Black music,” says Claudy Philius, FRKY co-founder and creator of club events for Montreal’s Black Queer community, like Hot Chocolate and the Girls In Da Hood, which celebrated Black culture and music, when Black people were often made to feel unwelcome in the Gay Village. 

The soundtrack to everyone’s lives 

“Black music has inspired so many people around the world,” Philius says. “It’s the soundtrack of everybody’s life. Pop, rock, soul, funk, reggae, techno, house, you name it, the Black influence is there, so we decided, why don’t we get others to tell us how they were influenced by the Black sound.” 

“Dance music is rooted in Black culture and gay culture,” writes Lisa Kocay in Forbes, “however, that has been forgotten over the years due to the whitewashing of the genre.”

In some ways, the Montreal event and FRKY’s focus are reminiscent of the Dweller Festival in New York City, which also aims to pay tribute to Black artists who influenced the dance world, but in a more indirect way. Dweller was founded in 2019 to celebrate Black artists in electronic music. 

“Both didactic and celebratory in spirit, the five-day festival disrupts a landscape dominated by white DJs and producers by foregrounding Black artists and their critical role in dance music’s genesis,” writes Isabelia Herrera, in The New York Times

The Black sounds that inspired their lives and careers 

“We gathered a group of nine non-Black DJs (Asian, Latino, white, etc.) and 10 Black hosts who play various music, from funk, reggae, techno, soul and they’re basically going to share with us the sounds that inspired them,” says Philius, “celebrating and showcasing the Black producers who gave them the push to get involved in music.” 

“We have Juno-nominated Fred Everything, DJs who have thousands and thousands of followers around the world, Quest, people from France who have come and created their own dance scene here and have regulars of 500 people per month at events all the time. The sound is usually Chicago house, Detroit techno, disco from New York and beyond.”

Philius says they call their group FRKY because “we’re all freaks in all kinds of ways and because when we get on the dancefloor, we freak out.” He’s clearly proud of both the group’s and the event’s diversity and inclusiveness.

“I’m Black, of Haitian American descent, my partner is Peruvian Moroccan,” he says. “We have the legendary Plastik Patrik who’s a well-known scenester in Montreal for queer events. We have many queer members or members who are queer positive. We have a trans following, lesbian, gay, straight, house-dance following. It’s a clear, clear mix of everything, and a good representation of Montreal.” 

Why a focus on white DJs during BHM? 

Black History Month is an opportunity for Montrealers to celebrate and promote the history of Black communities through a variety of activities, panels, entertainment events, film viewings, concerts, art exhibits, food tastings and much more. This year is the 32nd edition of the annual event and the theme is “Out of the darkness, into the light.” 

So, I had to ask. Has there been any pushback for the decision to focus on non-Black DJs? 

Philius says the overwhelming response, both here and abroad (he travels extensively for work) has been very positive. But there have been a few people who met the news with some reticence and confusion, until he explained the concept to them. 

“I had some people say, ‘Well, hold on, this is Black History Month, why are we showcasing non-Black DJs?’ and I had to tell them, ‘We’re not showcasing non-Black DJs, basically non-Black DJs are in their own way explaining how they were inspired by Black music, they’re acknowledging and thanking Black producers and the struggles that they went through, and how what they created changed their lives completely.” 

Philius readily admits that there are artists out there who are appropriating Black music, but this isn’t about that. “This is about thanking, about absorbing and creating, and basically giving credit where credit is due.”

First we chill… then we dance at the after-party

FRKY Listen is a free listening party from 7 to 10 p.m. showcasing nine DJs that have embraced Black music and want to share it with everyone attending. Songs that moved, inspired and enlightened them. 

Among them are DoNotStealMyName, Tazz, Plastik Patrik, RawSoul and Fred Everything, whose real name is Frédéric Blais. The latter is a popular Montreal DJ and Québécois electronic musician, best known for his work in the deep house music genre, a type of house music that originated in the 1980s, fusing elements of Chicago house with the lushness of jazz-funk and soul music, and who, Philius says, willingly credits Black music for the inspiration

“Each DJ will be playing three songs, the songs that inspired them the most,” he says. “And it can be any form of music they want, from blues, to jazz, to hip hop.” 

“From 7 to 10, everybody chills,” says Philius, “everybody listens, everybody absorbs, everybody exchanges, and we all get to know each other. Then from 10 p.m. afterwards, it’s the afterparty, FRKY BLK, where we have DJs like Moka from Cosmic Café, who’s my partner, Andy Williams, Bugo and a Canadian pioneer for house music, Nick Holder, who’ll be the main headliner for the night.”

A celebration meant for all 

“Music is a reason to celebrate, and this is one of the reasons we decided to come up with this special event for Black History Month,” says Moka, FRKY co-founder and a resident DJ. 

“I always believed that music has the power to unite people and we’re happy to share this free concept so everyone can participate. Let’s all come together to celebrate Black artistry that has been the soundtrack of my life and for so many others, as well.”

 “It’s an invitation to all,” Philius reminds me as we conclude our interview. “All walks of life. Everyone is invited. Come for the free listening party, where you can absorb and listen to the music that we all grew up on. And if you want to dance, then come afterwards. We’re going to be tearing it up!” ■

FRKY (the free listening session and afterparty) takes place at la Sala Rossa (4848 St-Laurent) on Saturday, Feb. 4, 7 p.m. till 3 a.m., afterparty $15/$20 advance, $25 at the door

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.