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.
“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.”
“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.