Festival de Musique Émergentes 2022

For the last few years prior to the pandemic I had been quite fortunate to attend FME, Festival de Musique Émergentes in Rouyn-Noranda. So much so that the festival is now something I always anticipate. So after a couple of years' absence and this being the 20th anniversary of the festival, I was particularly excited about heading up to this year's edition. The usual seven hour drive turned into an epic test of patience when every road ahead was traffic jammed. Luckily we had good tunes in hand and the promise of even greater adventures ahead to keep us going during the seven-hour-turned-nine-hour-drive to the festival.   

After arriving and settling in, I had the opportunity to be part of the audience during the Paste Magazine live video recording of Johnny Pilgrim. A native of Valleyfield, Quebec where he was originally known as Jean Pellerin. In 1979 he left the province to seek his fortune in California. Armed with talent and a movie camera he became a much sought after videographer working with bands like Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses and Metallica. Now his career has turned 360 degrees where he returns to his native province to sing the songs of Quebec’s native son, Tex Lecor. On his new EP, Sur la Trace De Tex Lecor he records six of Tex Lecor’s classic ballads like, “Grand Jos” and “Campangard.”

After finishing the Paste video Johnny Pilgrim headed over to the Diable Rond for a late night concert. Always humble, he often paid tribute to the roots of the French-Canadian songs he was playing. Recounting to the audience how that he grew up on the songs, hearing his mother sing along to them when he was four years old. Backed by a band of all-star players he educated the bar, and thanks to some outdoor speakers; the many happy passers-by on the history of Tex Lecor.  

Balaklava Blues are a Toronto based ensemble started by Mark and Maricha Marczyk from the Lemon Bucket Orkestra. They combine traditional Ukrainian chants with techno multimedia performances. One of the few overtly political acts at the festival they put on a good show filled with political angst. A particularly moving moment was when they played their latest single, “Shelter Our Sky.”

Capping off the first day was the Brooklyn, New York band Gustaf. Comprised of Tine Hill on bass, Vram Kherlopian on guitar, Melissa Lucciola on drums, Tarra Thiessen on vocals and percussion and finally, Lydia Gammill on lead vocals. I found Gammill’s on stage style could best be likened to if David Byrne and Ian Curtis had a daughter. Often smacking herself on the side of the head while dancing in a stylish suit. She is contrasted by the often digitized singing and the cartoon-like Josie and the Pussycats dance style of Tarra Thiessen. Their show at Cabaret de las Derniers Chance lived up to all the hype that was buzzing amongst the press at the festival, billed as one of the up and coming bands not to miss. Their hour-long set was fun and filled with intent. They played the entirety of their 2021 debut album Audio Drag for Ego Slogs plus a few new songs, “Produce”,  “What Do You Mean” and “Grounds.” Once again we have a video from the good folks at Paste.

With more outdoor stages it was hard to walk around the city without hearing music. In the FME preview article, I mentioned how the city gets involved. Not just garnishing store front windows with all things FME but I should mention the never ending work of the over four hundred volunteers that make the festival possible. After a fabulously long first day of the festival, Friday started slow and easy with pop artist Lucill from Chibougamau, Quebec. Songs like “Pour un Instant” showed a range of styles ranging from country, folk to classic rock and pop but their sound always came back to the easy listening vocals of frontman Raphaël Bussières

It was indie band night at Petit Théâtre du Vieux Noranda and first up was ex-professional snowboarder Gus Englehorn. Joined by his partner Estée Preda on drums they performed songs from his first album Death & Transfiguration like, “You Broke My Collar Bone” and almost all of his latest 2022 release Dungeon Master. Englehorn's songs had a quirky, root for the underdog style that was always grounded by the perfect timing of his bandmate Estée Prada. 

