Mile Ex End Montréal: Feist, La Force, Laveaux head under the overpass

Now in its third year, the festival takes place from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 in a striking industrial environment — and Friday's lineup packs particular punch.

Playing the Mile Ex End Montréal festival is a homecoming of sorts for Ariel Engle, a.k.a. La Force. "I wouldn’t say I’m Canadian or a Quebecer. I’m a Montrealer, a Mile Ender," says the Broken Social Scene member, near the industrial site of next weekend's fest. Graham Hughes / Montreal Gazette

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Call it the Feist connection. The Mile Ex End Montréal festival expands its musical offerings this year, adding a third day, which is in fact a first day — Friday, Aug. 30 — as a tee-up to the Saturday-Sunday slots established over the burgeoning event’s first two editions.

Mile Ex End takes place under the Rosemont/Van Horne overpass separating Mile End from Little Italy and Rosemont. It’s a striking industrial environment, perfect for a weekend of indie music.

And while Saturday’s 10-name lineup is anchored by acts including Daniel Lanois, grunge throwback J Mascis, Ottawa DJ trio A Tribe Called Red, Quebec legends Les Cowboys Fringants and Indigenous singer-songwriter Elisapie; and Sunday’s nine-strong roster has funk duo Chromeo, electro crooner Geoffroy and rap crew Alaclair Ensemble; Friday’s short but sweet lineup packs particular punch.

Anchored by Toronto singer-songwriter star Feist at 9:30 p.m., who is preceded by two of her friends — fellow card-carrying Broken Social Scene member Ariel Engle, a.k.a. La Force, at 8:30, and Paris-based Haitian-Canadian chanteuse Mélissa Laveaux at 7:30 — it’s a femmes-first affair that promises to be a top-tier musical experience.

“We could have a whole article about how much I love (Feist),” Engle said this week. “The women of Broken Social Scene are incredible musicians, artists and human beings. They’re magical.”

Fittingly, Engle is now one of them. And as recent performances at her childhood pal Martha Wainwright’s Ursa Micro festival and the Montreal International Jazz Festival proved, she’s rather magical herself.

Engle has been taking the stage with the heroic Toronto indie-rock crew for nearly a decade. She met her future husband, BSS member Andrew Whiteman, at Osheaga in 2008 through Stars singer (and BSS extended family member) Amy Millan.

Fast-forward 11 years and Engle has nothing but praise for the band’s role in giving her the push she needed to embrace her identity as a professional musician, following a lifetime of coming at it sideways.

“I worked out a lot of s–t on those stages with Broken Social Scene,” she said. “Their style of performance, their ethos, is that of connection to the audience above all. They’re not interested in perfection; they’re interested in working together to create a moment. That was liberating.”

Engle also played with Whiteman in the duo AroarA, which led indirectly to her coming out as a solo artist. Her 2018 self-titled debut as La Force was supposed to be a new AroarA album, but then Engle began to feel proprietary.

“I was being possibly a bit tyrannical,” she acknowledged. “He’s still an integral part of the record. I lean on him a lot for lyrics and fine-tuning.”

She also leaned on Plants and Animals member Warren Spicer and Patrick Watson bassist Mishka Stein for the album. But the vision, the sound and the stunning, stirring voice are all hers.

“I had to write about my experience,” Engle said. “Woven into it are questions of female identity.”

The birth of her daughter and fatal illness of her father made it “a life and death record,” yet not a heavy one — rather, it’s a viscerally soulful, inherently funky, coolly assured statement of groove.

“I like rhythms that make me want to move my body,” Engle said. “If a beat is too square, it doesn’t feel like it needs my involvement.”

In the midst of moving back into her childhood apartment in Mile End, Engle sees playing the Mile Ex End Montréal festival as a homecoming of sorts.

“It’s my hometown,” she said. “Not just that, it’s a neighbourhood show. I went to school around the corner; my daughter is at daycare around the corner. La Force (the album) was written on these streets. I come from this. I wouldn’t say I’m Canadian or a Quebecer. I’m a Montrealer, a Mile Ender. It’s where I’m from.”

“If you’re Haitian in Canada, you have family in Montreal,” says Mélissa Laveaux. Bonsound

Mélissa Laveaux was also born in Montreal, but it’s a stretch, she said, to call her a Montrealer.

“I spent two years there, then my parents moved to Toronto, then eventually to Ottawa. But I spent my summers (in Montreal) as a kid. If you’re Haitian in Canada, you have family in Montreal.”

Laveaux is also a friend of Feist, and will perform alongside her as part of a Lhasa de Sela tribute at the third Sounds From a Safe Harbour festival in Cork, Ireland, in mid-September. (La Force, it turns out, also performs at the festival.)

“I opened for her a long time ago, and since then she has always been really good to me,” Laveaux said of Feist.

Like Engle, Laveaux had been looming on the music scene for some time leading up to the release of her third album, last year’s mesmerizing Radyo Siwèl.

Not catching a break in Canada, she travelled to Paris in 2008 and never looked back. The French label No Format! re-released her 2006 debut Camphor & Copper and the 2013 followup Dying Is a Wild Night, along with her latest (which was picked up for Canada by Montreal label Bonsound).

“I think I’m still not used to being Parisian,” said the singer-songwriter, who has now lived in the City of Lights for one-third of her life.

Radyo Siwèl adds another piece to the puzzle of Laveaux’s fluid identity, connecting her to her parents’ homeland through a series of vibrantly reimagined covers of folk songs from Haiti’s past, by fabled names including Auguste de Pradines, Frantz Casséus and Laveaux’s personal favourite, Martha Jean-Claude.

“I made the selection based on the particular history of Haiti and resistance,” she said. “I chose songs that were very Haitian in the way they expressed distress, pride and humour. To avoid getting arrested, people had to sing in very fanciful ways.”

Of particular interest to her was music written during and after the American occupation of Haiti, from 1915 to 1934.

Laveaux has played guitar since the age of 12 but only began singing later. She studied biology and philosophy in university before fully embracing her passion for music.

Sung mostly in Creole, which Laveaux never learned as a child, Radyo Siwèl finds her smoky voice soaring over traditional Haitian rhythms, electric guitar and a playful mélange of contemporary styles.

The result is a distinct sound that is like little else around. Which suits Laveaux fine.

“I guess I always feel like a stranger, wherever I go,” she said. “The word for foreigner in French is ‘stranger.’ I’m always going to be strange, having an internal dialogue with a place far away.”


Mélissa Laveaux (7:30 p.m.), La Force (8:30 p.m.) and Feist (9:30 p.m.) perform Friday, Aug. 30 as part of the Mile Ex End Montréal festival. The festival’s musical program continues Saturday, Aug. 31 and Sunday, Sept. 1; a comedy program is offered on Monday, Sept. 2. For more information, visit