Wavelength 2016: Friday

Story & Photos by Stuart Oakes


Wavelength 16 is the sixteenth instalment of an annual music festival featuring artists in venues across Toronto, running from February 12  until February 14

 It was a cold night. The kind of cold night where you pull your hands out of your pockets in order to eat a slice of pizza while waiting for the streetcar and then have trouble returning them to your pockets because you have lost all feeling from the wrist up (it did not help that I was waiting for my third streetcar because, despite having been in Toronto for three years, I still do not know how to travel directly West on Dundas Street; but that is a different story). So it was with pleasure that I entered the heated space that is The Garrison; the night was already a success simply because I was not going to have to go outside again. I was arriving, a little late – I had become confused by the DJ spinning tunes in the Garrison’s bar room and had sat there alone for ten minutes wondering where everyone else was – for the first night of Wavelength 16. This year, the festival features a boatload of gold: Foxes In Fiction, She Devils, Prince Innocence, Clairmont The Second, Duchess Says, and everyone I was about to see (none of the names just mentioned performed on the first night). Beyond the big names, however, I was just generally amped; Wavelength has excellent curation and I always walk out of the festival having a name or five noted on my phone as a reminder to check out their single/EP/album. In this case it was literally five. Despite the fact that I knew exactly nothing about any of the groups playing, they were all really good: a combination of veteran presence and exciting up-and-comers. You would be well served to check out these names now because you will be hearing about them in the (near) future; don’t sleep on ’em!

ORGAN MOOD (Montreal/ Psychedelic immersive audio-visual duo)

The first group up was Organ Mood, an audio-visual duo who had a really interesting set up focused on audience participation. The visual portion used two middle-school-type projectors – by overlapping different design sheets on each projector 1).jpgand then pointing the projectors at the same place they were able to create some rather psychedelic (for lack of a better word – it mostly resembled fingerprints and/or trees) imagery that they could then manipulate by dimming one projector or moving the sheets around – in order to create the proper atmosphere.

The audio side of things shifted through several styles, including a techo-noir Gesaffelstein-beat tied to (and softened by) a wall of early, soaring M83, and another work that reminded me of “Lion In A Coma” except with a bigger (more ’emotional’) synth melody. Audience participation played a key role, as mentioned earlier – for one song we were given shakers; for another someone was voluntold to solo on what appeared to be a homemade electronic-cello-stick (I do not have any other way of describing it). Altogether, it was fun, and it forced me to put away my phone, which was probably a plus.

On their Bandcamp, the duo says that they hope to “transform the concept of live shows by reformatting the role of the public”. It is certainly a worthy goal: I remember seeing Rich Aucoin several years ago and being floored by how much fun the concert was. So although the entire (Organ Mood) performance felt a little busy (something I am sure they are still tinkering with), I enjoyed myself and I got into it. A solid start to the evening!

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BLUNT CHUNKS (Toronto/Electro-freak-folk tenderness)

The second performance was by  Toronto-based singer/songwriter Caitlin Woelfle-O’Brien aka Blunt Chunks. Her music unspools itself; armed with a borrowed guitar, a piece of gear or two, and her lovely voice (more on that later), she appeared unafraid of both silence (unique among many up-and-coming musicians) and lacking a strict time signature (in this case also a positive). It gave her set the feeling of timelessness (or perhaps an unconcern with time): there was no sense of rush, or of being dictated or influenced by anything beyond herself. It was a quality that reminded me of Salami Rose Joe Louis or even perhaps The Weather Station, and one that i very much admire.

What held it all together was her singing. Blunt Chunks’ voice has both a surprising clarity – imagine you put on an old record and, instead of the expected, faded crackle, heard something that sounded much newer and in focus – and the ability to make runs and melodies sound easy. It is, i have been told, the sign of someone who has spent many hours mastering their craft. That being said, she was not afraid to explore her range, put a little more power into her vocals (something she also pulled admirably well), or crack and tremble as her lyrics necessitated. She also looped her vocals on several songs, including the beautiful outro to “Waist Of The Sea”. In a similar vein, she transformed her penultimate song into a drifting sonic landscape by changing and layering the same vocal loops at different pitches until it sounded at first like she was singing against a troop of demons and angels, and then an ocean. Although it suffered from, perhaps, the focus necessary to justify its length, it was certainly in keeping with her style.

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Finally, Blunt Chunks finished off the set with a cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s “Baby”. Her rendition was much slower than Ariel’s, and as such a return to her first couple of (un-electronic) songs. It felt naive and fresh, but also experienced and tough (something the song itself very much conveys); an excellent summation of Blunt Chunk’s performance itself. I am very excited to see how her recorded music compares.

KEITA JUMA (Toronto/Spacey psychedelic hip-hop emcee)

The third act – and my personal favourite – was Mississauga rapper [Kayeetah Jumahh]. Although it took him a couple of tracks to really hit his stride, I definitely felt some star power, which is huge! Keita seems to be working with a couple of really interesting inspirations. First, and perhaps foremost, was his love of electronic music. He rapped over “Gosh” by Jamie XX; he dropped a breakbeat; he slipped back and forth between rapper and hypeman in order to just let the beats play out, seemingly genuinely excited to share the music he loved with us. It was a vibe that reminded me a lot of Vince Staples, although not nearly as (sonically) cold as the vast majority of Vince’s output (more like this Vince).

There were also a couple of songs that also showed a conscious grime influence, a look that makes a lot of sense for Keita (based on it’s close relationship to forward-thinking electronic music). Although I would not go so far as to say he mimicked an accent, the rapper was certainly playing with the way many grime emcee’s carefully and precisely enunciate each word (a characteristic that separates them from most American rappers).

