It’s a question posed to me by two girls working for a radio station called CHOQ. With no time to think and a microphone stuck under my nose I utter something asinine along the lines of: “Sure, if you have good songs with good melodies and good hooks, then language shouldn’t matter.” Yet we all know -- according to American album sales at least -- that language does matter. On Saturday evening, though, sandwiched between the funny-for-a-minute comedian Jon Lajoie, and the pulsating dance-punk of We Are Wolves, Karkwa, proved that perhaps language, when used as an instrument instead of a story-telling device, really doesn’t matter. Straddling the middle ground between Sigur Ros and Radiohead, Karkwa proved that words could still affect meaning even if you don’t understand what’s being said. In essence, Radiohead are, for all intents and purposes, a foreign language band. Thom Yorke’s enunciation often takes literal meaning out of what he is singing, but in return it pours additional meaning onto the songs through sheer emotion. Karkwa never come close to topping Radiohead or Sigur Ros, but if one band were to break through the language barrier, and provide Canada’s French-speaking provinces with an internationally recognized act, it might just be this four-piece. With their mix of traditional Francophone pop, krautrock rhythms, and Stereolab-style synth drones, Pas Chic Chic provided an intelligent approach to mood music that could also feasibly cross over into non-French speaking territories. Basked in a red glow and fronted by former Godspeed You! Black Emperor member Roger Tellier-Craig, the five-piece droned and dallied through a dark set of early ‘80s synth sounds that called to mind Serge Gainsbourg fronting Cabaret Voltaire. Accented by female backing vocals, the odd new romantic riff, and some chugging Velvet Underground rhythms, it was easy to get lost in their swirling mass of sound and forget that they were singing in French altogether. Many of the other French-speaking acts didn’t fare so well. The festival kicked-off, or should I say faced-off, with Quebec’s Les Dales Hawerchuk, a four-piece band named after a famous hockey player I’ve never heard of. Their brand of rudimentary rock, propelled along by some strong bass playing and chugging power chords, was passionate but pedantic. Sitting somewhere between an angst-less Rage Against the Machine, and the Offspring, the only word of their set that I understood appeared during the last song, with a chorus that stated: “L’Attention.” Unfortunately, they aren’t able to hold mine.
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