Ariane Moffatt

Ariane Moffatt

When Les FrancoFolies de Montréal top dog Laurent Saulnier contacted Ariane Moffatt last winter to create Louve, neither of them had an inkling of the symbolism this 100% female band’s concert – now the finale of the 2017 edition of the music festival – was going to take on.

Reacting to an editorial written by Laurence Nerbonne, “Me and my bros only,” published on the Urbania website, in the wake of a Radio-Canada Revelations show where she was the only woman, the FrancoFolies’ vice-president and music curator decided to put together a show with no men involved, but didn’t want to present it as a “girls’ show.”

“I jumped right in,” says Moffatt. “I ended up being given carte blanche. I was tasked with putting together an all-girl house band. It was a trip, to me it was a statement. It wasn’t long before the girls we talked to said yes.”

Marie-Pierre Arthur, Salomé Leclerc, Amylie, Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Ariane Moffatt thus found themselves at the core of Louve (in English, She-wolf), a name that says a lot about the pack mentality that underpins the band. “We didn’t want to call it Les Louves [the plural of a she-wolf] because we felt it put too much emphasis on the girl-band concept,” says Amylie, who came up with the name.

Once the core was in place, the rumour started spreading. Many guests cottoned on to Louve: Safia Nolin, Klô Pelgag, Frannie Holder, Mara Tremblay, Jenny Salgado, Laurence Nerbonne, Les Hay Babies, as well as other surprises that won’t be revealed until the actual June 18, 2017, concert, to be held at 7:00 pm at the Place des festivals in Montréal.

“If a slightly douchey guy feels bad after making a sexist innuendo like, ‘You play well for a girl,’ then the F.E.M. will have accomplished part of its goal.” — Marie-Pierre Arthur.

2017: A Year of Awakening

The fact of the matter is that the project even took on a whole different meaning, on June 1, 2017, when the Femmes en Musique (F.E.M.; in English, Women in Music) collective published an open letter on Facebook. The 135 signatories, all women in the music business, put forth the same conclusion that Laurence Nerbonne had reached the previous fall: women are under-represented in the music landscape.

Amylie, Salomé Leclerc

Amylie, Salomé Leclerc

“All of us singers, musicians, singer-songwriters, technicians and other female players of the industry, agree that there really is sexism in the music biz and that we have all had to deal with it at one point or another, whether it simply is through a bias against us, or technical or gear knowledge, by questioning our talent, our experience or our relevance,” says the letter.

It had to happen, at some point. Label president, manager, producer, stagehand and studio tech, session musician and even music journalist are all trades that are overwhelmingly male-dominated, and hard for any woman to break into.

“I don’t think people in the industry are ill-intentioned,” says Salomé Leclerc. “I know a lot of guys who love to work with women onstage and in the studio. I don’t think festival programmers act in bad faith, yet there are a few reflexes they should develop, in 2017, before they send their poster to the printer’s. I do believe the issues raised by F.E.M. contribute to changing the mentality.”

Make no mistake about it: if Salomé Leclerc mentions festival programmers, it’s because their work can easily be quantified. According to the Journal de Montréal, 27% of headliners at the Montréal Jazz Fest are women. This number drops to 22% for the Festival d’été de Québec, 20% for the Festival de la poutine de Drummondville and a mere 8% for Jonquière en Musique. Other festivals such as Laval’s Diapason, Grandes Fêtes Telus in Rimouski and Festirame in Alma were also singled out on F.E.M.’s Facebook page.

“Our collective gelled when the programs for the 2017 summer festivals came out,” says Ariane Moffatt. “In the beginning, there were about 20 of us messaging privately over Facebook. We were frustrated by the lack of women. And at a certain point, we decided it was enough and that we needed to go public.”

“Programmers no longer have any excuse,” says Laurence Lafond-Beaulne. “According to a census of singer-songwriters done by the Société professionnelle des auteurs et des compositeurs du Québec, there are virtually as many woman as men in their ranks. A brand new cohort of women has arrived in the business in the last ten years. The talent is there, and sales numbers are there to prove it. So why aren’t they making it to the top of the bill? We want to help the system to evolve.”

