Wavelength Music is a curated concert series established in Toronto, Canada. Being a winter festival, summer series and shows throughout the years, Wavelength is one of the most important institutions for Canada’s alternative music scene’s ecosystem.
Many big acts started or performed at Wavelength some point: Arcade Fire, Grimes, Broken Social Scene and more. This year’s Winter Festival virtual program is also exceptional with the most promising Canadian act in a long time: Backxwash, among other interesting acts such as Zoon and Clerel. The festival will be free to watch online in February. Together with the organization’s artistic director Jonny Dovercourt, we look back at five of the series’ most memorable performances of all time.
Mean Red Spiders and Neck: the first edition
Jonny: “The first-ever Wavelength show took place on cold winter night on February 13, 2000 – almost 21 years ago now! The venue was Ted’s Wrecking Yard, on the second floor of 549 College Street, in Toronto’s Little Italy neighborhood. The two bands that performed that night were Mean Red Spiders and Neck. Both likely not household names these days, but at the same time they were both well-established on the Toronto club scene and both had released CDs on local label Teenage USA Recordings.”
“They were heavily influenced by shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine, though Mean Red Spiders leaned more towards smoother ’60s psych-garage and lounge sounds, while Neck were speedier, noisier and poppier, like the Beach Boys meets the Buzzcocks. Both bands had also done their recent releases with producer Dave Newfeld, who a few years later would perfect the sound he developed with these bands, on the breakthrough album by Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It In People.”
Broken Social Scene: the band that was born at Wavelength
Jonny continues: “At the end of Wavelength’s first year, our shows had been building up a buzz and were starting to become a real hub for the local music community. I knew Kevin Drew from his experimental ambient project KC Accidental, which was a collaboration with Charles Spearin from post-rock band Do Make Say Think, who at that time were getting a lot of international hype after the release of their amazing second album. Kevin was a friendly, outgoing and high-energy guy who made an impression on a lot of people.”
“That fall, he went away on tour with Do Make Say Think as a fill-in member. Before that, he had recorded a new collaboration with Brendan Canning – who was a long-time fixture of the music scene, having played in early-’90s grunge hopefuls hHead – and they still didn’t have a name for the project. When he got back from tour, he called me and asked me if he could play a solo set at Wavelength to play some of the new music he’d been working on. We added him to the Dec. 17, 2000 lineup, which already had the bands The Russian Futurists and Raising the Fawn on the bill. By Kevin’s request, we billed him as “Josh Tesh Jr. & the Broken Social Scene.”
“That night, Kevin played a beautiful solo set of ambient keyboard washes, and even added some spontaneous vocals. At one point, trumpeter Brian Cram (of GUH and Do Make Say Think) walked out from the backstage and joined him for a song, which was completely unplanned. That’s the sort of thing that could happen at Wavelength – random acts of music emerging from the sense of community. The show was packed and Kevin’s set was really well-received.”
“After the show, Brendan Canning told Kevin,: that’s the name – the Broken Social Scene. They decided to drop the “the” and they used the BSS name on their debut album, Feel Good Lost, which came out a few months later on Noise Factory Records. The full band debuted in April 2001 at an Exclaim! party at the Big Bop (RIP), so we can’t lay claim to having booked the first proper BSS show, but WL definitely helped midwife their birth.”
Grimes: before the fame
“There’s been over 800 editions of Wavelength and probably over 2,000 bands that have played at this point, so it’s hard to pull out one story about one band – but it was really cool that, 10 years ago, at the 2011 edition of our Winter Festival (then called the Wavelength Anniversary Festival) – we booked an artist from Montreal called Grimes. They were still really new and already getting a bit of hype, but were still new enough to play first on a bill of five acts at The Great Hall, right before avant-garde guitarist Eric Chenaux.”
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“The night was co-headlined by Hooded Fang and Maylee Todd. I don’t remember much about Grimes’ set other than it sounding quite good – she played the dark, goth-y electro-pop from Halfaxa that night – and that Claire Boucher was very nice and went ahead and played even though she was sick with a cold. Little did we know the phenomenon she would become just a few months later!”
Morgan Doctor feat. Caylie Staples: Christmas 2020 virtual edition
“Our last “show” was the Wavelength Holiday Special – which was a YouTube video variety show, for which a dozen different artists sent us songs they recorded, mostly at home – and mostly seasonal or Christmas themed. It was a lot of fun, like a vintage cable-access show or MuchMusic broadcast. Every artist approached their song with a lot of creativity and heart, so it’s hard to choose a favourite – but I was particularly fond of Morgan Doctor feat. Caylie Staples‘ dreamy, hazed-out take on “White Christmas.”
“Funnily enough, the Wavelength Holiday Special premiered on Dec. 17, 2020 – the 20th anniversary of the aforementioned Broken Social Scene “debut,” and we got Kevin Drew to perform a solo set inspired by his original performance, and also included some vintage flashback video of the Russian Futurists’ set from that night so long ago at Ted’s Wrecking Yard.”
Backxwash: looking forward
“I haven’t yet seen Backxwash live, though I was really impressed with what they did for their livestream for Pop Montreal this past September. Hopefully this will give you a taste of what to expect at Wavelength on February 20th!”
Wavelength Winter 2021
The next event of Wavelength Music will be a virtual edition of their Winter Festival. It will be free, so you have the possibility to watch some of the most promising Canadian acts. Tune in on their Youtube page on the last 2 week-ends of February.
For more Canada winter festivals, you can check our article.