Wavelength: Indie Rules the Toronto Music Scene

Wavelength is a community of Torontonians coming together to celebrate the local underground music scene. I sat with Jonny Dovercourt who’s been with the organization since its origin in 2000. He joined up with some friends to “start a collective with an energy and excitement around local music in Toronto.” They also wanted to celebrate Toronto’s history of underground culture, like the fact that “Toronto had one of the biggest punk scenes in the world in the 70s. Third largest after London and New York.”

Talking Heads performing at Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto in 1978.

Talking Heads onstage at Horseshoe Tavern in 1978.

Wavelength’s first curated concerts were a weekly series tied together with a monthly zine of comics, interviews and columns. They became a hub for artists to connect and share new work in the days before the internet took off. Wavelength has a history of filling the void for Toronto artists and concert goers. Their first festival event was ALL CAPS! in 2009, the brainchild of Ryan McLaren who wanted to “address the fact that a lot of the local music scene wasn’t accessible to people who were underage .” The series partnered with Artscape Gibraltar Point to curate an annual all ages festival. In 2015  ALL CAPS! evolved into Camp Wavelength, a three-night retreat in August on Toronto Island. 

Performer onstage at Camp Wavelength

Dirty Frigs at Camp Wavelength 2015

The ethos of the Wavelength, from its collective organizing body to its small intimate shows, taps into the collaborative nature of Toronto’s music scene. “Toronto has a really tight knit, mutually supportive scene. Bands actually talk to each other. People know what’s going on outside their little pockets of activity. That creates a really diverse interconnected scene that a lot of creativity can emerge from. And as a result there’s not one dominant sound which is actually really good.” – Jonny Dovercourt

Since 2014 the City of Toronto has been working on a plan to invest and support music, re-branding Toronto as a Music City. Before that, emphasis was on huge shows with mass appeal that bring in the most tourists and money for the city. But that misses the true flavour of Toronto. While a bigger budget would help ease financial pressures for Wavelength, there is strength in its multiple small shows. The small size means it doesn’t have to answer to an enormous corporate sponsor or multi-national label. The partnership with ArtScape continues strong allowing Wavelength to  maintain control of their programming. Upcoming collaborations include 21st Century in May. It’s an effort from The Royal Conservatory of Music to access Wavelength’s young crowd and break down the formal viewing experience of classical music. There’s a magic to the Wavelength community that other organizations are noticing.

Montreal band Organ Mood coordinates his set with projection

Montreal band Organ Mood at WL16

Wavelength shows have been called the place to see the big thing coming out of Toronto, but that’s not the reason for the festivals. Jonny knows that “every artist has their own trajectory [and] not everyone has to make it big.” If they do have a pattern of booking bands before they hit it big, it’s because of excellent curators and some element of “right time right place”. Grimes played in 2011 for $200 just a year before signing with UK label 4AD and playing SXSW. The Constantines played at a weekly series in 2001 and were “reviewed by five different music critics in Toronto saying this band is amazing…and they became really popular right after that.” There’s a reason these bands come to Wavelength and not any other festival for their breakout performances.

Wavelength is an organization run by artists for artists. It facilitates cross-pollination of genres and a unique listening experience. “Playing Wavelength is now viewed as a rite of passage for indie artists coming out of Toronto. It’s a really great kind of stepping stone between sort of the basement and going on to [be a] buzz band or [playing an] amphitheatre,” says Jonny. There’s a need for this intermediary performing space, which is abundantly clear from the sixteen years Wavelength has been around. It’s a sustainable model because it focuses on the artists, not the sponsors or the branding. They keep the community engaged between shows with their online presence on Facebook and their blog Wavelog.

For the next Wavelength experience, head to Array Space tomorrow evening for Don’t Speak. Wavelength has been using projections to create immersive concert experiences since the beginning of their weekly concert series. As more festivals jump on the bandwagon, Wavelength is once again doing something different by creating a quiet space. Audiences are instructed not to talk, but to write to communicate and let themselves be submerged into the sights and sounds of the series. For those looking for an all-consuming festival experience with guaranteed great music, Wavelength has you covered.

