2016: The Hated Year in Review

Looking back on the last 12 months of Wavelength – and the world
by Jonny Dovercourt

Well I’ve taken my number and it’s now my turn to weigh in and reflect on the most detested calendar year in living memory. Good riddance 2016! So long, we hardly knew ya. I’m in a Gemini, so if you believe that mystical stuff, I don’t just see both sides of a situation, I actively take both. On the one hand, my rational brain tells me that anthropomorphizing a calendar year is the worst kind of pathetic fallacy. Yes, it’s sad that so many talented public figures passed away during the last 12 months but 2016 didn’t kill them. In many cases, our heroes were taken from us by the effects of drug and alcohol addiction. Can we have a reasonable conversation about that, instead of all the stamping of feet and petulant demands to “stop it already, 2016, you’re the worst!”?

That said, I understand the need to vent. When combined with the larger, more disturbing shifts in the political sphere – most notably the double-far-right-whammy of Trump and Brexit – it starts to make sense. “My heroes are dead and my enemies are in power” was one apt observation that made the rounds to sum up 2016, though the phrase actually appears to date back to 2012. The sense of helplessness that followed the election of Trump was palpable, and the sense of mourning for the injustices yet to come – on top of those already occurring, which is difficult enough to process – isn’t that different from mourning a loved one, or a fallen hero.


Though years may be arbitrary, human-made blocks of time, they also correspond to real, natural rhythms: the orbit of the Earth around the Sun and also the seasons – a phenomenon that may diminish during our lifetime, thanks to the effects of human-made climate change. Years do have a personality of sorts: a strange, emergent quality based on a subjective, volatile mix of the pop cultural zeitgeist, social and political hopes and fears, and personal tragedies and triumphs – all made the more intense by our non-stop immersion in media, social or otherwise. 2016 had a flavour of despair unlike anything I’d seen since 2001, the year of 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, and – much closer to home – the closing of Wavelength’s original home Ted’s Wrecking Yard and the old, pre-reno El Mocambo. Don’t laugh – back then, it seemed like a very dark time for the local music scene, as we lost two vital centres for creativity within weeks of one another.

Similarly, there’s a sense that with Trump we’ve jumped into what my friend calls a “dark timeline.” The Philip K. Dick novel The Man in the High Castle (now also a mostly excellent TV series on Amazon Prime) posits an alternate reality in which the Axis powers of Germany and Japan won World War II in 1945. We may look back on 2016 as the year in which our reality forked in two, and we ended up on the wrong path, the one of destructive dystopia (intolerance, fascism, new world wars, runaway climate change). That certainly helps explain the sense of helplessness.

But despair is not the answer, and those who want to see a better world need to stop daydreaming about the one on the far side of the reality portal – the one in which Clinton or Sanders win, Britain votes “Remain,” and Bowie, Prince, and George Michael plan a world tour together (sorry!) – and start, as radical activists have been saying for years, to agitate, educate, organize. It’s easy enough to see the connections between climate change, Syria, the migrant crisis, and the emboldening of white supremacists leading to all sorts of injustice on North American soil: unarmed Black citizens getting wantonly murdered by militarized police, anti-pipeline protestors getting water-cannoned, and a spike in attacks on Muslims and LGBT people. What isn’t easy is to determine what to do about it. We have 2017 to figure this out – and who knows, we may only have 2017, if the apocalyptically minded are right and the dark timeline speeds up.

The turn of a year is more than just symbolic. One year ago, you were probably doing the same thing you are today: planning your big night out, hoping it’s not the usual disappointment, reflecting on the last 12 months, and resolving to renew your gym membership on January 2nd. You’re one year older, and you may have taken some hard knocks, but hopefully you’ve also had some good times and learned a few things. We’re entering a sort of terra incognita every time the calendar flips over. “Will this be the year I’m empowered to change things, or will I get thrown into an even darker reality I can’t control?”

For me, personally, 2016 was fantastic, one of the happiest years I’ve lived through in more than a decade, full of proud professional accomplishments, personal growth, and peak-experience travel adventures. But in the age of the curated overshare, I prefer to keep this to myself in the online sphere, saving the good news for the face-to-face encounters and catch-ups with friends that seem to become more rare and precious each year. It’s also inconsiderate to brag when others are having a shit time. And as we all know well, good luck can turn on you, so why push that luck?


As for Wavelength, we had a pretty damn good year too – and we don’t think we should keep quiet about that. Seventeen years ago, we were preparing for our launch, at what was then a frustrating time for local independent music in Toronto: press and industry support was slim to non-existent; bands were getting dropped, breaking up, and moving away; live venues were perpetually in danger of shut-down. We hoped our concert series would generate some excitement and optimism. Every year since then, we’ve worked hard to build a sense of community around music in this city and beyond.

One year ago, we were optimistically ringing in 2016 at the Markham House City Building Lab, with a balloon drop counted down by The Holy Gasp and Maylee Todd. Maybe it’s symbolic of the year we ushered in, that that show took place across the street from Honest Ed’s – the iconic department store that sadly marks its last day in business today, December 31, 2016. Or maybe it means nothing. Eight days later, David Bowie died. Damn. So much sadness this year. If 2016 has a personality, maybe it’s sad and broken, not mean and spiteful?

