Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Currente calamo: Wavelength FOURTEEN Festival (Night 1)

FOURTEEN: The Wavelength 14th Anniversary Festival

While it's all fresh in my mind, a few notes from this year's WL Fest. Longer, more comprehensive reviews will follow down the road a piece in some far, theoretical future.

Wavelength's annual February festival was a window to the change and continuity from the evolving institution, whose adolescent years are seeing it shift from volunteer collective to professional non-profit organization. The months following last summer's final ALL CAPS! festival saw some long-time organizers stepping back from the group while co-founder Jonny Dovercourt (thanks to a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation) remains to steer the ship in a full-time capacity.

The extra resources mean that the festival was a smooth-running affair, though at a few points I missed the rough-around-the edges scrappy spirit of the series' DIY days. (Where have you gone, Doc Pickles? Wavelength nation turns its lonely eyes to you, ooh-woo-woo.) But this was still an essential weekend of presenting some of the city's best emerging talent to a larger audience.

Night 1 — Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Silver Dollar Room — feat. Phèdre / TOPS / Zoo Owl / Alden Penner / You'll Never Get To Heaven

The Venue & the vibe: The festival's last couple years got started in the bomb shelter/rec room basement of The Shop under Parts and Labour, and a similar "beloved dive" feeling was achieved by taking the show to the Silver Dollar. Wavelength had its first show in local legend Dan Burke's realm earlier this year, and this has proved to be a good combo. The night was presented by the Silent Shout blog, and while their dark disco vibes were on display for some of the night's acts, there was some counterprogramming in true Wavelength fashion.

The show:

London, Ontario duo You'll Never Get To Heaven have certainly played Silent Shout before, and their languid electro-dreampop was more a soothing transition into the festival than an in-your-face call to arms. The pair also elevate what could be mere sonic wallpaper into something more like a dreamscape, and the background visuals by General Chaos complemented that very well. As Alice Hansen sang, Chuck Blazevic added a performative element, with his visual sequencer tilted toward the audience who could witness him controlling the shifting sounds with his fingers dancing over a grid of glowing buttons, conjuring a mysterious sort of semaphore. (Bonus DIY touch: I was pleased to note that the low-tech solution to give the audience that view was to set the thing on the side of a three-ring binder.)

Listen to a song from this set here.

Montréal's Alden Penner also presented a fairly low-key stage presence, playing tunes from his just-released Exegesis album. With just violin and drums backing his guitar and vocals, the set started off on the quiet side, but the audience was surprisingly attentive. Perhaps it helps that Penner is fondly regarded in some quarters for his past work in Unicorns and Clues. (One song from the latter's catalogue even popped up in the set.) The quality of the new material helped as well, tuneful and yearning without being too obvious or pedantic.

Listen to a song from this set here.

When I last saw Bryan Sutherland's Zoo Owl project, I was as struck by his visual presentation as his tunes. That element has been refined even further with the beams of his "photoreceptor lenses" and lasers cutting through the thick smoke machine fog. There are some good tunes in his warped electronic one-man-band as well, but it's as a live spectacle that this really excels. Also: lasers!

Listen to a track from this set here.

Montréal's TOPS (affiliated with Arbutus Records) couldn't compete with that in terms of spectacle or intensity, but still held the crowd with their soft-edged variety of mellow rock music. There's a new album on the way to follow up 2012's Tender Opposites, and the band seemed eager to road-test some of the material.

Listen to a song from this set here.

I'd had a really bad stretch of missing shows by Hooded Fang side project Phèdre, so I was glad to finally have a chance to see how the live show has evolved. Although it began as a self-consciously ostentatious glitz-fest, this is now a more stripped-down affair, with vocalists April Aliermo and Dan Lee backed by Beta Frontiers (acting as beat provider) as well as a dancer and electro-percussionist. Their thrift-store approach to R&B synthpop borrows a bit from Hooded Fang's shambolic rollercoaster ride, but is here wrapped in a mellow haze. Which is to say that if the songs occasionally lurch along on the verge of falling apart, that remains a feature rather a bug in providing the entertainment.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Bonus! Check out some more photos from the festival over at the MFS Facebook page.

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