Photos by Danielle Burton & Emily Scherzinger.

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Bestival Toronto 2016 Announces Location & Lineup

After a successful run on Toronto Island in 2016 Bestival returns for its second year in Toronto, this time at Woodbine Park. Event though Bestival UK has operated for many years on the Isle of Wight, mainland seems much more attractive for Toronto audiences. Giving people the option to take TTC, come or go whenever they like and be close to city infrastructure makes a world of difference. Toronto wants to brand itself as a music city, and the East End seems like the place to do it.  

The Bestival Toronto 2016 lineup has The Cure, Tame Impala, Jamie xx and Grimes as main headliners. Taking the lead from these electro-synth bands, the festival sound will capture the epic haze of a Toronto summer. These artists come from around the globe curating symphonic musical experiences. Tame Impala presents itself as an ongoing experiment in sound and performance, with stage crew in white lab coats. Jamie xx released a new album in 2015 that showcases six years of expansive collaborations, including writing the ballet score for Tree of Codes for Manchester International Festival. With songs like “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” with a poppy melody and trap inspiration, it’s music that brings people together around a commitment to having fun. In the spirit of rave culture, there is something for everyone in this Festival lineup. Get your grunge ponytails and boho dresses ready. The 90s are back.

The Cure hasn’t released studio album since 2008 but they have powerful mass appeal as performance artists who take the audience on an intimate journey. Though Bestival won’t be an intimate setting, their cult status will set the tone for great festival and a special other-worldly experience, which is why most people are there in the first place. Their big name also helps make the weekend worth its $200 ticket (incl. fees) which is necessary considering the size of the operation. It’s powerful to bring so many people together over great music, but it also means the a festival that has to operate in a certain way because of its size.

Some fans complain that they want to see The Cure in a “proper venue”. Apparently the rest of the tour is spent in big concerts halls, not in a dirty festival environments. It’d be great if the Festival had a more upscale seated venue for bands whose fans might want to sit comfortably with a beer and snacks. At least the mainland setting allows people some reprise from the dusty crowded festival atmosphere. I hope we’ll be able to buy single-day or evening passes if we don’t want to commit to the full festival.

Bestival, with its flashy history and big price tag needs bands who can appeal across genre lines and have wide-reaching fans bases. Hopefully The Cure will bring a range of ages to the festival, making it accessible for a growing population of Toronto music fans. Later this week I’ll talk about Wavelength, a homegrown Toronto festival that prides itself on strengthening the indie community. 

NXNE moving to Portlands

North by Northeast (NXNE) is a five-day music, art and digital media festival in downtown Toronto. For the past 21 years it has functioned throughout the city at multiple venues. There were different schedules for comedy, music, art, interactive art and more. Audiences got a wristband and explored the city. This year NXNE is switching from multiple venues to a central hub in the Toronto Portlands.

Moving to a central venue aligns NXNE with immersive festivals like Bestival or Wayhome. Having a single venue gives audiences the power to move between stages and experience the festival in their own way. Artists have a chance to meet each other, hang out with fans and play for new crowds.

The beautiful thing is that you’ll still be in the city. Organizers purposely chose the mainland so people don’t have to worry about transportation or leave before the headliner has finished their set. It also means you can sleep in a real bed.

Unsound photo by Elena Gritzan

Unsound Toronto 2016 by Elena Gritzan

The Portlands is becoming more attractive place for large arts festivals. Luminato made a big splash last year hosting Unsound at the Hearn Generating Station by Cherry Beach. There were big-name DJs but “the real star here was the venue itself” said Elena Gritzan of NOW magazine. The festival gave new life to a forgotten landmark.

The Toronto Economic Development Committee issued a statement supporting NXNE’s move to the Portlands because “NXNE in the Portlands will spur tourism and create jobs” in a new area of the city.  

Are the Portlands the new Parkdale? You can see a pattern from Yorkville, Kensington and Parkdale. A forgotten area of the city attracts outcasts of society (hippies, immigrants, junkies) then slowly parties and artists start arriving for cheap spaces to work and play. Soon money starts flowing through the area until it becomes mixed with residential, commercial and entertainment spaces. It’s what Toronto needs – for future housing and for today’s art festivals that need an upgrade.