A Question of Education

This new wave of female artists is also no stranger to the feminist wave that’s shaking things up in the worlds of theatre – the Femmes pour l’équité en théâtre collective was created last January – and cinema. Over the past few months, the SODEC, National Film Board, and Téléfilm Canada all adopted measures to foster gender equality among movie-makers.

“I think there’s a fad regarding the representation of women,” says Ariane Moffatt. “I’ll get flak from my peers for saying this, but if you’d asked me if I was a feminist at the onset of my career, I would not have dared to answer your question. Except now, there’s a whole wave of female singers who are 25, 30, or 35 years old that want to raise people’s awareness about different social issues. It’s happening in the cultural industries, but also elsewhere in society.”

Laurence Lafond-Beaulne, Marie-Pierre Arthur

Laurence Lafond-Beaulne, Marie-Pierre Arthur

“If a slightly douchey guy feels bad after making a sexist innuendo like, ‘You play well for a girl,’ then the F.E.M. will have accomplished part of its goal,” says Marie-Pierre Arthur. “The other day, I asked my son if he believed men were better musicians than women. He looked at me with a huge question mark in his eyes. To him the very question made no sense because he’s just as used to seeing his dad (keyboardist François Lafontaine) as his mom onstage. What matters is that we keep on paving the way for the next generation of girls who want to get into music. You want to play drums, or bass, or be a record producer? It’s possible!”

According to Amylie, a lack of strong female role models did hinder her career when she started 10 years ago. “I had to jump through a lot of hoops before I could take my place among the guys I worked with,” she says. “It took me quite a while before I could muster the confidence to produce my own album (Les Éclats, released last year). Just making my own choices, and telling a drummer what the rhythm I wanted, required me to wear pants that I didn’t even think I owned. I don’t know where this meek and timid syndrome comes from, but it’s a problem that plagues women, whether or not they’re in the music biz. And when we want to assert our place, we’re told to shut up. If we raise our voice, people call us hysterical. Being afraid of being judged can make you want to dig your own hole. The more women make a place for themselves in music, the more mentality will evolve.”

Awakening awareness, changing habits, paving the way for future generations… The F.E.M. clearly has an educational role, first and foremost. So what are its next steps? “What we need is an open dialogue,” Ariane Moffatt says right away, alluding to the collective’s first major meeting on June 21, 2017, at Montréal’s Lion d’Or. “We’ll see what comes out of it, but there needs to be concrete action.”

Until then, the Louve concert, three days earlier, will surely come across as a manifesto. “Based on our rehearsals, it seems we feel like rocking hard,” says Marie-Pierre Arthur. “We all seem motivated by the raw rock, almost grunge-punk vibe. I don’t think it’ll be a ‘little girls should be seen and not heard’ kinda deal.”

Any chance to catch Louve onstage outside of the FrancoFolies? “Nothing planned for now,” says Moffatt. “But let’s just say it would be a shame to stop there.”

Based on the determination of the five main protagonists, Louve isn’t about to stop howling.


Quick: name the biggest-selling reggae single of all time? Surprise: it’s “Informer,” the 1992 crossover hit from Irish-Canadian singer-songwriter Snow. Born Darrin O’Brien in the North Toronto housing project Allenbury Gardens, Snow discovered Jamaican music through his neighbours, and was discovered in turn by New York rapper MC Shan, who produced his debut album 12 Inches of Snow. The slick pop beats and rapid-fire patois vocals about a snitch hit No. 1 on the Billboard Charts, where it stayed for seven weeks, eventually selling more than 8 million copies. “Informer” wasn’t Snow’s only hit (1997’s “all-star mix” of “Anything For You” was No. 1, in Jamaica and 2000’s “Everybody Wants to Be Like You” won the MuchMusic Video Award for Best Canadian Video), but it remains his defining song.