Finally, (and I’m sorry!) Drake; not so much in the music or Keita’s rapping style but rather in that winking, knowingly-goofy demeanour. Keita is a showman and he knew how to play the audience: when to tell us to come closer, when to get our arms up, and when to pull out that Aubrey-ish crouched-low chicken dance (the one where he crouches and sticks an elbow out). The rapper came across as really likable; you wanted him to succeed.

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Do not get me wrong though, dude could rap. Running (for the most part) without backing tracks, he spit some fire. I  cannot place who his voice reminded me of (like a lower-pitched Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces? Maybe?), but he definitely came off like a veteran performer, displaying a strong command and rapping through some double-timed bars easy-peasy. Throttled by a overly-loud mix early on, Kieta absolutely crushed the last three songs (described by someone in the know as “the hits”) after the audio had been figured out, showing off the confidence and control that separates the up-and-comers from the rest of the crowd. It was so good (I am already jamming to “Come Over“. [Also: I spent the entire performance dancing next to Clairmont The Second, another very exciting up-and-comer  performing at Wavelength on Sunday – go see him!].

CALVIN LOVE (Toronto/Soul-pop sensation/Arts & Crafts)

The first thing you notice about Calvin Love is how cool he is. It is almost aggressive. Just look at this article’s cover photo – his hair, his jacket: it screams attitude. One of the first things I can recall from the moment’s immediately following my arriving at The Garrison is brushing past the singer and doing a double-take. So to say that I was intrigued how he would come off on stage would be an understatement.

Surprise! He seemed really nice and soft spoken – based on one brief interaction with a tech member and a very soft “thank you” – but also dutifully (without the negative connotation) professional, like a lounge singer who has long since resigned themselves to soundtracking, without pause or acknowledgment, the sleazy people and broken glass that pays their rent. 20160212_232341.jpg

I feel alright making these sorts of comments because the band’s aesthetic was clearly very considered: the guitarist and bassist (introduced as “Joe and Kyle”) wore matching neutral costumes (matching as in the exact same clothes) and stood carefully off to the side, I assume to contrast and highlight the white dinner jacket, Eraserhead hair, and lonely disco/tropical Margaritaville-crooner that was Calvin Love.

Crooner is doing him a disservice, however: Calvin’s voice was much rougher and reminiscent, at least occasionally, of a Hamilton Leithhauser who had been transported to an alternate 1980s where chunky 60s garage rock and whatever synth TOPS uses during the first 35 seconds of “Rings of Saturn” are combined to form a new dominantly dance-y pop music. The band pulled it off with aplomb, though; they were tiiight (and this was not simple stuff – I heard time signature changes and traded-off guitar solos and everyone finishing together just like *snap* that). Better yet, my fears that their material might be overly similar (set off by a couple songs in the middle of the set that seemed a little indistinguishable, although, to be fair, I was starting to get tired) were put to bed by a killer last four tracks that really set the place on fire (and culminating in a final song that sounded like the melody to “Lean On” strapped onto the rhythm track from “Month of May” – or something like that, as at this point I do not really remember which Arcade Fire track it was; all I know was that it was both unexpected and it absolutely wrecked me). Calvin deserved a mosh pit and while he did not quite get it (the audience was pretty rigid), I hope he felt appreciated (at least because I was very down with his stuff). Anyway, I hope he becomes a star; he seems primed for it.

FOXTROTT (Montreal/Electro-pop sophistication/One Little Indian)

Lastly, we hit the big guns. Foxtrott sounded like the main draw of Wavelength 16, Night 1 (people got me so amped about them that I bought a t-shirt, and I had absolutely no idea who they were), and they lived up to that billing. A trio – a drummer, a vocalist, and a French Horn player (!) – they were unbelievably in-sync, to the point that it sounded like a recording. Spread out across the stage, they covered a lot of sonic territory as well, moving from The Knife-style synthpop (if you can call it that) into more minimal electronic territory and even some world beat.

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Despite the fact that this was one of their first concerts since the release of their debut album A Taller Us in November (according to singer Marie-Helene Delorme’s stage banter), they showed no signs of rust. The drummer, who put on an unbelievable display, did not overwhelm with power or character but rather sheer timing and precision, like a post-punk or krautrocker armed with both a kit and an sample pad. The horn playing was also very commendable: despite some flubbed notes (which is probably expected of professional classical brass players – it is a hard instrument, I have been told), the player ran through some eyebrow-raising-ly diffictul passages without trouble and contributed a variety of noises (including some that seemed to result from some kind of electronic 20160213_003620synth-mute) and a steady rhythmic presence (Foxtrott seems to be all about that beat). I would not have expected the French Horn to fit so beautifully into this style of music, but that is clearly a lack of vision on my part and a testament to effort they have put into this.

Finally, we reach Marie-Helene, who seems to be the driving force behind the project. She had smooth, controlled vocals that, while not overwhelmingly powerful or emotional (at least live), displayed a veteran confidence and real, singular skill. A similar description captures her presence on stage: not overwhelmingly show-y or performative but very confident in her artistic vision. She looked like a force to be reckoned with (albeit, a force that you could dance too), and I am intrigued by her lyrics, most of which I could not make out during the performance (I am really bad at considering lyrics live – I like to dance).

So ended the first night of Wavelength 16. It grooved, it shook, it moved. And if it was any indication of what was to come then you should all be trampling down the doors/overwhelming websites in search of tickets. Up next, our coverage of Day (and Night) Two!

Smartphone Photography by Stuart Oakes
Band descriptions via Wavelength

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