Villers St by AshtonPal

The road to the Portlands – Villers St by AshtonPal

The second change for the 22nd annual NXNE is a focus on hip hop. The January 27 issue of NOW Magazine exposed the racism in Toronto’s music scene. Black artists from Toronto aren’t getting enough performing or producing opportunities. And it’s not for lack of talent. Hip hop started as and will always stand for the revolutionary voice of racialized people. Engaging with the genre is actively promoting non-white musicians. As a festival goer, it’ll be really nice to hear something other than indie pop variations.

NXNE is going to be a great time. In my opinion festivals are better in one space because it brings the art physically together, not just tied by theme or time. There’s a chance for great artists to collaborate across disciplines.

Other NXNE developments this year include a video game category and changes to the free concerts at Yonge and Dundas square. It’ll all be available and affordable on the NXNE website very soon.

Banner photo by Elena Gritzan.

The 37th Rhubarb Festival

The 37th Rhubarb Festival is on at Buddies and Bad Times theatre for its second week. The annual festival features new works of art from Toronto theatre artists and musicians.

Buddies in Bad Times theatre has been a home for queer, feminist and alternative theatre makers in Toronto since 1979. They are committed to developing new works and giving a voice to under represented artists. “With our art, we simultaneously celebrate difference and question the mechanisms through which differences are constructed and maintained.”

Rhubarb is a ten day festival for new and  developing works. You pay $20 for a whole night of entertainment, including multiple short plays and late-night entertainment.

I went on opening night and saw three mini plays. The first, Dark Love from 54ology, was four women exploring how the power of love and love of power feed off each other- dangerously. It flipped the script when powerless characters came together and left the powerful alone onstage, reaching out after the others.

Buddies reigns supreme at turning traditional power, love and sex upside down- even the power of the fourth wall. In the second show, [elephant] collective reimagined a kitchen sink drama. Instead of their subtext going above the audience’s head, actors broke from their script to lift literal kitchen sinks above their heads and address the audience out of character. In a small theatre and an even smaller network of alternative theatre festival goers there were many familiar faces. Even before the opening night mixer we got a taste of the people this festival brings together.

Rhubarb allows artists young, old, new, seasoned and everything in between to share their unique voice. You can be sure that no expectations will be met – they will be exceeded, discombobulated, and possibly thrown back at you for reconsideration.

For this week, check out three awesome late-night programs.

On Thursday, the Kensington market cinema and performance lab Videofag is curating a performance of web comic and tumblr personality Wendy as she uses the internet to find and kill her ex-boyfriend, on the recommendation of her naturopath.

On Friday, join some of the brightest Toronto improvizers brought together by comedy powerhouse Bad Dog Theatre as they further explore the dark(ly hilarious) underbelly of realism.

For the closing weekend, see an homage to remember by Gavin Crawford (of This Hour Has 22 Minutes)as he walks the audience through the life and times of Buddies founder Sky Gilbert.

There’s plenty more to see, all guaranteed to start a conversation or shift in perspective. Check out the full schedule on the Buddies in Bad Time theatre website.

 

Band Spotlight: Father Christmas

Who better to navigate this winter wonderland than Father Christmas? Not jolly old St. Nick. I’m talking about Toronto indie band Father Christmas. The band’s desert-pop sound will have you channeling summer 1987. I chatted with front man Kyle Peters about the band’s next steps and their home in Toronto’s indie music scene.

Father Christmas Joshua Tree

You’ve been playing as Father Christmas for four years. How has it evolved?
KP: Father Christmas started out as a recording project in college where I’d often be recording / writing songs on my laptop in class just to remember them. That grew into a live band playing shows around Toronto. It’s evolved a lot over that time, going through various members, but I feel like we have a bunch of great musicians / people with our current line-up.

