by Elena Gritzan
“We must go back to the ALL CAPS! continuum where the photo was taken! It’s like a scifi novel, but real life!” Wavelength co-founder and beloved MC Doc Pickles had just asked the audience to raise their cameras and take a picture of each other taking pictures, in an attempt to capture the electric energy and good-time-camping vibes of the weekend’s Island festival. A time loop may not have been created, but an intense desire to go back in time to a weekend full of nature, community and, of course, exciting and inventive music was awakened.
Despite a foreboding forecast, the second day of the festival was treated with clear blue skies in between the short pockets of overshadowing darkness. This led to the genesis of a second outdoor stage, “The Sunset Stage” (which was actually a canopied, angular repurposing of the stage made for the New Traditions festival by art collective VSVSVS), in addition to the Fireplace Room indoors at Artscape Gibralter Point. Jumping between stages and genres, festival-goers were treated to a mixed bag of rock, R&B, folk, hip hop and electronica.
There were a lot of not-so-common instruments in tow: the instantly relatable and effervescently talented folk singer Ivy Mairi brought to stage mandolin and upright bass players, and Hamilton hip hop collective Canadian Winter used djambe for the bulk of their percussion. Equally exciting was seeing instruments used in unusual settings: Young Mother had a saxophone shredding alongside their fast-paced heavy rock, and sound-shifters Absolutely Free were not possessive of their instruments, constantly switching positions among their crowded set-up of synthesizers and drums.
This was actually not the first time this summer Absolutely Free descended on the Island, they played the Poor Pilgrim Island show last month, but I found their set tighter and more enthralling than the first time – it is fascinating to watch them huddled conspiratorially together to create shifting, arpeggiated synth textures before launching into a controlled chaos of percussion. Another Poor Pilgrim alum returned for ALL CAPS!, urban R&B act OG Melody. I had wondered last month if a full sound system would elevate their live sound to the full, smooth, engrossing level of their recordings, and oh does it ever. With Thom Gill out of town (his ghost presence was felt through his vocals on the backing tracks), singer Isla Craig brought out rappers Kit Knows and Peet Moss to engage the crowd and have everyone get low.
Wavelengh as a music series is very much about celebrating music and promoting discovery, so it made sense that there would be an exciting new band uncovered for everyone in attendance. For me, the thrilling surprise was theatrical dance rock band Lioness. Singer Vanessa Fischer had black tassels running down her arms, a feather in her hair and ghostly contacts obscuring her eyes. Already quite the first impression, but when she started to sing, she bowled me over with her confident, punchy delivery. Awe of her voice lasted for a few seconds before the power of their heavy rock/techno/dance fusion took over and inspired a lot of movement in the Fireplace Room. The most striking thing about their sound is the lack of guitar (just bass, percussion and keys), yet they still manage to have a gritty edge normally associated with pure rock.
Midway through the first day, Doc Pickles described ALL CAPS! as a “fusion of art and music and enthusiasm”. The festival mixed all three with panache. The most notable art piece to campers was probably the party-cube, a re-working of Felix Kalmenson’s “Water Walk Sky” floating box from New Traditions, complete with silver paper, flashing lights and bass-heavy music, leading to some late night dance parties inside the space. The enthusiasm happened at all hours – after the first day of bands, festival-goers frolicked on the beach or cozied up around a campfire, eager to spend time with a new-found community of music fans. And the energy was always electric when there were musicians on the stage; Wavelength shows tend to attract people enthusiastic about and open-minded to new sounds, and they were there in droves on the weekend.
ALL CAPS! has created something special: part European camping festival, part art-scene party and part expertly curated experimental showcase. This really is a gem of a festival, and it exists only a stone’s throw across the lake.
If you cannot wait until next year, keep an eye on Wavelength and their regularly scheduled shows for a similar combination of diverse and exciting talent.