And if 2016 needs cheering up about itself, here’s 12 moments from the last 12 months where Wavelength brought the awesome:


January – Our Wavelength #ICYMI gallery exhibit opened Jan. 14 at Markham House in Mirvish Village, a remount of our 15th anniversary poster and photo show that was held at Huntclub Studios the previous winter, thanks to the support of our friends at Westbank. The show saw the return of the Camp Wavelength tentstallation and one of Caterwaul Theatre’s “space ants” – a sparkly being named David Bowie, in his dear departed memory – as well as a Toronto music book library. Most People and Animalia played the opening night party, attended by none other than indie R&B singer Shamir. During our time in residence at Markham House, we also threw a New Year’s party and hosted a musicians’ workshop with Josh Korody (of Beliefs and Nailbiter) as well as a Music City panel discussion.




February – Wavelength turned Sweet 16 with our three day “WL16” festival held over the Family Day long weekend, Feb. 12-14. For the first time since our very first anniversary party back in 2001, we held our nighttime shows all at the same venue – back then it was Ted’s Wrecking Yard/Barcode, this year we called The Garrison on Dundas West home. Visual artists Roxanne Ignatius and Aaron Dawson transformed the back room by hanging cutout clouds, streamers and lights. We also “did it for the kids” with a Saturday afternoon all-ages show at Markham House, complete with a chartered school bus to take festival-goers down to the night show. It’s so hard to choose highlights – Sackville slacker rockers Partner played two amazing and amusing sets at the fest, but who could forget Duchess Says’ electrifying Saturday closing set? The Montreal dance-punk vets commanded the crowd, culminating in mesmerizing frontwoman Annie-Claude Deschênes memorably demanding an audience member to “Take me to the main cloud.” Unfortunately the trip on a stranger’s shoulder to the back of the club resulted in the destruction of one of Roxanne’s clouds, but its memory shall live on. RIP Cloud.


March – “Don’t Speak” was the name of a thematic show we held March 25 at Arraymusic, a rehearsal and performance studio tucked away on a side street south of Trinity Bellwoods. The concept was simple: Talking was forbidden. All night. Even between bands. And even amongst staff. “Don’t Speak” was intended as an antidote to the lack of attention paid at concerts nowadays. The music, by David Jones, North Atlantic Drift, and American visitor Benoît Pioulard, was ambient, electronic, and experimental – all intended to encourage quiet contemplation. Audience members were given cue cards and pencils on which to communicate. It was an intense and wondrous experience. A reviewer even came from glossy Maclean’s magazine, and recounted the night in a piece called “Hush please… it’s a rock show.”


April – And sometimes our monthly shows are…. just awesome shows. On April 23, the Monarch Tavern was packed for a sweaty night of loud indie-rock with Vancouver/Mint Records’ bubblegum garage punks Tough Age, and Toronto psych-popsters Century Palm, neo-new-wavers Germaphobes, and post-punk country-rockers Long Branch. The Monarch become our second home in 2016, especially with WL Board member Rich Taylor (who also promotes shows as Gladeye Music) both booking and mixing live gigs on the venue’s classy, cozy main floor.


May – On May 20 at the Garrison, we co-hosted a long-awaited Marvel Team-Up with long-running Toronto urban music presenters Manifesto, who were celebrating their 10th year in 2016. This cross-genre mash-up bill spanned everything from R&B (Wilde) to spoken-word/hip-hop (pHoenix Pagliacci) to dreamy post-punk (Pavilion), light-hearted indie-pop (Language Arts) and bouncy electro-pop (Loji).


June – Back at the Garrison on the 30th of June, we curated a Red Bull Sound Select showcase as part of Pride Month, with an LGBT-focused line-up topped by a long-overdue return to Toronto by US avant-rockers Xiu Xiu, who played a very danceable set of electro-noise. The rest of the jam-packed night included Ice Cream, New Fries, and LA timpa – as well as free ice cream from Sweet Olenka’s, to reward the patient hordes.


July – As anticipation built for the second edition of Camp Wavelength in mid-August, we came up with a novel way to spread the word and get the community involved: an election-style “lawn sign” campaign! By taking a sign and placing it on their lawn, festival-goers could proudly tell the neighbours they planned to “Select Camp Wavelength” as their must-attend summer music festival.




August – Camp Wavelength touched down at Artscape Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island for its second year August 19-21, and we’d like to think our summer festival more than avoided the sophomore jinx. It was a dreamy weekend for campers and daytrippers alike, with “magic” the word on everyone’s lips. 2016’s line-up saw more diversity on stage, more arts and activities on the grounds and beach, and – thankfully – more food to chow down on. Thanks to all our amazing vendors, especially the hard-working people from the Monarch kitchen. If pressed to choose performance highlights, we’d have to pick three of our surprise-hit late-night sets: Brooklyn emcee Latasha Alcindor made a lot of new fans with her unique style and positive lyrics; Zimbabwean-Canadian ensemble Nhapitapi had the crowd rapt with their irresistible Southern African music and dance, while Boston/New York art-punks Guerrilla Toss flew a freak flag. The weather co-operated, and even when it didn’t, it did us favours; on Sunday evening, a brief rainshower during Bruce Peninsula’s set led to a double-rainbow over Lake Ontario, which became the luminous backdrop to Open Fortress’ unforgettable dance performance on the beach. Plus, synchronized swimming, Bunz trades, and giant insect battles, oh my!


