Published Sep 07, 2011The Festival de musique émergente (the Emerging Music Festival) is a special one. Located in a remote part of northern Quebec in a copper mining town of 30,000, the festival is modestly sized, well-programmed and very geographically manageable, making the few days breeze by like the last long weekend of summer should.
The two primary venues, Agora des Arts (a converted church) and the Petit Theatre, were both packed tight and sweltering, even as the temperature of the northern air dropped quickly. Montreal's Socalled began with some eccentric hip-hop at Petit Theatre, joined on stage by Katie Moore who herself was set to play soon at Agora des Arts. Back over there, the crowd was already anticipating headliners Akron/Family, who started off by ensuring the room they would make the most out of their abbreviated festival set time. At times playful, deafening and always engaging, the band held true to their word and hardly stopped, with the biggest gap in music being when singer Miles Seaton brought an audience member on stage to translate dancing instructions from English to the largely French audience. They finished their set by joining the ecstatic crowd on the floor, at times disappearing completely, before graciously wrapping up.
With sets all running a bit late, there was time to duck around the corner to the Cabaret de la Dernière Chance for a slice of Montreal's Pat Jordache before heading back the few steps for "after-party" guests, Toronto's Elliott Brood. The countrified outfit played material from their upcoming album Days Into Years and favourites from breakthrough album Mountain Meadows, including the always rackety "Write It All Down for You," when the band famously hands out dollar-store tin trays and wooden spoons for percussion assistance. They wrapped up as most acts that weekend did, with a clear reverence for the crowd and festival, and hoping to come back to play in town again.
After a night that wrapped up with 3 a.m. poutine and France's one-man band Piano Chat blowing Chez Morasse's sound system before he could even play (he went pure acoustic), the next day got off to an easy start with sunshine and the Piknic Electronik with Bowly and DJ Lexis on Lake Osisko, still just a short walk from all the festival's activity. The "happy hour" sets around daytime venues in the downtown strip featured highly anticipated (and well-attended) sets from Monogrenade and Betalovers, and bands continued to trickle into town and ask questions or share past stories about the campground while Akron/Family set up for a woodside acoustic set at the Salle de Press.
The serene outdoor show bled seamlessly into the evening's venues early start times when the searing Duchess Says raged through the sweltering Petit Theatre. Back over at Agora des Arts, Miracle Fortress were shrouded in darkness, accompanied by their own custom light show, allowing the group (now just a live duo) to stay in mastermind Graham Van Pelt's comfort zone. They capped off the set with back-to-back new and old album material before Toronto's Young Empires brought their electro-pop to heights appropriately grand for the venue. Heading back across the street, one of the obvious favourites of the weekend, Galaxie, were in the middle of a super-rock guitar solo amidst a wash of noise and lights, making for an appropriately Quebec hero moment to end the night on.
On the fest's final day, the Petit Theatre made sure to seal the weekend with a big kiss of metal, as Les Ékorchés and headliners Cryptopsy unfurled synchronized hair swings and blasted beats of sound and light to a room that looked a lot more full than it was. Eventually, you could tell from further back that almost half of the entire middle of the floor was reserved for a giant pit, which seemed to ebb in and out of mania, erupting especially for the last song of the night. After that, at 1:30 a.m. on a Sunday, the small town did anything but sleep, sending summer off with a bang.