What kind of music were you into as a kid?
Rock. My first concert was KISS at Varsity Stadium with my brother. He was nine and I was six. We used to put on KISS concerts in a neighbour’s basement. Make-up, fake blood, everything. Meanwhile, upstairs, they were playing Jamaican music. Where I grew up, it was mostly Irish. And then when was 14, Jamaicans started to move in. They introduced me to their music.

What appealed to so much you about reggae?
I don’t know. Growing up, my mother was always into music. R&B, though. No rock. No country, Nothing else. When I started getting those dancehall tapes from my neighbours? I was just hypnotized by the voices! I would just rewind the tapes constantly, playing the songs over and over. “What did he say?”  The singers just captured me.

When did you start writing your own songs?
Before “Informer,” I wasn’t anything like that.  I wasn’t a songwriter, or a performer, or nothing. I got charged with two attempted murders, went to jail. And while was in jail, and I just came up with these verses: [Sings] “Informer. You know say Daddy Snow me, I’m gonna blame. A licky boom-boom down.” Like a jingle. But I had never been in the studio. I’m just a fan of music. Then when I got out, I went to New York, I ran into MC Shan, right? And he was like “I heard you can sing? Come to my house!” He taught me everything. About music. About harmonies.  I didn’t know anything about writing, but melodies just came to me. You’d put on a beat and I’d just hum melody after melody. And that’s how it started. Now, I think I’m a professional, but I wasn’t then.

How long did it take to write the song?
Maybe a day. When I first met MC Shan, I was always singing, “skippity boom down.” He kept singing it all day, too, he loved it.  But we changed it to “a licky boom-boom down.” I was just having fun. And I think that’s what made it. Because I actually wasn’t expecting it to be big.

Is it true you were in jail when the song went to No. 1?
Yes. We did the record in New York. We did a video. But I had to go back to Toronto, to go to jail. So I signed the contract. Then went to jail, for another year. I figured that’s what I was doing with my life. Nobody around me had made it big. And first time I saw my video was in jail. I got a weekend pass to go on MuchMusic.

How do you describe your vocal style in that song?
It’s kind of sing-jay. You can hear a little bit of Michael Rose. Junior Reid. Sting. All these influences on me. I just spit out words. I’m not a lyricist. I’m not Eminem. I just grab the moment and do what I feel.

Jim Carrey made fun of the song on In Living Colour – with a spoof called “Imposter.” What did you think of that?
It was perfect! Because it’s not wrong! [laughs] He’s Canadian, so that’s why I let him get away with it. Weird Al asked us too, but we said no.

What’s the best thing that happened to you because of “Informer”?
I don’t have to boost no more. No more crime. That was the best thing. But the worst thing was it gave me more money, so I was drinking too much. But I’ve quit. I got rid of that.

If, one day, you happen to be driving through the village of Neuville, the “Corn Capital” located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River just west of Québec City, make sure you drop by Médé Langlois’ farm and visit his store, L’Économusée de la conserverie. As the name suggests, this is a cannery where you can buy traditional preserves made according to “150-year old recipes.” Vegetables have been growing on his land for the past 350 years, and the Langlois farm is one of the oldest still operating in Canada. Warning: Médé, whose family members have been proud vegetable and milk producers for eleven generations, is also a punk musician.

“Y’know, the ancestors who used to live around here in the old days played folk music,” says the lead singer and guitarist of the “punklore” group Carotté, who crushed it on the stage of L’Astral on June 9, 2017, as part of a FrancoFolies de Montréal double-bill, shared with the Orloge Simard “biological” band.  “I just grew up surrounded by folk music. There has always been folk music here. The whole village used to gather here in the family home kitchen, and they all played folk music, at least once a week. But later on, in high school with my buddies, we used to listen to a lot of punk music.”