September – Just in time for our recovery from Camp WL, Wavelength participated in one of the coolest new events to hit town in a long time. The in/Future festival was co-presented by our friends at Art Spin and Small World Music Society, and this 11-day arts bonanza took over the dormant grounds of Ontario Place – the early-70s era tourist attraction on the lakeshore – from Sept. 15-25. Wavelength curated the music on the Small World stage on the Tuesday (Sept. 20), with sets by ambient folkie Isla Craig, electro droner Dirty Inputs, and captivating Filipino music-and-dance collective DATU X HATAW. We had a lot of fun losing ourselves amongst the array of amazing art pieces and the retro-futuristic environment. Other Wavelength alumni that performed during the fest included Doomsquad, Eucalyptus, and Fresh Snow, the latter fresh off the release of their third album, One.


October – Okay, so technically the show was on September 30, but it was October 1st by the time Most People took the stage at the Monarch at their video release party. The video for the ultra-catchy electro-pop hit “Telephone” featured members of the League of Lady Wrestlers, who memorably invaded the stage at the show’s conclusion, wiping out the band and sacrificing an acoustic guitar in the process.


November – We tried to bring some positivity to the darkest month of 2016 with a diversely curated all-ages show on Nov. 26 at Bike Pirates, the collectively run DIY bike repair shop in Parkdale. Who knew that a bike shop could be such a great place to party? The night included a couple of memorable debuts: rapper Han Han (also part of the HATAW crew) played her first live show, with seven dancers as part of the spectacle – just days after the video for “World Gong Crazy” blew up with half a million views world-wide – and Vancouver synth-pop transplant Plazas made her Toronto premiere. The night was bookended by electronic sound artist Bénédicte and ever-awesome electro-rockers Ice Cream. Special thanks must go out to everyone at BP for being such amazing, helpful, hands-on hosts!

December – Well, here we are. December always gets screwed in year-end lists, and our only show this past month, a co-presentation with the Ryerson Music Den at the Imperial Library Pub Dec. 15, was effectively snowed out by the blizzard – but it was hella fun and cozy for those that made it! We did our first-ever New Year’s party last year, but we’re taking this year off to get ready for 2017. Wavelength fans, please mark February 17-19 on your calendar for WL17! And as far as NYE goes, there’s lots to choose from in the music community, as always. If by chance you haven’t made plans yet, here are our party picks for TONIGHT:

Tranzac NYE: Their always bonkers NYE line-up is also all WL alumni! Casper Skulls, Doldrums, Man Made Hill, Picastro, Isla Craig, Petra Glynt, New Chance, Zoo Owl, and DJ HVYWTR. 292 Brunswick Ave. $15.

Silver Dollar NYE: Also lotsa WL pals on this bill, with Phèdre, Ice Cream, Scott Hardware, Prince Ness, and DJ Trevor from Doomsquad. 486 Spadina Ave. $12.

KILL 2016 DEAD at the Monarch with Daniel Romano’s punk band Ancient Shapes and DJ Isosceles. Possibly the dark-horse winner tonight? 12 Clinton St. $22.

Catl & Eamon McGrath at the Dakota Tavern is SOLD OUT, but try your luck at the door? 249 Ossington. $25.

Chronologic at the Garrison: If dancing is on your agenda, join the Goin’ Steady DJ crew for their patented “dance party through the ages.” 1197 Dundas St. W. $25/$30.

– But, we’ll be hanging out and throwing down at Pop Lobster at Dundas Video, with DJs Little Kicks, Digits, and ARP 2600, aka the Synthesexer crew. 831 Dundas St. W. NO COVER. (WHAT, REALLY?!)

Happy New Year! See you in 2017, and let’s all try to be more forgiving of the New Year, whatever it may have in store for us.

– Jonny D.

P.S. BIG THANKS to the 2016 Wavelength Crew, who helped keep me sane: Adam Bradley, Aaron Dawson, Heather Gillis, Dwayne Slack, Roxanne Ignatius, Steve Lindsey, Helen Androlia, Jenn Bonar, Marko Cindric, Rebecca Hong, Adam Moffatt, Jackson Reed, Emily Scherzinger, Evely Escobar, Kayla Braga, Johan Seaton, Mike Pereira, Derek Ma, Matt Ryan, Colin Harrington, Tyler Belluz, Kat Stewart, Rebecca Webster, Joe Strutt, Danielle Burton, Stephanie Keating, all our hard-working volunteers, and of Board of Directors, Neil Wiernik, Scott Ingram, Timothy Jones, Dean Williams, Sally Lee, Hilary Martin, Jonathan Shedletzky, and Rich Taylor.