Photos by Neil Van
Compared to current festival culture, Wavelength is a welcome change of pace, setting itself apart the moment you walk through the gates to the intimate, one stage set-up. A gated area is set aside for tents as many festival-goers have opted for camping-inclusive tickets, snatching up the opportunity for a weekend away on the island. Taking a seat at any of the scattered picnic benches or a comfortable spot on the grass provides an opportunity to see all the acts of the weekend without racing to reach the next of a myriad of stages, and a small side path through the forest leads to the beach where even more art and music can be found. Even on day one, people are smiling, hugs and old friends are abundant and it’s clear that for its second year, Camp Wavelength has begun.
The opening act is M.A BEAT!, a French electronic trio making the most of their first Canadian appearance. Live drums, guitar and wind instruments provide a distinctly jazz-inspired sound to the music while glockenspiel adds unexpected and infectious percussion. Not limited to jazz influence, the group’s electro sound borrows equally from rock and more environmental noises, the latter sampled and integrated in a way that still leaves the live instruments king. As the first act, M.A BEAT! provides an atmospheric touch that helps the growing audience ease into the day, swaying to the beat and finding their spot for the bands to follow.
Next up is Toronto’s For Esme, ready to assert their unique sound. Self-labelled as artpop, some clear inspiration comes through in their music, such as 80’s-style synthpop seeping through the pores of songs like the 2015 track “You”. Mixing this 80’s inspiration with vocals ranging from upbeat odes to grunge-era anger could easily fall to discord but For Esme succeeds in finding the balance. All the while lead Martha Meredith jumps around the stage with a childlike enthusiasm at once endearing and engaging, leaving the crowd to jump along and end up properly drained as they disperse for drinks and a meal. Many gravitate towards the Monarch Tavern tent, serving up a selection of home made burgers, grilled Portobello mushrooms and pulled pork that leave them with a perpetually long line. Also a Friday favourite were the homemade ice pops from The Pop Stand, selling exciting flavour combinations like peach bourbon lemon and raspberry hibiscus.
As the sun goes down, Jef E. Barbara’s Black Space takes the stage. Barbara has a talk-sing style that relies heavily on lyricism and a kind of abstract storytelling, with topics ranging from favourite colours to aliens arriving on judgement day. This focus on the alien or “other” fits into themes of black identity and preservation in white environments Black Space seeks to address. Jarringly placed bursts of saxophone keep the audience on their toes, letting loose with the sound in preparation for the night’s headliner, The Operators.
The Polaris-nominated group walk onto stage in semi-formal black and whites, lead Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Divine Fits, Handsome Furs) opening with a casual, “What’s up dudes?” After a momentary delay for a forgotten keyboard, The Operators burst into action. Boeckner lives on his toes, one foot in a constant state of motion, twitching and twisting with erratic pace. This movement intensifies as he abandons his guitar after the dreamy beach-soaked intro of the second song. Boeckner’s barrier to the audience gone, all focus is placed into vocal energy, grasping at the microphone cord to tether his ever moving body. Other members Devojka, Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks, Divine Fits) and Dustin Hawthorne give an equal sense of intensity, but more restrained, letting Boeckner act as the physical outlet. There are moments of harshness in the music, rough guitar and vocal clashing but always with practical ease, for effect not lack of command. Samples of classic film dialogue engage the crowd that much more with the storytelling of the songs and soon people are handing out sparklers, waving and dancing wildly in the dying light. By the time the set is over, the audience is in disbelief, so engrossed that it’s hard to comprehend that their Operators connection is already over.
The stage acts that follow are Brendan Philip and Latasha Alcindor (a.k.a L.A.). Brendan Philip offers an R&B dance mix, electronic and vocal control with a sultry edge that leaves the crowd wanting more. L.A., on the other hand, presents an upbeat voice, giving a more classic hip-hop/rap mix with a strong presence enhanced by her easy rapport with the audience. If Philip offers a sense of relaxation, L.A. counters with a sense of power, both effective while decidedly different. In between these two acts and away from the main stage, Bryan Sutherland brings his performance as Zoo Owl, a glowing-eyed, animalistic DJ calling upon monsters and robots from the forest behind to mingle with the crowd and the pulsing music. The installation, Forest Protocol, is part dance party, part art immersion, and an opportunity for the audience to let loose between sets of which they take full advantage.
For the late night crowd and campers the party doesn’t end at midnight. Wolf Saga hit the stage at 12:30, providing a fading audience with a synth-pop pickup of catchy tunes. The artist is clearly happy to be there, the audience responding in kind to his gentle smile. Once resurrected by Wolf Saga’s set, campers receive a fatal blow from Matrox, robots from space come to bring dance and destruction to earthlings everywhere. While costumes can sometimes become the focus over the talent, Matrox provides solid electro music that leans more towards the likes of Daft Punk than the experimental sampling that preceded it. The audience is helpless but to move to the music before collapsing in exhaustion, defeated by the music and ready to sleep before doing it all over again. Day one of Camp Wavelength, it’s clear, is an absolute success.