Wavelength 2014: Thursday

By Emily Scherzinger, Photos by Matt Lacrette

Wavelength 14 is the fourteenth instalment of an annual music festival featuring artists in venues across Toronto, running from February 13 until February 16.

Wavelength kicked off the festival and its fourteenth birthday at the Silver Dollar Room with a promising line-up of performers, including Alden Penner (of ex-Unicorn royalty), Zoo Owl (slowly becoming a Toronto legend with his intricate performances), and TOPS (famously signed to Arbutus Records, sharing the label with the likes of Braids and Blue Hawaii).

You'll Never Get To Heaven (2)

You’ll Never Get To Heaven

The night began with a set from You’ll Never Get to Heaven, featuring a consistently stiff and awkward performance by the singer, Alice Hansen, and a creatively stunning show by Chuck Blazevic, who flexed his artistic muscles on a sequencer throughout the set. Despite Hansen’s self-consciousness, the duo played some beautiful music, calling upon hauntingly nostalgic melodies to interweave with Hansen’s light, delicate vocals. Pounding tribal beats played in the background of most of their songs although they were sometimes featured in the foreground, evoking images out of an apocalyptic detective movie.

For a change of pace, Alden Penner stepped on stage, laughingly launching into “a song about lamb” before demonstrating his impressive ability to sweep across musical genres. His blues-influenced guitar solos were perfectly placed in each song, flipping from either distortion to surf rock to compliment his melodic voice, which seemed to be put through a melodic radio filter. However, the one thing that made this band truly stand out was the violin melodies in each song – although the band would have been good without the violin, it added to the performance like the missing spice in a recipe.

Alden Penner

Alden Penner

The performer I was anticipating the most was Zoo Owl, who quickly set up his apparatuses and then launched into an incredible set, through which the floor literally vibrated from the dancing. Zoo Owl created an atmosphere with his music, minimal lighting scheme, and performance that was like stepping into a disorienting, foggy jungle. Perhaps the most interesting part of the performance was Zoo Owl’s short monologue in the middle of the set, describing his notorious glowing goggles as “waking vision.” Zoo Owl uses his glasses as a reverse spotlight, preferring to perform in the dark so his goggles can illuminate his surroundings, resulting in a both a spectacular visual show as well as a kind of philosophical performance art – by turning the spotlight on the audience, the audience must question who the performer truly is, because the guy on the stage doesn’t seem to think it’s him.

Zoo Owl

Zoo Owl

After Zoo Owl’s wild performance, there was an unexpected drop in energy level throughout the venue. This may be in part to the slow, repetitive songs played by TOPS from the beginning to the end of their set. While the band’s tight control of tempo should be appreciated, TOPS could benefit from less simplistic melodies and formulaic songs, as well as stronger vocals and some more upbeat songs to excite the crowd. There was a short-lived moment of enthusiasm among the listeners at the first demonstration of the guitarist’s skills during a brief solo, but then TOPS exited the stage, leaving the audience to half-heartedly clap and wait for the next performer.

Phedre

Phèdre

Phèdre completely changed the atmosphere of the venue, hopping on stage with energy paralleling Zoo Owl’s wall-crawling performance. As soon as they began, they let loose a stream of multilayered electronic sounds mixed with angry and earnest hip hop, launching from song to song with unbridled energy. The male singer, Daniel Lee, slowed down each song, crooning into his microphone like a sample from a 50s song while the female singer, April Aliermo, rapped at the audience. I especially enjoyed the coordinated all-white tracksuits and Aliermo’s bike streamers attached to her microphone, making her look like some sort of wonderfully demented and possessed cheerleader as she jumped around on stage.

Admittedly, U of T got the better of me (again) and I had to leave halfway through Phèdre’s set to finish some schoolwork, but I have no doubt that I will seek out their music again, as well as some of the other performers that took me all over the musical map, clearly making Wavelength’s first night a successful one.

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