Philippe Langlois and his friends drove nearly three hours from Quebec City to Montreal for two nights of back-to-back rap concerts -- performed in a strange new idiom that only few can understand.
A new beat is emerging in Montreal clubs, a metropolis where most young people these days are bilingual: "franglais" rap, sung in French with words and expressions borrowed from English.
On a night in April when AFP hit the town with Langlois, three groups were slated to perform in a packed downtown venue: Rednext Level, Brown and the group Loud Lary Ajust, which wowed critics with its first album "Blue Volvo," back in 2014.
"The energy was powerful," Langlois said after the show, a kind of "punk rock put to rap beats."
Influenced by a half century of official bilingualism in Canada, a string of bands rapping in "franglais" have emerged in the last five years, with such names as the Dead Obies, Alaclair Ensemble and Koriass. Tickets for their gigs tend to sell out fast
Greg Beaudin of the Dead Obies says throwing two languages into the mix -- each with its own distinct phonetic range -- opens up real musical possibilities.
"It's exciting to rhyme an English word with a French word, it adds a whole new level of creativity," said Beaudin, better known by the nom de scene Snail Kid.
It gives musicians a lot to play with -- and there are "no rules," he says.
A new sound
The result is an intriguing musical hybrid -- with lyrics that flow back and forth between both languages.
Take the Dead Obies song "Where They @": "Vas-y claim Montreal but we still runnin' that / Ouh, meilleure chance la prochaine fois/ Sittin' on top pitch des roches su'e mouettes."
That translates roughly as: "Go on, say you're from Montreal, we're still in charge/ Better luck next time/ Sat up top throwing stones at the seagulls."
Pretty impenetrable to the outsider -- but the genre has struck a chord with what demographers call Canada's first truly bilingual generation.
For centuries, Canada's English and French speakers sparred for political, economic and cultural dominance until the 1960s when a compromise was reached: official bilingualism.
The proportion of Canadians fluent in both French and English climbed from 12 per cent in 1961 to 17.5 per cent in 2011, acccording to census data.
In Quebec, the rate is the highest in the country with 43 per cent of residents claiming to be proficient in both languages. This is most noticeable in Montreal, a city of nearly four million people.
"People who live in urban areas will naturally develop a mix of both languages," says Ogden Ridjanovic, a member of the rap group Alaclair Ensemble.
Simon Cliche, a member of Loud Lary Ajust, says the style also owes a lot to US musical influences.
"We grew up listening to English music, and American rappers," he said.
He admits it has proven difficult to export Quebec's relatively unique brand of rap.
"We're limited to a niche group of people who speak very good English and French," Cliche said.
Touring outside of Canada requires "a lot of work and determination," said Steve Jolin, who manages Koriass, one of the few Quebec rappers whose albums have sold well at home and abroad.
"Foreign markets have proven hard to crack," agreed Beaudin.
But there is hope yet. The Dead Obies played seven shows in France in 2014 and were "well received," says their producer, Emilie Davaine.