Wavelength Music Arts Projects

BY David DacksPublished Feb 5, 2010

Wavelength Music Arts Projects has been a tremendously important part of Toronto's music over the last ten years. The pay-what-you-can Sunday night series and its concurrent zine (which lasted until 2005), and winds up its existence as a weekly with a 500th edition festival from February 10 to 14. Along the way, it provided vital early exposure to Broken Social Scene, the Constantines, and Final Fantasy/Owen Pallett to name a few. With its no-nonsense creativity and accessibility, Wavelength has inspired numerous successors in Toronto and around the country. The "Indie 500 " ― as Jonny Dovercourt, one of the four member Wavelength collective, terms the final blowout ― tries to touch as many bases as possible while maintaining a contemporary perspective. Exclaim! caught the foursome (including Kevin Parnell, Ryan McLaren and Duncan "Doc Pickles" McDonnell) in a past-meets-future frame of mind…

This is an undeniably historical occasion coming up in February ― 500 shows over ten years! Jonny, you were there at the very beginning. Can you tell me what you liked and didn't like about Toronto's music scene during the 90s, and how that affected Wavelength?
Dovercourt: That's a good question. I liked my friends' bands and we hung out and went to each other's shows. Representatives from each of these bands eventually came together to found Wavelength. But we were getting outside our borders too; for instance I was getting interested in more free improvised music, and electronics and drones. There were other things in the '90s that were exciting like Do Make Say Think and the Deadly Snakes that were starting to push Toronto music beyond the borders of Toronto. But it was hard for Toronto bands to get noticed outside of the underground music scene here. That was what we were trying to do with Wavelength, to generate the excitement required to be a critical mass around the music scene, to make it a more happening place for independent music.

The first Wavelength venue was key. Can you tell me about Ted's Wrecking Yard?
MacDonnell: A mess! It was held together with glue and I think the toilet was four feet off the ground and it was decorated by painting tires and running them on the ceiling. I loved it! It was booked by Yvonne Matsell ― who does NXNE now ― she would bring the Sadies and various other people there on Sunday afternoons [prior to Wavelength's Sunday night shows], and the whole transition was a really funny flip-flop.
Dovercourt: Thinking back to the way I thought about Ted's in my 20s, I thought it was kind of a fancy place compared to the El Mocambo or Sneaky Dee's. Ooh ― we're doing a series in Little Italy where are the grad students hung out! I was impressed they put candles on the tables.

So a couple of years, later, there was a generational shift, or at least the network started to expand. That's when Ryan and Kevin came in. What were your impressions of the series by the time you joined?
McLaren: I got involved with the series because I was new to the city, I was interested in this new thing "indie music" that I hadn't heard before. So I got involved as a fan and I started coming every week, and people like Jonny and Duncan were encouraging me to write for the zine [published concurrently with the series for several years, then intermittently since] and get involved, and that kind of dominoed. A lot of people talk about 2003 to 2005 as being these halcyon days of DIY and that's when I got involved. It really affected how I viewed the city and what was going on here.
Parnell: My story's sort of similar, I started going to Wavelength just as a fan, on my own and started photographing bands at any show that I went to. When Jonny decided to bring the zine back in 2003 [after a brief mid-year hiatus], he asked me to do photo editing. I thought it was great having just graduated to be thrust into the world. Here was a group of people that were doing something they truly loved, it was amazing to be a part of it. There was never really a hierarchy; it was a real group effort to pull it together.
McLaren: I never knew much about stuff that had been going in [Toronto] historically, and I was really surprised that people would be so responsive to the things I had to say, being relatively new to this kind of stuff.

Are you bringing the zine back for the final festival?
Dovercourt: We are. It's a 36-page special edition.
MacDonnell: There's a lot of nostalgia. There's a whole list of everyone who's ever played Wavelength.
Dovercourt: 1,100 bands!
MacDonnell: Our very last show, number 500, will feature the first two bands who played Wavelength ever ― Neck and Mean Red Spiders. There's also lots of young talent.

And as much as there's been new ground broken ― 1,100 bands! ― in lots of different ways in the series, way beyond genres that could be classified as rock, there's also been a lot of welcoming back of people who have played the series in different configurations. That's one of theme of the upcoming festival, what are some of the others?
Dovercourt: Each night isn't really themed, we wanted to have a mix. We wanted to invite bands that had broken up to we missed, like Rockets Red Glare, From Fiction, the Bicycles, and Barcelona Pavilion.
Parnell: There are bands that are brand new from 2009, like Diamond Rings, Canaille & Magic Cheezies.
Dovercourt: We invited some big names too, because there are some Wavelength bands that have gone on to win Polaris Prizes and Junos. So the Constantines and Holy Fuck are playing. There are a handful of bands that have been around since the beginning of Wavelength that have never broken up, like Picastro, Deep Dark United, the Fembots and the Russian Futurists. And a few bands from outside the traditional indie music scene like Donne Roberts & Professor Fingers. We just tried to do our best to represent the ten years right up to the present day.
MacDonnell: The scene is alive and we want to reflect that. There's another ten years of music that we want to be involved in, but tangentially. Hey, kids, it's up to you now! Entertain us!

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