Festival de Musique Emergente en Abitibi 2012
Stuart Gadd headed over to Quebec for three days of new music and exclusivity
At Emerging Music Festival, whether you’re an artist playing or a festival goer you may discover you’re the outdoor type. Take a trip to the artist’s camp in pine woods and you can see acclaimed Toronto artist Feist chilling out with other bands in their home for the weekend.
For some artists however it’s not so much a case of the great outdoors as going underground. This year Montreal’s Plants and Animals played a gig down a mine shaft and whilst other shows aren’t so risky they tend to be sharply etched into a vivid locale.
The event also known as Festival de Musique Emergente en Abitibi - Temiscamingue is held in Rouyn – Noranda, a pristine but remote mining town a full seven hour drive from either Toronto or Montreal, the province of Quebec’s largest city; is as much about the locals as location, location, location but then manages to do many things at the same time. Sustainability may not sound very sexy but here it makes sense as hearty and wholesome as the local delicacy poutine at 2am after a Godspeed gig.
For us and the locals this also means gigs from name artists in intimate settings which have an exclusive feel. This year Feist and Godspeed You! Black Emperor are topping the bill. Feist’s set is pretty amazing anyway but only benefits from a fortuitous full wilderness moon which accompanies her transformation into a PJ Harvey jagged guitar toting rock priestess punching a ferocious, and surprising, hole through a smoky back catalogue. She’s clearly kicking back, baying at the moon, inciting the same from an audience packing a shopping arcade on 7-ieme Rue cordoned off with 10ft letters spelling ‘FME’, emblazoned in light.
A main strip of streets from 6-ieme Rue to 10th seems sequestered as one stage, a deconsecrated church is wearing giant luminous antlers. It helps that the event straddles the Labor Day weekend but Rouyn’s citizens are out in force, with a vacation feel presiding over an event which is also a serious music business hub. Last year Montreal’s Peter Peter debuted their group here. Toting a post punk sound benefiting from particularly airborne 80’s synth, this year they’ve chosen Rouyn to begin their debut LP campaign.
So FME’s influence is growing in Canada yet one of its organizers, Sandy Boutin, says he has no plans to grow it. He quips that he can’t afford British groups, they’re too expensive he says and the exchange rate’s too high. The event itself emerged as a solution to a local problem.
“It was a crazy idea, but for friends”, Boutin says. “They were driving to Montreal and Toronto only 2 or 3 times a year to see gigs so we thought; why not bring the group’s here?”
Quebec is a French speaking province and so many of the acts at this year’s event are Francophone, that is, singing in French. So it’s still largely an event for locals. Of an estimated 20,000 tickets in a sell out this year, 70% were bought by Rouyn residents. But with now a budget to bring in big name acts, aided by the local and national government grants and rocketing ticket sales, FME’s also a rather elegant, and possibly afterthought, solution to publicizing local wares, many from the hot Montreal scene which boasts labels such as Audiogram, Bon Sound and Dare to Care.
Dare to Care Francophone act Avec Pas de Casque, which roughly means “without the use of a helmet”, are very impressive. Playing in a downtown bar they play country folk blues with resinous backwoods influences held sway by an urban edge. A restraint is held over some serious noise making potential – it’s rather like hearing Neil Young serenading Flaming Lips, then arguing about the rights.
Have they played outside of Canada, I ask their singer and electric kazoo player Stefane Lafleur? No, he says, because they’re Francophone, it’s hard to get gigs even outside of Quebec.
“If you’re forcing things, it’s just a job isn’t it”, he says. “That’s the great thing though, when people come by accident, naturally, they will bring someone else, discover music, and then it grows, then your fanbase is solid, on solid ground.”
FME offers a chance to get up close and personal with some of your favourite acts, previous years hosting such as Besnard Lakes, the Sadies and Melvins. Visibly, Montreal community rock titans Godspeed You! Black Emperor are having none of it however. Playing in Agora des Arts, the former church, for a midnight show, they’re impassive in a tight knot semicircle containing eight or nine of them. They then begin tapping around like a nickel and dime jazz band on ‘Albanian’ before kletzmer violin soars mournfully and gracefully. But then it’s a juddering wall of almost mechanistic noise which forecloses on most of their music’s emotional content.
Anecdotally this is noticeably more brutal than their previous shows. Clearly this is one band reunion that has legs.