by Michael Thomas
To try and come up with a theme that succinctly wraps around a Wavelength show is near impossible. Forget genre – at past festivals a turntable user has played on the same bill as a krautrock outfit. Forget geography – Wavelength guests can come from as far as Iceland. So it all comes back to one undeniable truth: Wavelength books really, really fucking good bills.
Day 1 was a co-presentation with Silent Shout, but it was certainly not all dark electronica. The music did, however, get people moving. A lot.
Without a word of warning, the house music switched off and was replaced by dreamy synths. It was opening act You’ll Never Get to Heaven. The beatmaker/vocalist duo sounded like it might feel to listen to a good vinyl record at the bottom of the ocean. Vocalist Alice Hanzen’s vocals floated, almost ghost-like, over the delicate beats of Chuck Blazevic. Their set wasn’t long in the scheme of things, but it felt like time had slowed and all had entered a trance.
If YNGTH kept the audience in a trance, Montreal’s Alden Penner kept the audience off balance. With a drummer and violinist backing up Penner’s guitar, it seemed from the outset that anything could happen. And boy did it.
From beginning to end, as Penner sang songs from his new album Exegesis (and even one Clues track!), his music could be alternately sombre, operatic, tropical, sultry and plain menacing. In the scope of one song Penner sometimes covered more than one mood, for a delightfully unpredictable performance and perhaps the best of the night. A special shoutout goes to violinist Sebastian Chow, who managed, with effect pedals, to make his instrument sound like anything from a bass guitar to a keyboard.
The middle act of the night, much like the third act of an Aristotelian tale, provided a big climax. It was none other than Zoo Owl, who managed to somehow top in craziness his show two weeks ago. Once again starting out (relatively) normal, Zoo Owl quickly did his light-up mouth trick, and it took even less time for him to bring out the photoreceptor lenses.
But he didn’t stop there, and as his dark, terrorizing beats washed over the frenzied-dancing audience, out came the laser show. At this point, it would come as no surprise if Zoo Owl opened up the gates to Hell for his next show – it would suit his reign of terror.
Following the climax is the denouement, and that was Montreal’s TOPS, all smooth pop and polished melodies. The band’s vocalist brought a delicate touch, but for a few minutes it seemed like the band was a little too polished.
The band broke that assumption as they started to up the tempo, and during one quick number the audience suddenly sprang to life and began dancing. By the end, which featured an unexpected guitar solo (unexpected by both audience and band) the crowd was eating out of TOPS’ hands.
It was finally time for the headliner, the electro-hip-hop alter ego of two members of Hooded Fang: it was time for Phèdre. Much like Hooded Fang took a dark turn on their latest album Gravez, so too did Phèdre on their latest album, Golden Age. Gone from their live show is the signs of splendour, like the metallic-looking masks and elaborate costumes. But it doesn’t mean the band has changed irreparably.
The band’s spirit is still largely intact, probably most noticeably in the fact that everyone in the band wore almost exclusively white (even their backup dancer). April Aliermo and Daniel Lee exchanged verses and chorus over some excellent drum pad drumming and synthesized beats. In terms of song choices, they seemed to alternate between crazed numbers and slow jams in almost equal numbers. They ended their set with “Atomic Love,” for a triumphant first night.
One night down, three to go, and plenty of magic still undoubtedly to come.