Médé had gotten up at 4:30 in the morning, as he does every day to milk the cows, work in the fields, and look after his store. But at the other end of the phone line, at noon, he still sounds full of vim and vigour, and willing to share lots of stories about music, his cows (“Do they like punk music? Well, they don’t have much choice, we practice in the barn!”) or the farming life. Here’s the story of the birth of Carotté and the release of their first album, Punklore et Trashdition (a musical “preserve,” as it were) back in 2015.

“After opening the Économusée store, I decided to get a spot in the new farmer’s market that had opened in Deschambault, not far from here,” says Langlois. “During the day, we sold vegetables while musicians entertained the customers – just a small traditional music group of three musicians. And then, at the end of the day, we would join the musicians for a glass of beer or rum, and at some point them, I asked them, ‘Why don’t we all form a band together?’ I’ve got two friends who play punk music. So the three of you and the three of us, half punk and half folk, we can blend it together. It’s not been done too often here – we remember Groovy Aardvark, who recorded ‘Boisson d’avril’ with Yves Lambert, but it’s also been done by Irish musicians (The Pogues) and bands from Brittany in the North of France (Soldat Louis, Matmatah, Les Ramoneurs de menhirs).”

That’s how Carotté and its original “punklore” repertoire were born. “We write all our lyrics together, otherwise, Étienne, our violinist, does it – he’s pretty good at it,” says Langlois. They also play traditional songs like Oscar Thiffault’s hugely famous “Tape la bizoune.” “Writing new material is fine, but what’s more important is to keep alive folk tunes and melodies such as this song that Madame Louise used to sing and that we’ve been performing,” says Langlois.

Old tunes, but played with today’s energy, and a sense of celebration. “It makes a great mix. We have to preserve those,“ he says, “because folklore is like our musical soil. It’s like when I’m sowing my cucumber seeds in Neuville – I think there may only be three or four [of us farmers] in the world owning these small seeds and sowing these particular cucumbers, so it’s important for me to keep this thing going.

“Because, you know, for me, music and agriculture go hand in hand,” the singing farmer insists. Really? “When I enter the field to plant [my vegetables], It’s like I am on my way to make new songs. And when we open the store each morning, it’s like we’re doing a soundcheck. And the minute the people, the customers come in, the show is on!”

Langlois also draws anthropological links between traditional and punk music, “two musical styles that were on the fringe of society and were forms of protest,” he says. “La Bolduc [Mary Travers], for instance, exposed things in her songs, and we’re doing it too.

“Because we farmers, we have lots of things to expose,” he adds, “but we’re putting in 100-hour weeks, seven days a week. I don’t have time to go to Parliament Hill to be part of a demonstration and denounce all that’s not working in agriculture – because Québec agriculture is really sick right now.” The farmer adds that he still finds the time to make music because it’s necessary. Vital. “If I don’t make music, I can’t be a farmer. And if there is no farming, there is no music.”

The band’s début album already contained a blend of moods, from the festive spirit of Oscar Thiffault’s irresistible song, to protest songs such as “Souffrance”: “I live in a country that’s pretty rotten… It reflects our concerns, stories like that of the small cheese-maker who’s getting trampled on.”

Langlois is particularly concerned about the path of the Energy East Pipeline, “which will pass through my land,” he says – land originally plowed by his family’s first North American ancestor, François Langlois, who sailed across the Atlantic to New France in 1667, settled in Neuville, and created a business that will be the topic of a major report this fall as part of Radio-Canada’s La Semaine verte television series. The idea of allowing oil to flow across this ancestral land is enough to stir up anybody’s inner punk. “There is so much to protest again in agriculture,” says Langlois, “and since most farmers don’t have access to a mic and a stage, we’re going to do it on their behalf.”

Carotté will perform in local festivals and agricultural fairs throughout the summer, with its own mixture of joyful and angry music. New songs will be added to the band’s repertoire in preparation for a new album to be released in 2018. The Ferme Langlois et Fils (Chez Médé) cannery is open from Wednesday to Sunday in June, and every day from July to October.