 Next up was Tamar Aphek who grew up in Tel Aviv, Israel where she became a leading figure in the country’s underground music scene and helped organize one of Israel’s prominent music festivals, Indie Negev. Her concert at FME started off with an ambient almost drone-like sound but then slowly picked up momentum as the concert went on. Exploring her latest album, 2021’s All Bets Are Off, it sounded like a shoegaze band that got bored and decided to rock out, or as I like to say, “rockgaze.” Aphek calls her style "jazz & roll."

 Closing out the evening was Calgary’s own Chad VanGaalen. With stripped down arrangements, just bass, drums and VanGaalen on guitar, songs like “Pine and Clover” lacked the slick production of his albums. Instead the songs had a much rawer, more aggressive sound. And yes, there's yet again another Paste video.

The most surprising and maybe the best show of Friday was the pop-up concert by Avalanche Kaito. A trio of musicians that combine African and western sounds that create, as it says in their bio, “an unruly and unforgettable sonic explosion.” The concert held in a parking lot, Stationnement Falco, was way too small to contain the effervescent singer, Kaito Winse. During extended instrumentals by his band mates Benjamin Chaval on drums and Nico Gitto on guitar, Winse would often leave the stage and engage with the audience. Constantly singing and/or dancing like a whirling dervish as if he was possessed by the music being played. Often he would run across and around the street helter-skelter spreading the positive vibes.   

Closing out Friday with a late night early morning 1AM show by MMNQNS, pronounced mannequins. Vowels are so passé when you're a band that describes itself as a post-punk-power-pop-psych-synth-gaze-whatever band from Rouen, France. The wall of sound created by Gregoire Maainot on drums, Félix Ramaen on bass, Marc Lebreuilly on guitar and Adrian D’Epinay on vocals seemed to overpower the small stage at Cabaret de la Dernière Chance.The quartet stormed through their latest album, “The Second Principle” much to the delight of the audience.   

The festival was kicking on all cylinders by Saturday, the third day of the festival. The massive rains of the morning had subsided leaving a chill in the air that reminded one that they are indeed far north and fall is not far off! But then Allô Fantôme took the stage and suddenly, the audience was transported back to a sunny afternoon in 1970’s Saint-Tropez. Allô Fantôme is the new project by Samuel Gendron that takes inspiration from 70’s extravagance with its rich arrangements and vintage style harmonies. The octet played the complete self-titled EP that was released this year and had the audience dancing to songs like “Sur la Pointe des Pieds” and “Allô Allô.” Allô Fantôme will also be playing at this year’s Pop Montreal Music Festival.

Later on in the evening pop and soul artists had their night at Petit Théâtre du Vieux Noranda. While not my usual fare of musical genres, it’s good to expand horizons as they say. R&B/Soul artist from Montreal, Fernie, led off with an inspired set channeling the likes of Billy Ocean and Daniel Caesar while showcasing his 2021 release, Aurora

Next up was Lydia Képinski with her Las Vegas ready show. Képinski and her band belted out her latest album Depuis with all the lights, smoke and provocative dancing one would expect from the next big pop star. 

Propelled by the critical success of his 2018 album La Nuit est un Panthère, Les Louanges is back with a new album, Crash, and after a quick break he took to the stage performing the new album to a rather appreciative audience that seemed to be enjoying themselves. But by that point I was all popped out and about ready to catch one of the bands I was most curious about: Growlers Choir. I didn’t have to travel far as they were playing across the street from the theater. I got there early as I wanted to be up front, but unfortunately my plan was foiled when we had to wait in the cold night air for forty-five minutes for the show to start. By that point I was less curious and more impatient to be wowed. I was not. They were definitely different, with sound check sounding like Dracula trying his luck at yodelling. I lost my spot up front when I got impatient and left to see if Animal Collective was still playing at the main outdoor stage, they were not. When I returned, the show had finally started. It was less operatic than I was hoping for and more like the name of the group implies, growls and grunts. Which was actually perfect for my mood as I was kicking myself for missing Animal Collective but the bit that I heard walking between shows which sounded quite good. Apparently I was not the only one to miss their show, apparently there was  a rather low turnout. But then it was a pretty cold night with lots of great music to be had indoors. From what I was told they played a killer show with a mix of old songs like,“In The Flowers,” “The Purple Bottle,” “Bluish”, and “Chores.” Also on the setlists were some songs off their new album Time Skiffs

