Montreal’s Bernardino Femminielli has been pushing Italo disco on records and low-key sleaze live for close to a decade, but those who’ve witnessed one of his more recent shows will understand why the performer, playing a “double banger” at Osheaga next week (a live show and DJ set ), was voted #3 Freakiest Musical Act in this year’s Best of MTL readers poll.
His show at Casa del Popolo at the M for Montreal festival in 2016 was described by Cult MTL reporter Erik Leijon as “a completely bonkers Rocky Horror-esque pansexual mise en scène where bandmates made out with mouthfuls of miniature American flags to a steady soundtrack of Italo-disco.” This version of Femminielli’s act was only performed a handful of times, in Montreal and Quebec City, after taking root at a defunct but beloved Mile Ex restaurant and party venue
“I started bringing that level of performance when I was doing a sort Internet TV show at Bethlehem XXX,” says Femminielli. “That was an interesting show to just explore and experiment with acting mixed with music mixed with interviews mixed with involving people in the audience, if there was an audience.
“I took that to Europe and all the shows were kind of a happening. The intention was to incorporate music and performance, like total art. Not every show was the same, sometimes it was a total failure, sometimes it was an amazing time that’s the whole experience that I wanted to shape or refine over the last year.
“At the time people were asking me to just form a band, but my project is more about myself and the intensity, the drama,” adds Femminielli, commenting on the performers at that M for Montreal show. “I use the musicians more as actors — I prefer them to perform than actually play their instrument — I like the artificial side of it.”
As for what makes his act “freaky,” it’s much more than the antics of hired performers. Femminielli is usually a one-man show, especially on tour, where logistics and finances dictate that he fly solo. The character, or “the singer inside me,” as he puts it, is “this loner entertainer in this club just flipping out telling the story about his lover, about his old life as a male stripper, and his failure. It’s a person who’s talking about his failures, but in the most sincere way, not hiding anything, revealing more than taboos, revealing more than what people want to see.
“I did a full month of shows in the States, where I was doing a staged cabaret show with that same intensity and melodrama. The response was good. People didn’t expect a guy who was revealing so many personal things and making them feel more like a voyeur. People were like, ‘Oh fuck, why am I watching this? Why am I liking this shit? This is creepy! I am not okay with that!’ The evolution of the show also makes people want to keep watching.”
Femminielli fans will want to keep listening as he’s currently concocting the sequel to last year’s LP Plaisirs Américains. He’s working with the same team (producer Dominic Vanchesteing, Essaie Pas’s Pierre Guerineau and Asaël Robitaille) and striving for a similar vibe, but more raw, more theatrical and a little less pristine.
” I feel like Plaisirs Américains is amazing but it’s maybe too perfect,” he says. “That’s why I think it’s funny with shows to reveal the other side of it, the maladroit side of my character.” ■
Bernardino Femminielli performs at Osheaga (Scène de l’ile) on Sunday, Aug. 6, 1 p.m., day tickets $120/$235 Gold pass