As I’ve mentioned in passing over my last few posts here, I attended Wavelength’s annual February festival, featuring four nights of music in four different venues. It was a pretty great few nights, even if my living outside Toronto forced me to bail a little early on three of the four nights to make sure I could catch the subway.
The first night was at The Shop, a venue located under Parts & Labour in Parkdale. It was so far underground that I had zero phone reception, which made it very difficult to live tweet, but it was in general the loudest night of the four. It started off a little calmly, though, with SlowPitch, who improvised jams with a turntable and actually took the time to explain what each gadget on his table was. Later he was joined by Colin Fisher on saxophone to add an extra layer of cool. I wish I could remember This Mess a little more than I do, but I recall their set being super high-energy and with about one or two-minute song lengths.
The next act was Fresh Snow, Wavelength’s latest Art Incubator project. The room went really black as they played some strong instrumental jams. The middle of the stage even had a TV with psychedelic images going as they played. They had a pretty short set, but they definitely caused some grooving. Then there was Ell V Gore, a Krautrock-inspired band (I just recently kind of learned what exactly constitutes Krautrock so I feel a little more confident labelling a band as such). They were probably the highlight of the first night, even though their set was a little bit difficult to watch thanks to the rapidly blinking lights. The lead singer got super close to the mic while singing, in fact so close that by the last song, the microphone was straight in his mouth. I missed Lullabye Arkestra, but they were apparently awesome and loud.
Night two had me at the Black Box Theatre, which is below the Great Hall near Queen and Ossington. Better reception allowed me to tweet there, and there was plenty to tweet about. “Spazz-punk” band Thighs opened up the night by performing not on stage, but in the audience. The lead singer moved around a lot, making it pretty difficult for the photographers (in fact I ended up in one photo of Thighs because the singer was standing in front of me). They were really loud and definitely got the audience rocking. Blonde Elvis was up next, which features Jesse James Laderoute from Young Mother. The music of Blonde Elvis was much smoother than Young Mother, which isn’t to say that YM’s music is bad by any means, just different. I got lots of different genre vibes from them as they played, and I enjoyed Laderoute’s sarcasm. Favourite line: “Can we get more photographers to the front of the stage, please? This is a festival after all.”
Blue Hawaii took the stage next, featuring Raphaelle Standell-Preston of Braids. It took a minute or two for the duo to get going, but once they did the audience (myself included) was utterly entranced. They kept the energy up with gaps between songs minimized, and Standell-Preston’s killer voice drove home the electronic grooves even more (I should mention that every time I listen to Braids’ “Glass Deers” I get chills). Rapper Cadence Weapon went on at midnight and delivered a pretty energetic set, though the DJ behind him made things a little awkward sometimes. Cadence, despite being a pretty big name now, was still very humble, saying that he had played a Wavelength show when only eight people showed up. He even jumped into the audience a few times and had the audience singing some words back to him. I had work the next morning, so I unfortunately had to miss Doldrums. It was doubly unfortunate because the only time I’ve ever seen Doldrums live was about two years ago and I was not very enthused. I want my opinion of him to change, I really do.
Then came Saturday, the only night I saw in its entirety. It started off with Bernice, a fairly large band who brought some really warm vocals harmonies and wonderful beats. One moment that stuck out in my mind was when they ended off a song by stepping away from the microphones and simultaneously rubbed their hands together. Then came the most pleasant surprise of the whole festival, Doom Squad. From what I understand they’re a sibling trio, and played some dark electronic music that incorporated at times guitar, flute, and even recorder. They are the only musical act that can make a recorder as awesome as it was that night. I was sad to find out they don’t yet have a full album to their name, but I have been listening to one of their singles, “Ovoo,” over and over again.
I’ve seen Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre once before, and her set that night reminded me of how breathtaking she is. She’s a solo violinist, but her songs clearly have a narrative arc, and her opener “Hero Brother” probably had the entire audience at least paying attention (even if I could hear all kinds of chatter, which really pissed me off). Later, unexpectedly, she brought out none other than Colin Stetson, as well as Geordie Gordon of The Magic. They made for a great end to her set. Evening Hymns paradoxically brought quietness and loudness at the same time. with their folk-centric music. Frontman Jonas Bonnetta was pretty hilarious in between songs, talking about living in the north for a while and how grateful he was to a woman for giving up a wicked parking spot.
Finishing off the night was Do Make Say Think, the post-rock instrumental band that’s been around since the mid-90s. While the genre of music is not always something I can take in huge doses, it was great to see how into it the audience was, breaking out perhaps the only mosh pit that happened during the festival. I was particularly thrilled, though, by their encore, which I believe was their song “Do.”
Night four I think would have been my favourite night had I been able to stay for its entirety. I missed Dusted completely (though I have seen them twice) and most of Cookie Duster. But the four bands I could see were definitely worth it. It started with a ridiculously short set by Cell Memory & Castle If, who produced some catchy, long songs. I couldn’t hear the vocalist but I imagine it would have added a bit more to the mix. The drummer in particular drummed with furious intensity, and I loved the way he exited off the stage, by rising up from his drum kit, giving the drums an angry glare and throwing his drumsticks at them. The set was so short that I could hear MC Doc Pickles say “That’s it?” Legato Vipers, of whom I was particularly excited to finally hear, played some great instrumental surf-rock. Oh yeah, and they were also accompanied by the Harlettes, a burlesque troupe. Definitely some added visuals there. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Henri Fabergé and the Adorables were I think a clear audience favourite, and I wish the set had been at least twice as long. The band quickly doubled in size after a song, bringing in some major talent like Laura Barrett and Maylee Todd. The theatrics of the set were great, and Fabergé’s extremely ironic yet catchy songs made for fantastic listening. During the last song he actually ran all through the audience at pulled a clearly-surprised girl on stage with him. The Magic followed, playing some great electronic music and clearly getting the audience dancing. The lead singer had a cape and twirled around a lot, adding some interesting visual flair.
Wavelength festivals always leave me wishing they could go on forever. I felt the same after ALL CAPS! last August, and I know I’ll feel it again for every future event. Wavelength always manages to curate some extremely varied shows, and I always end up falling in love with most of the acts. And despite what Torontoist said, Doc Pickles is an amazing emcee. During night two he basically managed to make a beat poem out of the fact that a bunch of technical crew members had to bring a huge ladder through the audience, and he just always brought a lot of charm.
I feel kind of honoured to know a few of the Wavelength crew myself, and I’ll be collaborating with them shortly for Grayowl Point’s next Crosswires co-presentation.