Wavelength Winter Festival kicks off with a virtual bang

On Feb. 20, Toronto-based music festival Wavelength welcomed virtual attendees to the first show of its series. The non-profit arts organization has celebrated emerging artists for over 20 years, featuring local performers at the forefront of its events. This year was no exception: Toronto-based Zoon and Montreal-based Maryze and Backxwash took to the virtual stage to kick off the February music series. The show was divided into three livestreamed YouTube premieres with 30-minute intervals between performances, each artist having pre-recorded their set at their local venues. The resulting joint concert was a smoothly organized and phenomenally engaging success. 

The night’s first performer was Maryze, accompanied by producer Solomon KI on electric percussion. Filmed in the Diving Bell Social Club, Maryze gave a bewitching performance on a stage laden with fairy lights, candles, flowers, and of course, a diving bell. Gracefully moving around the stage while singing hits including “B.O.Y,” “Dis Moi,” and her soon-to-be-released track “Too Late,” Maryze curated an enchanting atmosphere, lulling listeners with her soft, hypnotic melodies. In-between songs, Maryze noted that this was her first performance in months, smiling as she did so.

“It’s really nice to be singing again and playing with Solomon and being on a stage,” Maryze said.

Maryze concluded her half-hour set with a cover of Caroline Polachek’s “Ocean of Tears,” effortlessly hitting every high note, enchanting viewers with the spell-binding atmosphere that she had cultivated throughout the set. 

The night’s second show was performed by Zoon, whose self-described Indigenous shoegaze pop performance contrasted beautifully with Maryze’s witchy, alt-pop tunes. Zoon’s set was filmed in the Toronto music studio Palace Sound, and featured Andrew McLeod on drums, Drew Rutty on bass, and Cole Sefton on lead guitar. The set was a feature film production rather than a recorded concert, heavily intermixing elements of sound, lighting, and camera editing to create a trance-like viewing and listening experience. The setlist was largely instrumental, with Zoon’s soft, nearly lyric-less vocalizations interspersed to highlight the varying melodic tempos. The camera moved between musicians, zooming in and out of their instruments, superimposing Zoon’s mouthing of lyrics in between shots, and blurring performers to create a dazy, ethereal ambience.

Polaris 2020 prize winner Backxwash ended the show on a fabulously demonic note. The Montreal rapper appeared onstage at La Sala Rossa in front of a pulpit and curtains, a tableau backlit in a red hue. Clad in devil horns, dark robes, a cross necklace, a crimson wig, and thick black eyeliner, Backxwash made clear her intention: Deliver to viewers a rebellious, subversive, satanic sermon. 

Armed with what seemed to be the most powerful bass line in existence and a fiery desire to shock and awe, Backxwash gave an incredible performance of—bluntly put—banger after banger. Backxwash performed many of her hits from her album Deviancy, including a rendition of her song “Devil in a Moshpit,” which was so consuming, made viewers forget that they were not, in fact, in a mosh pit. Livestream commenters raved during the performance, with one viewer even pointing out the extent to which Backxwash transported them to her virtual show. 

“[S]creaming at the screen like I’m on the rail at the show,” the viewer commented.

Wavelength’s pandemic premiere epitomized that the live music industry is not dead, but rather hibernating, and it will give its all to break out of the current performance slump. Each artist curated their own unique atmosphere that successfully transcended distance and device screens to envelop virtual attendees. From Maryze’s beguiling vocals to Zoon’s nostalgic instrumentals, to Backxwash’s satanic, digital rave, the evening was a phenomenal success. 

Saturday’s performances can be found here. The Wavelength concert series schedule can be found here.

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