At the risk of making a terrible pun, there is a long-standing series of music events in Toronto that has always been on, well, a different wavelength. Wavelength is Toronto’s longest-running underground concert and festival series, and while it has undergone several permutations and frequency changes over the years, its passion for the innovative, the breakthrough, and the gloriously strange has never altered. What began in 2000 as a weekly curated performance series with a penchant for unearthing extraordinary talent (it featured early performances by Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Fucked Up, and Crystal Castles) has become an annual music festival, a monthly concert series, regular workshops and educational events, and a new Artist Incubator series of events.
This year marks the 14th annual Wavelength Festival, which will take place from February 13 to 16 at various venues throughout the city. It calls itself a “live curated mixtape” of the best Canadian music, and while Wavelength can’t be said to have a theme, per se, it definitely focuses a keen curatorial eye on the selection and juxtaposition of eclectic artists. This year’s festival, for example, features several artists who have unusual and creative relationships with their instruments. Singer-songwriter and guitar player Marnie Stern, for example, has dazzling technical skills and a lovely, unusual tapping style of guitar playing. Also performing is Colin Stetson, known for the otherworldly and sonorous aural soundscapes—part whalesong, part shifting tectonic plates—he creates with his saxophones.
Marnie Stern, whose set will mark her first time performing at a Wavelength event, states that she feels more comfortable trying new things at Wavelength because of the festival’s support of the unusual and experimental. She also says that this quality of the Wavelength events helps make the performances it programs even better: “Any festival that is slanted towards experimentation makes an experimental artist feel more comfortable and free to expand their live show with improv, or other songs that they may not usually try.”
While Wavelength has expanded far beyond its original mandate to support new and undiscovered talent, bringing in bigger names and throwing ever larger festivals, the organization still seeks to maintain a balance between emerging and established artists. Dean Tzenos of local noise rock and “industrial punkgaze” group Odonis Odonis feels that this growth is only a good thing. “I think it’s really great that they are at the point where they can bring in bigger acts. Everyone benefits, especially all the up-and-coming Toronto bands that’ll get more exposure than they’ve experienced before. Total win-win.”
A full list of the artists, venues, and set times for Wavelength 14 Music Festival is available here.