Thursday, August 15, 2013

Currente calamo: The ALL CAPS! Island Festival 2013 (Sunday)

The ALL CAPS! Island Festival 2013 — Artscape Gibraltar Point

Day 2 — feat. Watershed Hour / Pachamama / EONS / Elfin Saddle / Magneta Lane / Beliefs / catl / Rich Aucoin)

While it's all fresh in my mind, a few notes from this year's ALL CAPS! Festival. Longer, more comprehensive reviews will follow down the road a piece.

Scale matters. There was a hugely different vibe at something like this than at a giant mersh festival where you're penned in all day. Room to move, an understanding that you can wander away and come back. Glints of recognition — even when it's just a quick nod to a familiar face who's not a friend yet. Heck, on Sunday, when we strolled up at the start of the second day, the security guard at the gate recognized a friend of mine and commented that she looked less stressed out than the previous day. Somehow, ALL CAPS even managed to curate compassionate security guards.

The second afternoon of the fest again started with the day's youngest band. Watershed Hour had a few years on the previous day's Unfinished Business, and they'd clearly put the time to good use, learning now only how to master their instruments, but also how to mess with that as well — as evidenced by the bucket that Laura Klinduch has appended to her drum kit. She was joined by Natalie Paproski-Rubianes on bass, and the pair proceeded with some thick and ferocious rock jams.

With hints of DFA1979 (but with more of a slop-prog edge), there was all sorts of fun here, from the balaclava-clad bell-ringing assistant to the fingertapping basslines to the cowbell mini-breakdowns. Paproski-Rubianes handled the bulk of the vox (including one song that referenced Doctor Who) though Klinduch did some fine sing-shouting on one song ("I'M SORRY SIR / I JUST COULD NOT BE BOTHERED") in a mock-British accent that brushed up against sounding like an angry Spinal Tap. Coming in with no expectations here, I enjoyed this a lot, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one making "more like Watershred Hour, amirite?" jokes by set's end. Could they be the most exciting thing to come out of Whitby since, Oh, I dunno, Cleavers?

Listen to a song from this set here.

After that, a most pleasant change of scenery as the festival moved down to the beach for a couple sets. The beach stage was a small platform that looked like it could have been a reclaimed raft that Pachamama might have arrived on, nestled underneath a giant beachfront tree. This liberation-music percussion duo is a joint effort between Alexandra Mackenzie and Brandon Valdivia, who both have a lot of ongoing artistic projects (the former as a visual artist and the latter as a busy member of the city's improvised music community). But it might be easiest to get a grip on their approach here by viewing the partnership through the lens of their respective solo music projects, with Pachamama absorbing elements of Petra Glynt's handcrafted electronic loop-pop and Mas Aya's Latin American percussion bricolage. Together, it makes the project a fusion of organic drum-pounding essentialism with technologically-created sonics, all in the service of body-moving social uplift.

For this set, the pair were joined not only by a dancer who ranged freely around the beach, but also by Eric Woolston and Lido Pimienta who rounded out the sound with even more percussion and another layer of vocals. That added something new to the songs, but I think nature's stage was the most powerful collaborator here. I've been seeing this band a fair bit lately, as they're pretty electrifying when they're on their game. But having a chance to stand at the edge of the lake, waves lapping at my feet while they sang about, say, the true value of water and how it's cheapened by commodification, felt pretty amazing.

Listen to a song from this set here.

It was also amusing to see the festival-goers mixing with the passers-by who were simply working their way along the Island's beaches. Some looked suspicious, a few stopped to listen, and as EONS began their set, one guy in a canoe even held his spot a little ways off shore to listen a while. In contrast to the funky clatter of the previous set, Matt Cully brought some introspective songs from his brand-new Arctic Radio album, accompanied only by his guitar and co-vocalist Misha Bower. Doc Pickles, the day's MC, was not wrong when he introduced the set as "Lake Ontario, featuring EONS", as the sound of the waves completed the folk-y excursions, filling in the vast yearning spaces in the songs. A gorgeous time.

Listen to a song from this set here.

The extra quiet time at the main stage had been put to good use, for by the time the crowd straggled back up from the beach, it was rather filled with all manner of unusual equipment. Foremost among them would be a tape loop stretching out about six feet from a reel-to-reel player as well as a long tube that looked somewhere between a didgeridoo and one of Jean-François Laporte's compressed air instruments. These were just some of the tools that Elfin Saddle would employ in their set.

The quartet led off with a drone-y sort of folk song faturing Jordan McKenzie's slowly unfolding, flattened keening vocals. This was a very "Wavelength" sort of moment, a taste of something avant and not easily digestible that many in the audience might otherwise pass by, but here sitting back on the lawn and absorbing it. The band's contrasting textures were provided by Emi Honda, whose Japanese vocals had a different sort of distancing effect. But then, as if to remind the crowd that even if they tend to work in a more experimental sonic space they were still from Montréal and on Constellation records, all at once the drones broke into a rising post-rock swell. I'd seen the band a couple years back and was left feeling fairly neutral towards them, but between the green grass and the greyish sky this was much more to my liking.