How do you find & give support from fellow bands in Toronto?
KP: 
I think the best way to lend support to other local bands is to go see them play live. Support their live shows and check out their music online. My drummer Ara and I were talking about this the other day; it’s one thing to just play a show with a band but it’s another to actually check them out before hand, listen to their music, then have a chat with them before / after the show. You may not play another show or see them again but it goes a long way to show interest and support their music.

Reviewers say your music sounds ‘nostalgic’. What does the word mean to you?
KP:
 Haha I kind of get where they’re coming from.  I’ve always been into looking to the past for inspiration. I grew up in a music-loving household where my parents were always playing cassettes and vinyl. I even released the first LP last year on cassette through my friend’s tape label. I try and play with musical ideas / instrumentation that people have heard before and can identify with. I think I’ll always have that nostalgic relationship with music based on my influences but I just try and write catchy-pop tunes that people can relate to.

What’s next for the band?
KP: Were playing a great show this Friday with our Halifax pals. Father Christmas is putting out another record later this year and going on an eastern Canadian tour in August. We’ll probably do another music video cause those are always fun to do.

Their videos are a fun blend of old and new.
KP: 
Our first video we put out featured puppets and my buddy Joe from TVO Kids so I could see where people get the [nostalgic] reference.

What’s your dream show to play?
KP: Not sure if I have a dream show. I’d like to play an outdoor festival this year like a Hillside. We’re planning a tour out east this year so it’ll be great to step outside the city to play to new crowds.

What’s your favourite festival as a performer? As an attendee?
KP: 
Father Christmas hasn’t played any festivals yet but my favourite festival to go to is a toss-up between Coachella and Lollapalooza. My lady and I have been for the past 3 years to Lolla in Chicago and its been a great experience every time. It’d be like throwing this big multi-stage concert in the middle of Trinity Bellwoods Park.

A multi-stage festival in Trinity Bellwoods, what a great idea…
Check out Father Christmas this Friday at The Silver Dollar.
Can’t make it this week? Follow the band on Facebook for more shows.

This Weekend in Toronto

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Take refuge from the tundra full of lovers and basketball fans with three great downtown Toronto art festivals.

Wavelength Music Festival
Wavelength is a Toronto born music collective. For 10 years Wavelength was a weekly Sunday night concert series in Little Italy. After a couple venue changes, Wavelength today is an online community, monthly concert series and two annual festivals.

This weekend features 20 bands playing in downtown Toronto from February 12 – 14. You’ll hear a range of melodic electro music – variations on shoegaze, soul pop, folktronic, prog rock and more. Get ready for vibes and good times. They even have a school bus from one venue to the next on Saturday! Get an all access pass for $39.

For those not in town this weekend you can still soak up vibes from Wavelength #ICYMI gallery at the Markham House City Building Lab. It’s a revival of Wavelength: Past, Present and Future featuring posters, artwork, show photos and more from the decades long history of supporting independent musicians in Toronto. On until February 21.

Toronto Black Film Festival
This festival started in 2013 after 8 successful years of the Montreal Black Film Festival. It is committed to creating “cool, international, independent, politically incorrect and eye-opening” programming.

Special events include marking 50 years since the Black Panther party began with screenings of Black Panther: Vanguard of the Revolution. On Saturday radio station G98.7 will live broadcast from Carlton Cinema about realities of the film industry. For more industry talk, check out the TBFF Black Market for panel discussions on filmmaking with Trey Anthon, creator of ‘da Kink in my hair, and award-winning filmmaker Clement Virgo.

This festival gives a voice to black filmmakers that, as we know, often get snubbed from establishment. So check out the schedule and celebrate entertainment that actually reflects our world!

TIFF Next Wave Film Festival
Next Wave is all about young filmmakers. There are free screenings of films from around the world showing what life is like as a teen and young twenty-something. There is even a Netflix-binge-worthy marathon of Angsty and Awkward films. Or Check out the full schedule of free films.

Next Wave encourages new talent, too. Last week they hosted a 24-Hour Film Challenge and there is a screening of the films on Saturday.

High school bands will compete for bragging rights at Battle of the Scores. They’ve had three weeks to compose a score for a short film and will compete live on stage Friday night. There’s plenty more to soak up at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this weekend.

