When you first meet someone, there is, on some level, a mutual feeling of unspoken awkwardness. You don’t know whether to go in for a handshake, a hug, or just to wave at the first point of contact; there’s that awful moment when they tell you their name and you immediately forget.
Then you meet that one person who, for some reason, you just click with. You don’t dig in to find commonalities to keep the conversation going — you kind of just talk. Before you know it, you’re best friends.
The Wavelength festival is set up much like an introduction to such a friend. A younger friend, considering they are only about 15 years old, but one that somehow reminds you of yourself — a little naive, but somehow more put together than you; the kind of person you simultaneously resent and admire.
Despite this, I had never acquainted myself with this mysterious concert series until this year.
The festival didn’t officially start until February 13, but a fifteenth birthday celebration was in order. With Red Bull Sound Select, my three dollars got me a chance to see a band I missed during NXNE — Speedy Ortiz. Playing new songs and old favourites, Speedy Ortiz is the band you want to become — popular enough, but free enough to do whatever they choose. Relaxed and engaged with the crowd, they put on a solid show. Their openers, HSY and Wish, were cleverly chosen to complement two sides of the main act — HSY had a harsher instrumental sound, and Wish had shoe gaze vibes. This pre-party was a promising beginning to the weekend.
The Wavelength festival has a knack for picking appropriate venues. Sneaky Dee’s was great for the first night because it was more intimate. Artists performed covers of past artists who had performed at Wavelength. Bands included Hervana, who performed songs by the Constantines; More or Les covering Toronto hip-hop artists; Lockbox and Laura Barrett covering Owen Pallett; Delta Will covering Caribou; and Most People covering hometown favourites Broken Social Scene.
I tend to shy away from cover bands, but this was a clever introduction to new groups without my feeling intimidated by being totally clueless about their songs. The headliner, Art Bergmann, put on a good, albeit long, set, filled with jabs at the Conservative party that I enjoyed a little more than I should have.
Saturday night took place at the Polish Combatant’s Hall. The oddly lit but charming wedding hall just south of the U of T campus was surprisingly fitting for the night’s performances. Last Ex, a band with members from Timber Timbre, presented eerie instrumentals fit for a Canadian X-Files spin-off. Del Bel impressed with their raspy lead vocalist and soulful tunes perfect for Valentine’s Day. The Acorn came on complimenting the audience with remarks like “we’re going to get you all pregnant” and “this is for all the sexy people.” Afterwards, it was time for the exuberant Lowell. Lowell is a true performer. Many technical problems occurred with her set, but her energy and conviction really did overcome those issues.
There were some bumps along the way with every show I attended, from a broken bass to cut electricity. But this wasn’t a negative, because every single artist who was affected —Speedy Ortiz, Controller Controller, Lowell — all bounced back with their own character. From Lowell grabbing a speakerphone and rapping, to Most People coming to the aid of Controller Controller by lending them a bass, performances were heightened by the curiosity of “how are they going to run with this?” Thankfully, the volunteers were quick to accommodate and the problem was solved within minutes. It really showed that, although Murphy’s Law is binding, the musicians and volunteers were committed to putting on a good show.
It further highlighted why Wavelength is so important to the Toronto music scene. Wavelength is a collective of people who clearly enjoy music and introducing people to underground music. With larger festivals increasingly coming to Toronto, from WayHome to the expansion of homegrown festivals like Field Trip, it’s festivals like Wavelength that remind us of the Toronto scene’s roots.