La Fête de Marquette isn't just an ode to France. The east-side festival celebrates the concept of diaspora each year, highlighting how French culture has mingled with indigenous music to create fascinating hybrids.
This year the fest, which runs July 7-10, takes the cross-pollination theme even further, with a concurrent electronic-music festival. Dubbed La Musique Electronique, it explores how Montreal's DJs remix sounds from around the world. The Fête de Marquette grounds at South Dickinson Street and East Washington Avenue are the site of the electronic festival's evening events, and late-night dances take place at the Inferno (Thursday, July 7) and the High Noon Saloon (Friday and Saturday, July 8 and 9).
According to music director Bob Queen, the idea for La Musique Electronique emerged from discussions among Madison music scenesters. "Ankur Malhotra from [the website] Madison Music Review is really passionate about electronic music and suggested adding some electronic performers to the festival," says Queen. "We're thinking of it as a bridge between the indoor scene of the clubs and the outdoor shows the festival's known for."
La Fête proper kicks off on a traditional note on Thursday with the dance-friendly funk grooves of New Orleans' Papa Grows Funk. Bombino, a Nigerian guitarist steeped in the traditions of Ali Farka Touré and John Lee Hooker, follows in the main tent.
The electronica fest shifts into high gear Friday night as turntablist extraordinaire Kid Koala plays both the main Fête and the High Noon party. Known for his contributions to albums by Gorillaz, Peeping Tom and cult-classic lounge hip-hop project Lovage, Koala is notorious for spiking his shows with unexpected treats such as puppet shows and mid-set bingo games. On Saturday, Montreal hip-hop DJ Poirier teams with Chicago dancehall reggae singer MC Zulu at the Fête and the High Noon.
Queen seems most excited about the Friday-night Fête performance by De Temps Antan, a Quebecois trio that use their feet as percussion instruments as they strum guitars, bow fiddles and squeeze accordions. "They're probably the finest of the Quebecois bands out there," says Queen. "The music is compelling, and the guys themselves are charming."
A Sunday jam session featuring Anders Osborne and Glen David Andrews runs a close second for the title of most-anticipated set. "Anders Osborne was just voted New Orleans' finest guitarist by OffBeat," says Queen, "and Glen David Andrews is this 6-foot-4 trombone player who people say is like a really, really tall version of Prince. He's actually Trombone Shorty's cousin, but I think he's going to give Trombone Shorty a run for his money, whether he's playing or singing or dancing."
Fête de Marquette visitors can cut a rug in La Tente de Danse. There they'll be learning Quebecois contra dances, letting loose with Cajun boogies or unleashing the Robot during Thursday night's five-hour set by four local DJs.
Inspired by the number of dancers at last year's Vishten show, Queen wanted to make sure the dance tent didn't turn into a sardine can. "Last year we had a caller, and hundreds of people squeezed into a big tent," he recalls. "Vishten played for about 45 seconds, and then the lights and electricity went out. Everybody was laughing and scrambling around. It was like a beehive."
As fun as that was, the organizers decided to control the crowds by charging an $8 admission fee for this year's dance events. "We figure that for two and a half hours of dancing with a lesson, a caller, a live band and a nice dance floor, people won't mind making a small donation," Queen says.