Published on September 13th, 2021 | by Stacey McLaughlin0
Thrilled to get back to seeing live music, Stacey checked out FME 2021. She gives us the rundown on the festival, music, food, and more!
About the Festival:
FME stands for ‘Festival de musique émergente’ (or Emerging Music Festival in English) and it is a music festival with a focus on new and emerging music. It specifically highlights Canadian talent locally and abroad, and aims to facilitate sharing between international and local artists. Founded in 2003, this was the 19th edition of this festival. It takes place in Rouyn-Noranda (approx. population: 42,334 as of 2016) which is a smaller city in Northern Quebec. Once an active mining community, the area now hosts many cultural events, including FME, to bring tourism to the area. The festival is usually held over the September long weekend, this year it took place from September 2 – 5, 2021.
I attended this festival in 2017, so I was both excited to go back and curious to see what sorts of changes they would implement due to the pandemic. Upon arrival to the festival there was a special booth set up to confirm proof of vaccine. Once you were able to demonstrate that you were fully vaccinated, you were given a green wristband to wear for the weekend that allowed you entrance to the various venues. At other private businesses, such as restaurants, they still required visitors to show proof of vaccine and their ID to enter. Additionally, the festival had limited capacity venues, this meant that there were shows we couldn’t make it to because they filled up and no one else was allowed to be admitted. While disappointing, it made me feel like the festival was committed to everyone’s safety and wellbeing. It also meant that for our top priorities, we were there to get in line early. Another big change from previous years, was that many of the venues were seated to help facilitate physical distancing, and mandatory masking indoors and when not seated. All of these measures made us feel very safe while visiting Quebec and the festival.
Like previous years, there was no shortage of shows a person could attend. With 70+ shows over 4 days, plus countless surprise pop up concerts, there was something for everyone. The genres represented at this festival included pop, rock, hip hop, electronic, and more. Because of the covid measures in place for capacities at venues, festival attendees really had to prioritize which shows they wanted to see, and anything extra was a bonus. Here’s a breakdown of the evenings I spent listening to musicians and groups:
The first night was hip hop and rap artists including Maky Lavender, Cadence Weapon, and Backxwash. While I had heard of the second two, Maky Lavender was brand new to me. I really enjoyed his energy and catchy hooks. Cadence Weapon was an extraordinary story teller, and his songs that focused on places and events were easy to relate to. Backxwash was the headliner of the night and one of the performers that I was most looking forward to seeing. A dynamic and powerful performer, she was also friendly and very sweet between her heavy and emotion filled songs. I will definitely be following her career and recommend that anyone who gets a chance to go to a Backxwash show, don’t hesitate! Take that opportunity, and while you wait for her to come to a city near you, download her music from Band Camp.
The second night was more focused on alternative/indie rock starting with Ducks Ltd. I have to admit I was hooked by the playfulness of their name alone but continued to be pleased once I heard them play. While listening to them I was reminded of Weezer, Sloan, and The Strokes while still creating a sound that was their own. Bad Waitress took the stage and completely blew my socks off, these women really know how to play. I would have been just as at home listening to this as a teen in the 90’s as I was listening to it now. I especially enjoyed how charismatic and unique all of the members of the band were, and I hope to see this group go far.
The third night we went to the Poisson Volant outdoor stage at the Lake Osiko peninsula to get thoroughly rained on while we listened to some electronic music. The group Barry Paquin Roberge were a sparkly disco dream. Their upbeat and catchy rhythms kept me from completely freezing in all of that rain. They were followed by Marie Davidson, who came highly recommended and did not disappoint. If you like strong female vocals against dancey synth music, check her out.
Our last night at the festival was devoted to metal. Opening the show was Tumeurs, a noise/sludge metal band fronted by a lead singer who comes out on stage in a wheelchair and dressed in a hospital gown. This band was very in your face and edgy, but I think in many ways they open the conversation around sickness, life, death, and ableism – and they do this all while screaming and playing loud. They were followed by the super fun Quebecois thrash metal band Reanimator. The thing I liked most about their performance was that they looked like they were having so much fun on the stage, it was hard to not have fun watching them. Voivod closed out the night and the festival for us. While not a new band by any stretch of the imagination, this long running cosmic-metal group were a welcome addition to my festival experience. Their extended back catalog and professionalism as musicians made for an endearing and enjoyable show.
In addition to the incredible music offerings FME has to choose from, a visit to Quebec wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of their incredible food. I always recommend Chez Morasse for poutine. This time I tried the infamous pogotine which is poutine with chopped and deep fried corn dogs, topped with a honey mustard sauce, it definitely lives up to the hype and I strongly recommend it. Le Cachottier is another must try for friendly fine dining and the most delicious meals you can imagine. There is also Habanero’s for Mexican, Horizon Thaï, PIZZÉ for a variety of tastes, and even chain restaurants like Freshii if you are one of those people who relies on the familiar comforts of home while traveling.
Other Things to Do:
If having close to 100 shows to pick and choose from isn’t enough for you, the city of Rouyn-Norunda has a lot to offer for visitors. Take a stroll around Lake Osiko and look at all of the adorable ducks. There are even bike and boat rentals to enhance your exploration of the lake. Go visit the wild animals at the Pageau Refuge in neighboring Amos, Quebec. I always love stopping by the Magasin général Dumulon which is the oldest store in Rouyn-Noranda. It was built in 1924 and functions as a museum and a general store. It’s fun to visit and I always walk away with great gifts and souvenirs to bring home. You might also consider a stay for night or two in Montreal on either side of your trip to FME. As the most anglophone friendly city in the province, you will find it easy to make your way around the city. Enjoy using the metro to cover a lot of ground to seek out new experiences, restaurants, and shopping that this major Canadian city has to offer. Plus most flights going to Rouyn-Norunda will likely find you flying out of Montreal, so adding this extra stay on to your trip will stretch out your vacation and make your travel days less arduous. This time we stopped in Montreal for 18 hours before heading up to FME and it made our trip up much more peaceful. Our trip home, with 3 flights in one day was much more tiring and I found myself wishing we’d stayed an extra day in Montreal on our way home too.
This festival is extremely well run. I always felt safe, and I enjoyed not only the variety of music available, but even the tiniest little details. They decorate all of the venues in a very beautiful and artistic manner. I wasn’t as exhausted after this year’s festival as I was when I went in 2017, but I not only paced myself better, the seated venues were just an incredible treat. I know it was weird for a lot of people to be seated at a hip hop or metal show, but it kept us safe by ensuring physical distancing, and it let us rest our tired bodies. I wonder if we’ll see more physically distanced seating at live music shows going forward. While it sounded weird at first, I could definitely get used to it.