After all my earlier frustration, Saturday ended on a high note when I caught an Atlanta based collective CDSM show at Hub Dejardins. CDSM or Celebrity Death Slot Machine put a funky smile on my face and those in attendance. The post punk disco rhythms of the band propel the lyrics which often deal with fame and or death. Such as in their song GFH or Gun For Hire, (they do like the initialisms):   "she screamed / ”get out you f***ing narc, you f***ing creep!” / I tried to run but the knife hit my throat / and now I’m choking on my blood / like a pigeon in the mud."

One thing that FME is known for is the metal night that occurs on Sunday night, the final day of the festival. This year's lineup appeared quite promising with Abitabyss, First Fragment and Dying Fetus making up the head banging bill. But before that Ombiigizi was scheduled to play and they were another band that I did not know but was quite intrigued about. Ombiigizi pronounced om-Bee-ga-Zay meaning this is noisy is a collaboration between Zoon (Daniel Monkman) and Status/ Non Status (Adam Sturgeon). They are Anishnaabe artists who explore their culture through sound. I have to say the show was noisy and extremely guttreal. The band started to get their groove going on songs like “Birch Bark Paper Trails” from their latest album Sewn Back Together when much to my surprise, thirty minutes into the concert it abruptly ended.  

With some extra time to kill I was able to enjoy one last quick walk around picturesque  Rouyn-Noranda before heading over to the metal fest at Petit Théâtre. Local death metal stalwarts Abitabyss, who have been active for over fifteen years started the evening off with their energetic and welcoming show. The band proved that metal can be fun and lighthearted. Dressed in local hunting and mining attire they blistered through their latest album Rural Métal and some songs from the older albums Supremacy 08 and Requiem du Secteur Primaire.

The evening got much more serious when extreme neoclassical metal band from Longueuil Quebec, First Fragment took to the stage. Led by the manic guitar of Phil Tougas and the impeccable fretless bass work of Dominic Lapointe, the duo clearly liked showing off their technical prowess on songs like “Gloire Éternelle”;  with its flamenco and technical metal stylings.

Closing out the night was Marlboro, Maryland’s own Dying Fetus. They played songs from their extensive catalog like “One shot, One Kill” from 2003’s Stop at Nothing  and the title track from the critically acclaimed 2017 album Wrong One to F*** With. Even though the band is getting up there in age one just had to look at the goings on in the circle pit to know why they are still one of the better metal bands around. 

The trio of bands carried on the FME tradition of celebrating metal. Which much to my surprise is what was played on the house speakers after the Dying Fetus concert. It was just too cool, metalheads singing and dancing along to Kool and the Gang

All juiced up after three hours of head banging I headed over to check out CDSM who were closing out the festival with another late night show. The venue, a garage parking lot that happened to be next to the main stage where Hurbert Lenoir and his band were putting on a concert for the ages. Going around an hour and half longer than expected, Lenoir refused to let the party/concert end. I suppose he, like everybody else, just didn’t want to go home and they were having too much fun stage diving and sharing crackers and hummus with the audience.   

While waiting patiently for the Hubert Lenoir concert to end, the members of CDSM were visibly excited about ending the festival, and wanted to do it on a high note. And that they did. Playing through their entire catalog of songs and providing some great jams along the way. It felt like those in attendance wanted the band to play till dawn and when they called out for an encore saxophone player Tyler Jundt said,“the only way the show could continue is if we had written more songs.” 

And so ended the twentieth edition of FME. There were still a few diehards dancing the night away at the after-hour dj lounge. But for me it was time to stagger back to the hotel and get ready for the trip home where I will impatiently wait for the twenty-first edition of Festival de Musique Émergentes.