Listen to a song from this set here.

If that was an example of Wavelength nudging the audience a bit towards something that might be at the edge of people's comfort zones, then following it up with a set from Magneta Lane may well have felt like a soothing balm afterward. And if there was something prototypically Wavelengthesque about the Montréalers' weirdness, this might have felt a bit correspondingly out of place and somewhat too-straight up. Now celebrating a decade as a band, Magneta Lane are somewhat cursed by that longevity, never quite getting popular enough to "break out", but never being weird or obscure enough to gain defenders among the indie-rock cognoscenti. They are also cursed, in that same regard, for having a career based more on consistency rather than on the sort of "growth" or "reinventions" that make for convenient narratives.

And yet, Magneta Lane are a Wavelength band as well, and they were palpably happy to be playing the show, talking about how important the series was to their early formation. I have no doubt that the blasts from their Marshall stacks were too straight-ahead for some in the crowd, just as Elfin Saddle's droney weirdness was not straight-ahead enough for others — and such is the Wavelength continuum. The trio proceeded to blast away with some crunchy riffs, mixing some older tunes with material from their recent Witchrock EP. I hadn't really paid attention to the band in a while — their-straight up rockitude generally places them in different circles than I usually travel in — and even if this didn't make me think I'd rush to got out of my way to see them again, this was a pleasing enough re-introduction.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Beliefs also offer guitar-rock with plenty of volume, but their penchant for leavening their sound with squishy noise and distortion puts them closer to my heart. Hearing the shoegaze-y quintet out in the open was an inneresting sonic experience, as I've always thought of the bombarding echoes reverberating off the walls as a key element of their sound. But here, having the soundwaves expanding to the sky brought a pleasingly expansive clarity to their sound. It helps that the band is in fine form right now, getting heady for a European tour (and to record their sophomore album on their return).

Listen to a song from this set here.

With the daylight beginning to falter, there were a few scattered drops from the clouds overhead, but the weekend's perfect weather held. I'd timed my beer buzz to correspond with catl's return to ALL CAPS, and their punk/blues dance-noise did a good job of warding off the chills as evening turned to night. There's been a couple rounds of changes for the band since they played in the backyard to close out the festival in 2010. Down to a duo, the band features now-unseated guitarist Jamie Fleming alongside Sarah Kirkpatrick, who has shifted from keybs to stand-up drum kit. When I first saw the duo incarnation of the band in a back patio gig one of my first reactions was that they'd need more volume to really get over — and this set would prove that hunch correct.

Playing as a two-piece also has the advantage of pushing the band back to the scuzzy rawness that they're best at, and several new songs showed that off to good effect. Holdovers in the setlist ("Caroline", "Hey Hey", "Gold Tooth Shine") were served with pulsating abandon as well, and the set ended with a supercharged version of "Working Man's Soul".

Listen to a song from this set here.

As catl played, there was a flurry of activity off to the side of the stage, with a circle of volunteers loading the confetti cannons and unpacking the rainbow-coloured parachute. Even a a few minutes of extra setup time dealing with a recalcitrant projector couldn't dampen the sense of enthusiasm. After giving thanks to the crowd, WL organizer and festival founder Ryan McLaren had a question: "How does ALL CAPS! end?"

"With an exclamation mark!" In finding the right way to close out the last night of Wavelength's last island festival, the organizers reached out to the night's other returnee, as Rich Aucoin is basically the human embodiment of that exclamation mark. Aucoin's greatest talent is to make affirmations seem joyful to make even the most jaded want to carpe the hell out of the diem. The manipulated viral videos and disco-y dance rock are just the tools with which he's accomplishing that, but they certainly help in his uplift party plan.

After sharing a few new youtube finds, Aucoin established his familiar pattern of teaching the audience the chant-along chorus before launching into each song, and then launching himself out into the crowd to lead the sing-alongs. There's not much more to say about it — the in-the-moment-ness that he inspires needs to be experienced rather than dissected. I'll only passingly note that besides upgrading to a full live band somewhere along the way, Aucoin has also upsized his parachute to a huge thing that, once efficiently unfurled with spontaneous co-operation, was sufficiently large to encompass the field full of people, an embodiment of the shared experience that somehow manifests itself. The fact that a large portion of the crowd didn't even notice the fireworks being launched from the beach says something about how engrossing this is.

Listen to a song from this set here.

And thus ends ALL CAPS! Any sense of sadness at that fact was forestalled by the satisfaction of a perfectly-executed weekend. As next summer starts to wind down, I may well get to missing the festival, though I have a hankering that Wavelength is going to have some reasonably-diverting new experiences ready to go by then.

Addendum: I have more photos from the weekend posted in an album over at the MFS Facebook page.

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