Get out there! See some art!
You can tell your friends Toronto has more than basketball to offer the world.

Photos by Jamieson Williams

Black Power & Performance

Art festivals are a great chance to get behind the art and understand the artists’ process. At Kuumba, audiences learned the process behind the festival. I said before that Harbourfront does a great job of bringing international artists to Toronto. According to the panel of Black Like We this weekend, Harbourfront does a poor job of bringing Toronto’s own communities to the stage.

‘When I am out there I see a lot of beautiful dark-skinned women doing all the heavy lifting of organizing our community. I’m looking on stage and I see three straight dudes and a light-skinned girl.’

The last audience comment really dug in. Two panellists admitted they’d tried to give up their seats, but either the host wouldn’t budge or their contact couldn’t (or wouldn’t) appear at this event. It was a cool moment because the panel and audience talked it out , concluding that there needs to be a structural change to bring more black and African Canadian voices to the forefront of Toronto’s art scene. One panellist suggested it’s time for straight cis men to move to the back of the fight and let other faces come forward. As a white audience member, I hear this and know it applies to me too. It’s time that black women, trans people, queer communities and more become visible.

There was a long discussion about how using African American/Canadian is about establishing history beyond a Eurocentric worldview. But an audience member rejected using a qualifier in front of “American” or “Canadian”. Black establishes something else, too- participating in the 20th century Black Power movement or claiming certain rights & social status. I’m in neither category but I do advocate for individuals’ right to name themselves, choose their identity and be proud of it.

Major pride beamed during the RISE Edutainment showcase of young Toronto artists. Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere (RISE) is a leadership and community arts program in Scarborough that hosts weekly open mics on Mondays. They start sign up at 6:30 and regularly have around 100 people. So get there early. 

RISE’s showcase featured quick performances of theatre, dance and music. I just about fell in love watching Aaron Ridge strum his guitar and get hyped when his slap knocks echoed through the Brigante Room. Aaron’s Soundcloud features a blend of R&B, soul, folk and rap tunes. Go listen and prepare to be blown away.

RISE commits to “making positivity cool” and giving a voice to the voiceless through art. I think Harbourfront can learn something from their philosophies of edutainment and artivism to engage communities and give young black artists power and voice.

Kuumba was terrific fun this weekend. I still like the Harbourfront because it’s always bustling with a variety of Toronto’s population. I’m glad there are critical conversations happening and constant self-checks from audiences and organizers alike. My hope walking away is that the next generation of festival organizers and corporate sponsors actively work at changing the whitewashed structures of arts programming. There needs to be a diversity of funding, context, format and staffing – not just in the artists being showcased. I hope to be part of the change.

Here’s one of Aaron’s songs to give you a little taste.

 

Kuumba Black History Festival

ESTRO! GEN!
ESTRO! GEN!
ESTRO! GEN!

Anne-Marie Woods had the audience in stitches chanting during the opening of Black Like She at Kuumba on Friday. In her fourth time ever doing stand up Woods performed a medley of song, dance and monologue. A highlight was when she pulled a guy onstage for a club scene. Despite the mild evening and being indoors he was fully outfitted in a parka and toque, and the audience could not keep it together. Woods could only get out, “Did you recently move to Canada?” We were in tears.

Cultural clashes, age, sex, jail, parenting….nothing was off limits for these comedians.

Black Like She featured 5 black female comedians with the aim “to let you know that there’s no such thing as an angry black woman, just a funny one!” The crowd was packed in Harbourfront’s Brigantine Room for the two hour comedy special. Zabrina joked how amazing it was to see everyone line up EARLY for her show, thanks to its $0 ticket.

I have to say what a treat it is to access Kuumba programming for free. Harbourfront Centre in general does an outstanding job bringing international artists in town and making it easy for public to access arts and culture. Kuumba is the longest running Black History Month featival in Toronto. I’m looking forward to the market and fashion-art exhibit this evening. From education, to performance, to shopping and food – Kuumba has something for everyone.

Check out the full schedule.

