Back home to party
The 14th annual Festival d’expression de la
rue returns to its UQÀM campus digs for a
two-day celebration of street living
STREET CULTURAL AMBASSADORS: FER ’09
by MATT JONES
After a year of itinerancy, the Festival d’expression de la rue (FER) is back at Place Pasteur near the corner of St-Denis and de Maisonneuve this weekend for its 14th edition.
The festival features two days of punk, hip hop and reggae shows interspersed with circus acts, contests and workshops on harm reduction.
“We’re probably the only festival that would say no to Celine Dion,” says organizer Marc-André Savory. “We have to represent the culture from the street. We have bands that come from the street, guys that I know that have been on the street before but they’re still involved around that milieu, or people that have not been on the street but still play music that’s listened to by the street people.”
This year’s program is scaled back from three days to two and its traditional division between punk day, hip-hop day and multicultural day has been abandoned in favour of a weekend-long mash-up of street lifestyles.
“The dynamic on the street now is different than it used to be. If you go back 10 years it was just punks on the street. Now there’s a lot of diversity,” says Marc-André Savory.
The FER started in 1997 by the Groupe d’Intervention Alternative par les Pairs (GIAP), a group that recruits former street people to work as peer helpers to spread information about harm reduction on the street. They chose Place Pasteur, near the corner of St-Denis and de Maisonneuve, since it was already the unmistakable makeshift headquarters of the city’s street people. It began as a film festival, screening films about life on the street, but quickly grew into a broader event aiming to represent different aspects of street culture, from circus arts to jewellery making to gutter punk rock ’n’ roll.
“The main purpose is to give a window of expression to the street culture. It’s a way to show to the population that street people can have an interesting culture, something to say, something to express,” says Savory.
Another activity is the Street Olympics, which features contests that test participants’ street sense. In Carry Your Drunk Friend, one contestant pretends to be passed out and a teammate has to carry them and their backpack full of cans of food a certain distance. Other games have a more didactic purpose, such as the safe sex games.
“It’s like: you partied too much, you met somebody, now you want to have sex but you’re too fucked up. So we just close their eyes, make them spin around, and get them to put a condom on dildo.”
Last year, after 12 years in the same location, UQAM decided not to allow the festival to take place on its property. The stink that was raised following the decision helped raise festival’s the profile.
“Since their decision to kick us out, which was really unjustified, we called a few newspapers and did a bit of a campagne de salisage so maybe they don’t want that this year. It’s a little battle that we won. Since they said no we want this space even more,” Savory says.
Besides securing the space, the other challenge is to keep the police away. The GIAP has an arrangement with the Commandant of Station 21, who agree to stay out of the area during the festival, though Savory admits they can be seen hovering around the periphery of the park. “They don’t have the guts to go in because it would probably end up in a riot.”
You don’t have to be on the street to attend. “Part of our goal is cohabitation, so everyone’s invited. We want to show that it’s possible that street people, residents and tourists can cohabit in a good way: they don’t have to push one another away.”
The festival runs all day July 26 and 27. For the full program, see pairs-aidants.org/fer.
-- MATT JONES
Montreal Mirror 22 July 2010 (this is the unedited text)