CTRL ALT: FKJ Displays His Genre-Bending Abilities at MTELUS

CTRL ALT delves into the dynamic world of alternative music; from sultry R&B to soft rock, to the unique experimentalists, to those whose tracks you just can't put in a box, and to those who make major waves in waters once still. This column chronicles concert and album reviews, artist interviews, live jazz spots in the city, Montreal's DJ scene, music news, and more. Look out for the parallel radio show CTRL ALT, airing soon! 

An ethereal experience— that’s one way to put it. A psychedelic, jazzy, celestial peer into a highly musical stream of thought. That’s another way. No matter how it’s described, no words can really condense the enchanting performance put on last night by Paris-based, self-taught funk/soul instrumentalist French Kiwi Juice, or FKJ for short (real name Vincent Fenton, born March 26, 1990, in Tours, France). He’s currently embarking on his North American tour for his last album, V I N C E N T, that kicked off in San Francisco three weeks ago and is set to end in Mexico City in mid-November. 


He last performed in Montreal in 2019 at Osheaga, so the crowd welcomed him warmly. Everyone was fully immersed in the show and consumed by the music. Looking back at the photos I took, I only saw two or three cellphones in the crowd. Epitome of living in the moment and soaking in the present if I’ve ever seen it.

I had only heard about him being on tour and coming to Montreal a week or two ago, so I was so pumped that I would get the opportunity to see live. He’s been big for years, but he really grew in the mainstream a couple years ago thanks to internet virality; Tadow, the improvised song by Masego featuring FKJ has been used as a TikTok audio for nearly a million videos. His use of stunning locations has also garnered a massive YouTube presence, like this video of him performing at the world’s largest salt flat, or here at the Paris Modern Art Museum.

I’ve really become a sucker for producer-artists acts like FKJ in recent times. From birthing a melody, to playing all the instruments of a full band skillfully, to finetuning the sound engineering, I can’t get enough. Like KAYTRANADA, Montreal-native house producer, or Fred again, who put on a great show in Toronto a few weeks ago (Was I there physically? No. Did I live vicariously through my friends that attended via obnoxiously excessive Instagram Story documentation? Most definitely).

Cradling the audience’s ears with a sweet, rare and hypnotic gentility, OHMA, the new LA-based band formed by Mia Garcia & Hailey Niswanger, opened the show. They released their debut album, Between All Things, just over a month ago. Duly self-described as a “sonic forest”, they layered smooth saxophone riffs, melodious guitar strums, airy keys, and meditative vocals to simulate the waxing and waning of nature on earth.

Nothing could have prepared me for the enchantment I was in for. OHMA had just started their set when I entered the room. It was my first time attending a show at the MTELUS venue, and it looked just like the photos. A very lowkey, intimate space that still holds grandeur and charm. Right in the pit towards the front and righthand side, I was in an ideal spot as I had easy access to the balcony and exit, stood close to the speakers, and had an amazing view of the stage. I had never listened to OHMA prior to the show, but they gained a fan within moments as I was pulled in by their entrancing sound. Their music put me in a state of mind, a state of being, that I had no desire to step out of. Each instrument had its own distinct voice, yet they all meshed so effortlessly to build mesmerizing harmonies and invoke such serene feelings.

After a short break following OHMA’s performance, FKJ emerged from a wooden door, appearing like he was entering a room within his home. The stage was designed to recreate it, inviting the audience into the very space that the album was conceived and recorded in during the pandemic, holed up in a Filipino jungle house. The LED screens resembling three panel windows provided a view of the lush, sweeping palm trees and broad sky, a midcentury modern bookshelf was filled with vinyl records, and he had a turntable (with which he played a record at one point), among other elements of his place. The design undoubtedly points to his appreciation and nostalgia for '70s-esque styles that can also be heard in his music with his Ableton-inspired looping.

Everything from the synthesizer to the saxophone is within the scope of this musical mastermind of many talents. Watching him waft around the stage, shifting seamlessly from the piano to the sax, to vocals, to an array of guitars, to shakers, to turntables, was something out of a dream. Every single song embodies elements of genres, making his work impossible to confine to labels. He explored swanky funk, soulful jazz-infused sounds, dance-pop tunes, and even soft, guitar-driven psych rock. Beat by beat, note by note, he displayed the elements of his craft so remarkably alongside his drummer and bassist, and string section that joined in the second half. I particularly loved the way he laid the layers of the beats and notes in front of us with gradual loops added live, including the audience in his composing process. I also really enjoyed the enhanced naturalistic elements, like sprinkles of faint bird chirps and calm outdoor sounds; they’re only one example of how he embeds his love for nature in his music. 

The setlist was mostly made up of songs on his latest album. Others include his popular track, Risk (a longtime favourite of mine), made in collaboration with Dreamville rapper Bas, and Vibin’ Out, one of the many songs he has with his wife and fellow experimental musician ((( O ))). The two violinists and the cellist that graced the stage alongside him were one of my favourite components of the show. Their rendition of “100 Roses” from FKJ’s 2019 EP, Ylang Ylang overwhelmed me with emotions, and I *may* have shed a tear or two. My hat is off to French Kiwi Juice after experiencing him live in concert. Be sure to look out for his future shows, because he truly puts on an unforgettable show that you don’t want to miss.