Music by VICE

Finding the French Connection in the Woods of Quebec's Festival de Musique Emergente

You must find a shrubbery.

by Kate Killet
Sep 13 2016, 1:51pm

Over the September long weekend, I hopped on a minuscule nine-person plane that left Toronto and was bound for Rouyn-Noranda, QC for the 14th edition of Festival de Musique Emergente. More than 34,000 attendees took over the small mining town. On a small street in the town, purple skylights lit the way, leading you to a mainstage, which was also situated across from a church that had trippy, illuminated projection mappings. The festival embraces the quaintness offered by Rouyn-Noranda; featuring surprise pop-up show outside a 24-hour poutine stop or secret shows on the lake. One Saturday morning I dragged my slightly hungover ass out of bed to the wildlife sanctuary Refuge Pageau, which cares for injured local wildlife until they're well enough to go back into the wild. In some cases, the animals in question are used to living with humans or too injured to go back into the wild, so they take care of them.  

A standout fact about the festival is that it is held in rural Quebec, which is somehow considered extraordinary. English speaking music scenes are often held separate from French speaking ones with one a few crossovers; the largest and most popular in the Canadian music sphere is the reigning indie rock band, Arcade Fire. But this isn't truly representative of what a) the French speaking parts of Canada have to offer and b) how or if they blend with the English speaking ones. I met Simon Gosselin from Groenland, a indie-pop band that had played the first night and we spoke about what it's like being a Montréal band that sings in both French and English.

Two years ago during the winter version of FME (
Quartiers D'Hiver) there was a controversy with an audience member yelling at Groenland to sing in French instead of English. "It started a discussion [about] why French speaking musicians should sing in English. For us it was natural; our singer was a jazz singer who learnt how to sing in English." Gosselin continued, "more and more it's getting okay to do it. The English community and French are starting to blend. People are scared to lose the French language, for me it's better—why not [use] both?!" 

Gregory Beaudin—AKA Snail Kid of Dead Obies and Brown who also played the festival—postulated a bit more positively on the generational rift between English speaking and French speaking communities and what it means for artists like him who perform in a mix of the two now. "I'm from a generation that doesn't care," Beaudin continued. "We're the first generation that crosses over these two languages, so we're getting heat for doing it. They built this big system to control language and protect the French and it's been really important for the French culture but it's really annoying right now," says Beaudin. "We're trying to just create something and it's really in the way. We feel like the government
are straight up in the studio with us, telling us what to say."

I caught the dramatic pop synth-trio Paupière set , who brought the noir vibes to the Sunday afternoon crowd, with the charismatic Pierre-Luc interacting and making jokes with the crowd. After Paupière's, the band and I grabbed a glass of wine and talked songwriting in French. "It's an interesting challenge to play with French language because for one word we might have ten shades of that word and what it means." 

Rock duo—and Jack White wet dream—LesDeuxluxes, featuring Anna Frances Meyer & Etienne Barry, played a poolside set during FME. I spoke to them about this relationship between French and English speaking musical scenes and what it means to be truly Canadian, something often up for debate these days. "We have a really good festival culture in Québec," Meyer explained. "It's kinda weird because we sing in English but attract a francophone scene. It's cool how open they are to us versus the anglophones who might see our name and get turned off because our name is written in French. I think that maybe there's a bit of a renaissance. Right now either you're a Québec band or a Canada band." Barry expanded: "It has its own microcosm. You can be big in Québec and people on the other side of the provincial border have no idea who you are."

As the festival wound down, I met Suki Negusse, a bubbly and sweet twenty-something working the bar on the grounds. With the French and English speaking music or art conversations that happened in this rural francophone part of Canada, a festival like FME matters, and Negusse encapsulated it all rather poignantly. "My city is kinda like a tiny Montréal that's far from Montréal, so we get a lot of festivals, cultural events and community events. We have a lot of art galleries and places that can host shows. There's always something happening. There's something for everyone!"

Kate Killet is a photographer and writer from Toronto with a lot of feelings. Follow her on Twitter.