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culture

Wavelength Skips Its Awkward Phase

The Wavelength Festival may be a teenager, but this past weekend, it showed no signs of angst.

Cadence Weapon goes wild on stage at The Great Hall.

Cadence Weapon goes wild on stage at The Great Hall.

Wavelength Festival
Various venues
February 13—17

This past weekend’s edition of the Wavelength Festival was the 13th, making the annual music showcase a teenager. Like any teenager, it has started to explore new interests.

Whether fairly or not, Wavelength has always been viewed as an indie–centric event. While that’s not necessarily accurate—non-rock acts like Fucked Up, Crystal Castles, and Holy Fuck have all graced the Wavelength stage at one point or another—this year’s festival featured more sonic diversity than ever. There was hip-hop, a strong handful of synth-based bands, several fast-and-dirty punk bands, and even a solo violin performance.

The weekend also saw a diversity of programming. In addition to the four nighttime club shows—Thursday at Parts and Labour, Friday and Saturday at the Great Hall, and Sunday at the Garrison—there were three in-store performances at record shops around the city. These in-stores were accompanied by talks from music journalists, which brought a new, oddly educational vibe to the festival. (Sunday’s in-store at Grasshopper Records, featuring The Soupcans and author Sam Sutherland, was particularly great.)

Goth punks Ell V Gore were the highlight of Thursday night’s show. In a sub-genre filled with Misfits wannabes, this band has a hard, dark sound all its own—big and full, with guitars loud enough to rattle your chest and vocals menacing enough to make you want to hide in a corner. Ell V Gore’s full-length debut will be dropping later this year, and we can’t wait to hear it.

One of the most impressive things about this year’s Wavelength was how much dancing went on. Given Toronto’s history of sedate, indifferent crowds and indie rockers’ reputation for being uncomfortable in their own bodies, there was a surprising amount of moving around.

The most notable outbreak of rhythmic movement came during Friday night’s performance by Montreal’s Blue Hawaii. A two-person electropop side project by Braids‘ Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Blue Hawaii is part of the same Arbutus Records scene that gave us Grimes. The band’s fun, high-energy set combined Standell-Preston’s haunting vocals and almost-hypnotic looping with big-beat production that verged on being out-and-out house music.

The second greatest display of dancing was the mini-mosh pit that broke out during Do Make Say Think’s set on Saturday. DMST’s hometown fans were so excited to see their heroes back in action that they began banging into each other out of sheer bliss. It was oddly heartwarming.

Cadence Weapon also did a great job of moving the crowd. The Edmonton-born, Montreal-based MC—who may be Canada’s most thoroughly under-appreciated rapper, which is saying something—spends as much time operating in indie-rock circles as he does parlaying with other rappers, which means neither side really understands how good he is. During Friday night’s show at the Great Hall, he dropped bars so sharp you could cut glass with them, while simultaneously bringing a manic, punk rock–like energy to the stage.

Violinist Sarah Neufeld, best known for her work with Arcade Fire, may have been the weekend’s surprise hit. It was hard to see how a solo violinist would blend in with Saturday’s indie rock–heavy line-up. Thankfully, she didn’t blend in at all. Her mixture of sounds ranged from soft and atmospheric to the violin equivalent of shredding. The audience may have been a little chatty at the beginning of her set, but everyone was absolutely spellbound by the end.

If you haven’t seen indie-rock supergroup Henri Fabergé and the Adorables, you’re missing out. The band doesn’t play much, since its members are usually busy playing in The Meligrove Band, Rural Alberta Advantage, Woodhands, Born Ruffians and several other outfits, but when they manage to get together, it’s a weird, high-energy treat. The band’s set on Sunday night was no exception. The Adorables brought an element of costumed chaos and a fun, almost poppy sound to the Garrison. They packed the stage with dancers and back-up singers, ran into the crowd, removed clothing and generally had a blast, all while playing complex arrangements involving trumpets and clarinets.

Not everything at Wavelength was great, however. We’re not exactly sure what was going on with SlowPitch and Colin Fisher on Thursday night, but the combination of fuzzed-out turntablism and free-jazz squawking didn’t do much for us. It could be that we’re just not sophisticated enough to “get it,” or it could be that the whole idea was a little half-baked.

The other obvious weak spot was the between-band chatter by MC Doc Pickles. By no means are we going to tell Wavelength co-founder Pickles that he can’t introduce bands at his own show, but he’s in serious need of an editor. His between-set patter occasionally verged on babbling and often went on too long. He regularly joked that his job was to “set the bar low” for the bands. He succeeded.

A few missteps aside, this year’s Wavelength proved that the organization isn’t moving into an awkward adolescence, but rather a new, more interesting maturity.

CORRECTION: February 19, 3:45PM This post originally misspelled the name of the band “Do Make Say Think.”

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