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The Strangest of Waves

Blog/MusicJuly 25th 2019
Jamie Tennant
Doomsquad perform as part of the 2019 Strangewaves festival, Strangewaves 5: Mother Nature. Photo: Peter Michael Wilson

Annual summer music and art festival is all the right kinds of weird

The sun was like a relentless steamroller crushing hot asphalt onto my skin. Then, at hurricane speeds, an ominous navy-blue band swept across the sky, tossing tents around the field, soaking some of us to the skin. Near-invisible grass-dwelling bugs bit itchy welts into my ankles.

And it was awesome.

That’s my summary of this summer’s Strangewaves 5: Mother Nature, the fifth iteration of the Hamilton-born music festival. It was hot, then windy, then wet, and it was irrelevant, because it was Strangewaves, and that’s always a good thing.

Strangewaves bills itself as a “not-for-profit organization firmly based in the thick of Hamilton, ON that pursues an urge to program events showcasing exciting new music & art. It currently does not receive funding, nor corporate sponsorship and takes very much joy in its existence.”

As an attendee every year, I can agree that’s accurate, but also, it barely scratches the surface.

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Amsterdam's Altin Gün mesmerize the audience with their psyche take on Turkish trad music. Photo: Peter Michael Wilson

Strangewaves is the shaggy, sweet puppy raised by Hamilton’s Becky Katz, Dallas Walzak and Ken Inouye. In its first year, it happened at the Rockton fairgrounds; since that time it has been at the Paris fairgrounds, a short 30-minute drive away. It’s not in Hamilton, but it’s close enough for jazz.

And there can be jazz, actually. Music at Strangewaves can include everything from gentle acoustic music to blistering noise. This weekend’s line-up included gentle folk (Bridget St. John, Myriam Gendron), psyche rock meets Turkish traditional music (Altin Gün), corrosive industrial experimental (Wolf Eyes) and a bizarre, astonishing improvised vocal performance from a long-time legend (Mary Margaret O’Hara, with the Mary Margaret O’Hara Quartet). A host of local talent, including Sarah Good & The Bads and Shanika Maria, shared stages with talent from the U.S. and Europe. Some artists were in their 20s; others were over 70. There were black artists, Indigenous artists, queer artists, and male white cishet artists.

It’s not just that there’s something for everyone. At Strangewaves, everything is for everyone. It draws a diverse, open-minded audience. As always, I hadn’t heard of most of the artists before attending, but they were all excellent. If you’re open to new sonic experiences and familiar ones, Strangewaves is for you. There are outdoor and indoor stages, cool avant-garde art installations, good food options, and The Tunnel, which...

..Well, you’re just gonna have to check that out yourself.

Doghat cookin' up some tasty sounds for the Strange Brunch. Photo: Peter Michael Wilson

As for the crowd, you can be the most out-there person on earth or a fairly strait-laced middle-aged dude like me; either way, it doesn’t matter. You can be chill or fly that frickin’ freak flag high, and you’ll fit right in. There is a real feeling of love and community at Strangewaves, and the festival itself helps foster this. There is a safety tent for those who stumble into trouble. Harassment, violence and violation of consent are verboten.

Strangewaves 6 is no doubt going to happen in 2020. Check it out for one night only or camp for the whole weekend. Just remember to stay hydrated.

Until then, for a taste of Strangewaves style, check out Strange Day At The Bay. It's a free event in Hamilton's Bayfront Park, Saturday August 24th from 2 pm to 11 pm. For more information, click here for their 2019 Facebook event page.