2017 marks the 15th year of the Quebec's Festival de musique émergente en Abitibi-Témiscamingue. The Labour Day weekend event will bring together nearly 70 artists from a wide range of genres to Rouyn-Noranda, including Duchess Says, Les Dales Hawerchuk, The Decline !, It It Anita, Paul Jacobs, and A Tribe Called Red. Punknews editor Adam White took a look at the event and spoke with organizer Jenny Thibault in the first part of our ongoing coverage this year.
We in the punk rock world certainly like to think that we're casting off the shackles of what's mainstream and normal. We celebrate how our communities become beacons for all manner of weird misfits and creative nonconformists. We like to think that we're driven by a courageous rejection of expectations. That might be true, initially, but familiarity's a bitch. What was once strange and challenging can pretty soon become what you seek out, and the shows, bands, and festivals you pay attention to year after year eventually start to reflect what you know. That's certainly a rut I've fallen victim to, and despite my love of the bands and labels that put on the Fests we talk about year after year on Punknews, it's certainly not much of a stretch for me to gravitate to them.
So let's get into some unknown territory. The biggest sin of the punk rock fan is that it's so easy to take the slice of scene you're familiar with and assume it's the entire pie. It's a big world out there, so let's get uncomfortable and talk about new to us.
The Festival de musique émergente en Abitibi-Témiscamingue has been taking place for 15 years, but I've been completely oblivious to it. Every year the event, which I'm going to refer to as FME from here on out, brings dozens of artists from a pretty dramatic range of genres to Rouyn-Noranda, a mining town in Quebec, over Labour Day weekend (about a 7-hour drive north of either Toronto or Montreal). The mix of artists performing not only crosses genres but language barriers, with a predominance of French acts and a number of artists speaking indigenous languages high on the bill.
This year will see the Polaris Prize nominated First Nations electronic music group A Tribe Called Red headline along with celebrated Saskatchewanian folk singer Andy Shauf. Low-fi Montreal garage rocker Paul Jacobs plays along with a showcase of psyche-rock groups hand selected by the Distortion Psyche Fest. Intense Swedish black metal group Marduk will lead a night of heavy music with Abysmal Dawn and Incantation on the bill. Great, challenging Francophone rock bands we can shamefully ignore in English Canada abound, like Fuudge, Lubik, Chocolat, and Zen Bamboo.
On the punk rock from the event brings in international acts like The Decline ! from France and Belgium's It It Anita along with Montreal groups like Les Dales Hawerchuk and Duchess Says. Rockabilly even has a strong showing with Deke Dickerson, the WildTones, and Bloodshot Bill performing multiple nights.
Even that's a conservative appraisal of what FME has to offer, as my ignorance of the electropop, dancehall, hip hop, and la chanson québécoise is certainly showing.
To help get a feel for what an event like FME means, I spoke with Jenny Thibault, one of the festival's organizers.
A chat with FME's Jenny Thibault
One of FME’s goals is to help build awareness of Rouyn-Noranda and the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region as a whole. I wouldn’t be surprized if much of our Canadian audience wasn’t aware of the area, let alone our international readers. What makes Rouyn-Noranda a special place for you?
First of all, it’s my hometown, so for me, it’s a special place for sure! It’s 7 hours up North from Montreal. It’s a college and a university city, with a lot of cultural activities, it’s like a boomtown, a really dynamic and strong community, surrounded by lakes and forest. You can go fishing within 30 minutes. And it’s a relatively young region. It’s been colonized only 100 years ago. Our grand-parents have literally built this place. They left everything to go North to start a new life, a new country in a completely new place. It’s a really beautiful region with a really strong energy coming from all the inhabitants.
How have the locals embraced the festival? Different communities always react differently to an influx of concertgoers, but I’d imagine that for as remote 40,000 person town it’s quite different than in a big city.
Yes, it’s quite different. You can feel the vibe of the festival all across the city. There are concerts all over the town. We have around 20 venues and some outside shows happening everywhere as well. In a garage, a backyard, on a lake. To accomplish this, we have more than 300 volunteers. The community is very involved. At some point, in their own way, they’ve all become co-owners of the festival itself.
One thing that’s apparent from the FME lineup is that there’s no dominant genre, with everything from arty folk to dark European metal at play, how do you pick and choose the bands you invite with such a broad range of music involved.
Yes, we do have a wide spectrum of music: Folk, stoner rock, psych, metal, rap, word, indie rock, electro pop, DJ sets… This diversity idea was there right at the beginning in 2003. We wanted to create a music festival with a large spectrum. The programming is like a picture of the best indie projects from the year’s Quebec scene. With some of our favourite Canadian, US and European projects. In the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region, the metal scene is really dynamic for instance, and the rap scene is doing well too. We need to reflect this diversity.
All festivals establish a certain vibe, inevitably or naturally, what shapes FME for you?
I think it’s a mix of distance, remoteness, music enthusiasts, and passion. There is also a natural selection. Only real music fans would drive 7 hours to go see some concerts in a small isolated town. All these passionate people converge towards Rouyn-Noranda for 4 days of intensive music and partying!
This year there FME collaborated with Pikogan Pow Wow to highlight the indigenous communities that share Abitibi-Témiscamingue. How did this collaboration effect the shape of the festival this year?
We have 7 First Nation communities in the region. We will have a special event organized by the Pikogan Pow Wow team on Friday, September 1st. The FME did some installations at their event and we invite them to do the same at ours. It’s a new collaboration, a real cultural exchange. We will have some aboriginal performers of traditional dance and music close to the Osisko Lake. It’s going to be really inspiring. And the festival opening will set the tone too with a performance by A Tribe Called Red.
Montreal synth-punk act Duchess Says is one of the alumni acts return to FME this year. What makes them such great fit for the event?
Duchess Says have a long story with the FME. It’s going to be their third appearances I think. They are really good performers and they have a good following here. This will be closing the first night, along with Slosh and Atsuko.
Duchess Says - "Black Flag" from 2008's Anthologie des 3 Perchoirs
A number of European punk bands are playing the event this year, from Belgium noise-rock act It It Anita to 77-style French act The Decline. There’s also a huge black metal show on Sunday with a lineup of Black Empire, Abysmal Dawn, Incantation, and Marduk. FME doesn’t seem to shy away from pulling in performers from more aggressive genres, how do these acts change the vibe of the festival?
We are a multi-venue festival. Therefore, people who are attracted by those genres will be gathered together in the same venue. But maybe we will have a few curious people who will attend those concerts to discover something… And eventually, the opposite will happen. Hopefully. And after the concerts, all those people will meet, drinking beers on the 7th street.
English media rarely engages with the Francophone music landscape, and there’s a huge mix of French artists playing the event. Are there any Quebec artists you’re particularly excited to help expose outside of the province? Who should we be listening to?
There are a lot of Francophone interesting projects. This is exactly what we want to achieve, by connecting these two isolated industries. You should definitely listen and watch those: Philippe B – Fuudge – La Bronze – Chocolat – Julien Sagot – Alaclair Ensemble – Les Dales Hawerchuck.
Les Dales Hawerchuck - "Dales Hawerchuk" from their 2005 self-titled album
Next week at Punknews.org we're going to showcase a selection of music from FME bands. Check back next week for part 2!
This story is part of a reporting partnership between Punknews.org and Some Party, a Canadian punk & garage music newsletter.