On February 13th at the Silver Dollar began the 14th year of Wavelength Festival, Toronto’s 4-day celebration of emerging musical talent. The bands of the evening (You’ll Never Get to Heaven, Alden Penner, Zoo Owl, TOPS, and Phedre) were rather raw, rough, unrefined, but the skill set underlying the outer layer of their respective sounds shone like a diamond in coal.
To kick off the festival, YNGTH took the tiny stage at the Silver Dollar, a rather small (and oddly configured) venue, with karaoke-esque music and breathy vocals. The use of electronics (which you’ll see was a running theme of the festival this year, that and performance) was excellent, although they seemed more “noise” than electronica.
Following close on their heels was Alden Penner, who despite a preachy being a bit preachy managed to create a really smooth, catchy sound, in the staccato guitar of the opening song. And it’s safe to say that we love electric guitar. As for music, Alden himself has a wide vocal range, capable of belting out melodies and switching back to softer tones. Imagne The Shins, and you’ll find yourself in the same realm of music as Alden Penner.
Zoo Owl was the third act, and overall crowd favourite of the evening. Brian Sutherland evokes images of aliens in dark forests, moonlight bouncing off lake water, the warm glow of a campfire. But in this case you’re sitting in the woods alone, messing with some creepy sounding electronic stuff. The incredible graphics were turned off for the entire set, and the room filled with smoke and white light (think the final scene of ET with the UFO). Brian emerged from somewhere underneath his electronic table with a beam of red light emitting from his mouth on every dubstep-inspired downbeat. Suddenly, we were in the dark, undulating underbelly of the rave crowd, and the people responded like a swarm. A few taps on the vibe pad, and a few blinding lasers made the audience move like barely restrained chaos. Brian is very non-commercial in his performance, he does his own thing and he does it beautifully.
To go in the completely opposite direction of Zoo Owl was TOPS, and synthy, pop-y, quietly mellow band in comparison. The mood seemed to teleport from the night forest to the pool side, with the beach laid back and warm at your back. The band’s collective style (grunge) seemed to conflict with their sound, which is interesting merely in its frustration.
Finally, the band Phedre closed down the night with a rather showy act of performance art in favour of music. The on stage dancer seemed to be doing all the dancing for the crowd, and the vocals were often chaotic and hollow, but the electronics were excellent, and made up for a messy vocal performance. The term frat party came to mind, and the dancer was very distracting, probably taking something away from an otherwise good performance. The male lead vocalist was rather talented vocally, and maybe it was the almost spoken word vocals of the lead female singer that three off the sound.
Emily Fox | @foxyfoxe