While our city is known for its cultural diversity, there are few venues in Montreal where you’ll find punks, goths, students and everything in between mixing quite as easily as they do at Foufounes Electriques. With its bizarre, tiki torch-lined exterior, it’s hard not to stare as you pass by this enormous multi-leveled landmark on Sainte-Catherine. An art space, turned bar, turned venue, Foufounes Electriques (affectionately known as Foufs) has been a welcoming institution for all types since it first opened its doors in 1983. Today, Foufs continues to host a myriad of events for Montreal’s music/arts scene and is undoubtedly one of Canada’s most prolific alternative venues.
In the 1980’s, Canadian art production went through a period of growth that saw more and more emerging artists across the country “working in a broad diversity of media ─ video and photo-based work, installations, site interventions and public-site intervention, and performance work.” A flurry of new, independent art spaces opened up, providing more opportunities for unconventional shows and exhibitions, and Foufounes was founded on this growth.
Opened by three friends who wanted to showcase alternative art, it quickly became a haven for Montreal’s pluralistic art scene, presenting electronic video festivals, DIY fashion, music, and its especially popular “peinture en direct” evenings. Every week, artists were invited to come and create live paintings on any surface they saw fit, whether it be canvases, walls, or bodies. Its eccentric owners chose the venue’s name from one of their most popular performance pieces, wherein they’d paint themselves with bright colours and stick their butts out of emptied-out television screens (“les foufounes électriques” translates to “the electric asses”).
One of the founders, François Gourd, was very active in Montreal’s underground art scene during the venue’s early years. His quirky character had a heavy influence on Fouf’s aesthetic (both the name and the peinture en direct events are credited as his ideas), while his political life contributed to the space’s unconventional air. Gourd joined the Rhinoceros Party of Canada, a satirical party that emphasizes the lack of credible federal parties for Canadians to vote for, and the entartistes, “whose members throw cream pies at political and cultural figures whom the group deems to be in need of public embarrassment.” Politicians that have previously been pied include Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, provincial premiers Jean Charest and Ralph Klein, as well as Stéphane Dion (who, apparently, didn’t see the humour ─ he pressed charges). Eventually, Gourd went on to found the Rhinoceros Party’s successor, the “Neorhino Party,” a.k.a. the “Second Rhinoceros Party,” and still serves as its leader today.
By the late eighties, the building was undergoing a renovation that would both expand its show room and update its sound equipment, enabling Foufounes Electriques to rise as Montreal’s hub for alternative music. In the early nineties, the venue played host to a number of prolific acts: Superchunk, Nirvana, the Melvins, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, the Misfits, the Tragically Hip and Queens of the Stone Age all graced its stage. With the help of popular DJ/show promoter Sylvain Houde and show producer Dan Webster, Foufounes Électriques joined the ranks of Canada’s leading venues and became known as “Canada’s CBGB“ (America’s most notorious punk/new wave-oriented club). According to an archived venue bio, there was even “a certain month of May where Foufs had 31 shows in 31 days”.
However, even the greatest of parties can’t last forever, and Fouf’s fell into some hard times economically. The cost of their renovations and expansion coupled with low revenue from shows threw them into over $600,000 in debt. In January 1993, they were forced to close their doors, but luckily, it was a mere few weeks before a local businessman caught wind of their closure and bailed them out. Their doors reopened only six months later.
From its massive, industrial space to the “egypto sci-fi art” and graffiti that covers its walls, the history of Foufounes Electriques remains visible in the character of its structure. Though they still book shows fairly often, the venue has recently become popular for its own weekly events dedicated to specific genres that routinely fill up their dance floor. Nevertheless, Fouf’s continues to be one of Montreal’s greatest alternative spaces where─whether you’re a skinhead who loves a good mosh pit or just a university student looking for some cheap beer─you’re sure to have a good time.