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Galleria Long Winter

The second live art party I went to last weekend was Long Winter at Galleria Mall.

Local punk bands Untitledplayed two main stages in a closed mall, The Galleria, at Dupont and Dufferin. Old stores became dance bars – I visited Shoppers Dance Mart – and the halls of the mall were filled with art installations. It was a wild party, but could have benefited from better acoustics. 

The crowd, 18-30 with a grunge flair, wandered through performance and visual art installations. There was a fashion show made of household products and giant price tags. The models were more performance artists, engaging the audience down the runway.  The brave of heart could join a performance art installation in a tiny white tent featuring intense soundscapes, blacklight and neon pebbles. Image-1403

Visual art included a giant illuminated crepe paper pigeon from puppet maker Andrew Lam, a clever entry installation bringing green  space inside with paint chips and photography, and more. In the spirit of living art, Toronto’s beloved Bunz Trading Zone made a live appearance with a swap-meet display.  It featured an array of objects somewhere between a garage sale and your college dorm and everything was up for trades. You could trade anything but money.

Untitled

Drinks with homies

In all, it was a great place to hang out in and around art. That’s what this festival was all about – community. When you walk around Dupont and Dufferin, it feels like walking through a college campus. Everyone is out to have a good time, and they came to do it around art. It’s pretty great to see artists and fans come together to hang out, swap ideas and support each other. The only major downside was you had to drink in little windowless rooms only. But it was still a great party.

You can catch the next Long Winter (with better acoustics) at The Great Hall on February 19.

ALSO THIS WEEK
Kuumba at Harbourfront Feb. 5 – 7

**I’m volunteering at The Trial of Judith K at Theatre Passe Muraille on Thursday! It’s not a festival but it’s going to be a great Kafka-inspired show. Until Feb. 14.**

Live Art Party at Progress 2016

Laura living portaitLiving art dissolves the boundary between artist and audience. I transformed from audience to performer at the Live Art Party as part of Progress: The International Festival of Theatre and Ideas on at The Theatre Centre until February 7. The party animated the centre’s various rooms, allowing audience members to actively participate in how they experienced – or ignored – each work.

We entered the party into the middle of a performance from Luke Reece of Little Black Afro theatre company. At 22 years old, Luke walks the line between rallying against plights of society, like racism, and his hilarious exploits on Tinder. At its core, Luke’s poetry is lively and true to the root of spoken word – confronting and upsetting our social reality. In rhyme.

The biggest room – the Incubator – featured improvised physical theatre. The audience sat around all sides of the stage, looking down on it like a stadium. Performers slowly dressed and undressed to spooky music, eventually dancing toward each other in various pairings. Even without a narrative the bizzarely elegant and fluid motion of these performers moving together, but not in unison, was very compelling. Even more compelling was watching the audience come and go.

A live art party offers opportunities for more interaction than a traditional performance, but many people chose to stay in their seat in this room. You had to walk by other people to get a seat and wander into the next room. This, combined with the in-the-round setup put audience members in the spotlight. But traditionally we go to the theatre to watch other people. By staying seated, audience members could avoid being seen and have a profound artistic experience without becoming part of the performance. I chose to mingle and check in with this piece periodically.

I chose to become a performer in living art.

First, it was in a tarot card reading while other people looked on, presenting a new kind of intimate theatre. It was theatre from all sides since I was performer to my fellow audience, but audience to my reader.

Upstairs I became performer once again as the subject of a living photo frame by the ladies of Caterwaul Theatre. They had beautiful two-dimensional puppets arranged on an old school overhead projector. Then an audience member would stand in the middle and get their photo taken. You can see some more of their portraits on Instagram.

By putting all of us strangers together as both audience members and performers the Live Art Party encompassed what Progress does as a festival. The festival brings together works from around the world that are at different stages of completion. Juxtaposing these works draws out new meaning and inspiration. The workshop productions create an important dialogue between audience and artists. By being immersed in the art like we were last night, the audience and artist form a coalition that supports new work and celebrates every stage of the creative process. We can look forward to another week of great theatre.

Check out the full schedule for Progress and enjoy the ride.