This week I spoke with three key members of Le Phoque OFF’s board. Marc-Antoine, who handles a range of jobs from administration to production to even being a stage manager, Ophélie, the festival’s head of PR and communications, and finally Yanick, Le Phoque OFF’s booker/talent buyer/A&R -to learn and discuss more about the 2021 edition of the annual music festival. This year’s edition has adapted with the times and has gone exclusively virtual and runs from February 12th to February 19th, 2021.
Established in 2015, Le Phoque OFF is an annual festival taking place in Quebec City dedicated to showcasing emerging artists all while creating networking opportunities in a professional yet relaxed setting. Inclusive and affordable, Le Phoque OFF’s mission is to introduce tomorrow’s artists to today’s performing arts market professionals and to bring forth debates and discussions about current issues affecting the alternative music industry.
Le Phoque OFF is back for its seventh consecutive year and to adapt to the current state of the world, the music festival is going virtual. Are you doing anything different than any other online concerts/festivals?
Marc-Antoine: Because it’s our event, of course, we love to think we do things a little differently than the other online festivals. But we might be a little biased [laughs]. That being said, one thing for sure that really sets our festival apart from the others is the lineup itself. We focus on up and coming brilliant artists who deserve to be discovered, presenting what could be described as “hidden gems.” It’s not about the big names, all about discovering new artists!
Another thing that sets us apart is the “other half” of the festival, which could be described as a summit or a congress. We present panels, roundtables, and other activities where we discuss different challenges and matters that any person who’s working in the DIY scene can face. This part of the festival doesn’t directly concern the general public -it is addressed to others involved in the music business- but it’s still an important part of what we do. We really hope that these activities, by opening the dialogue, can help the music community to evolve and create a sense of mutuality and community.
While organizing this year’s Le Phoque OFF, have you been able to incorporate anything new? Or anything new that wouldn’t have been possible at a typical in-person festival?
Marc-Antoine: We were lucky enough to be able to film a few bands at a venue called SAT in Montreal. The bands played in a half-sphere venue. I know it sounds crazy, and a VJ was there to project images in the dome while the bands were playing. Normally, people could not really attend this type of experience. But because we filmed a bunch of shows there, people will get to “live” this immersive experience.
Ophélie: It’s not something that we originally intended to do, but because the festival is 100% virtual, the streaming feature will allow people from all around the world to attend all the shows. And people will be able to chat during the streams and share their experience, wherever they’re from! It is an exciting experience for both the bands and the public!
Were there any big challenges to pulling off an event of this scale online versus the typical festival?
Ophélie: Yes, we had to face big challenges for this year’s edition!
This year’s festival will be 100% virtual, but we have been live-streaming some of Le Phoque OFF shows since 2017. So the technology wasn’t all that new to us, but still. We normally livestream about fifteen shows online, but we also used to stream our panels named Messe Basse online as well. So I’d say we usually have about twenty live videos, which represent about 20% of our programming. However, this year, since everything is held virtually, it’s looking more like a TV production. So we had to rethink the way we put on shows, the staff we needed to hire, we had to think about things like an intro, an outro, and credits for the streams. We basically had to learn how to produce a TV show [Laughs].
Also, there’s the pandemic itself. Here in Quebec, we have a curfew and a bunch of strict rules, so we consider ourselves lucky to still be able to do something. We had to be very creative to put everything together. We allowed artists to play and so many people to work by going for virtual content instead of canceling. But we made it [Laughs]. We’re confident that this year’s edition will be amazing, even if it’s online. What is great is everybody from all around the world will be able to attend!
What genres are featured at the festival? One particular genre or is it diverse?
Marc-Antoine: Like we said earlier, in the beginning, the musical direction was a little more punk/rock/stoner oriented. Now, the lineup is super eclectic and diverse, we’re presenting every genre of music! But don’t worry, our approach and mindset are still 100% DIY and punk rock [Laughs]. If you’re a music lover and you want to discover new stuff, Le Phoque OFF is a good way to discover more than 40 bands, ranging in genres as different as folk, electro-pop, hip-hop, post-hardcore, experimental rock, skate punk, etc.
Are there any artists on the line-up that you’d recommend for ticket buyers or even artists you’re looking forward to seeing?
Yanick: Seriously, that’s a hard one. First, if you buy a ticket you can see all the shows in the program.
If you want to blow your mind, you can’t miss Milanku! It’s a unique experience waiting for you. If you love psychedelic punk rock go for Cardiel (a Mexican two-person band). For a freak hip-hop show on the rooftop of a building, go see Dope.gng. For sweet R&B, Magi Merlin is your girl. Also, Ariane Roy, Kanen, yoo doo right, -Shhh! but Emma Beko will be with us too [winks]!
Ophélie: Since I’m all in for a girl that rocks, I’d recommend Mélodie Spear. Add a little sweetness from Bleu Kérosène, Pastel Barbo’s indie rock, and Milanku’s awesome experimental showcase -that makes Wednesday the night I’m most looking forward to. For the other nights, I’d say look out for Pure Carrière (experimental rock), l i l a (sweet folk), Ariane Roy (really good pop), and Narcisse (electro-pop, get ready to dance). Their music is amazing.
Marc-Antoine: Musically and personally speaking, I am more into the heavier stuff, so I’ll recommend Hate It Too (For fans of: super-fast and technical skate punk), Quitte la Ville (FFO: melodic and nihilistic punk rock), and of course the post-hardcore legends MILANKU.
Lastly, how much are tickets and where can festival-goers get their tickets for the multi-show, multi-day event?
You get to see more than 40 bands for $12. You can buy tickets here: https://lepointdevente.com/billets/phoqueoff-2021
A ticket will give you access to all the showcases, from February 12 to February 19. If that’s not enough, you can take a look at the schedule here to make sure to catch all the bands!
Thanks for the time, Marc-Antoine, Ophélie, and Yanick! I hope you are staying safe out there! Is there anything else you want to add before you three go?
Let’s just hope that this year’s edition will give the public and the bands a smile, that they’ll have fun, and that everyone will get to discover some new acts! We hope that this year’s edition will make the public feel a little bit like they are attending a “real live event!” At least, we hope they’ll have a lot of fun in front of their computer!