Spotlight | Oddness Curated | Pretty Good Not Bad 2016
A fresh dollop of weird is coming Victoria’s way. From June 17-19, Pretty Good Not Bad will bring artists who thrive in the margins of familiarity to Vancouver Island for a weekend of unfamiliar festival programming. The events at PGNB celebrate the visually and sonically unconventional, especially electronics, multimedia collaboration, and avant-garde performance, in choice and unconventional venues.
This novel festival is being brought to us by the Victoria Pretty Good Society (VPGS), an eager non-profit rising out of the ashes of Animal Productions and sub|division. Animal co-directors Ali Lopez and Phoenix Bain hung up their gloves not long after staging 2015’s GOAT Fest; Bain teamed up with Chris Long, whose monthly residency at Lucky Bar brought forward-thinking dance and bass music to Victoria for the better part of a decade, and ended in December of last year. These two programmers, with the immeasurable help of CFUV’s Alyssa Hrenyk, producer Dan Godlovitch (OKPK, Urban Therapy) and tech-visual artist Toni Hall (also of Urban Therapy), have crafted what has the potential to be one of the most strange and interesting weekends of 2016.
“It’s just great to be surrounded by people who have similar but different interests, really great attitudes, and are not afraid to do work.” This grateful voice belongs to Chris Long, talking over a noisy crowd at the Drake Eatery about his Victoria Pretty Good Society co-conspirators, a month before the PGNB weekend. Phoenix Bain continues: “Dan [Godlovitch] and Chris got chatting about the fact that Animal was dissolving, what it brought to the community and would leave in the community, and what they’d like to see” For a while the group cavorted around the idea of doing something spectacular, and potentially scandalous. What they came up with, they say, is going to be pretty good, or at least not bad.
If GOAT Fest was the event that sapped the reserves of Animal Productions, what caused sub∣division to convalesce was its legacy. “It went through a real heyday,” says Long “but in the last year, it was a real struggle for me to maintain it at the level of quality I had committed to.” Meanwhile, Dan Godlovitch and Toni Hall’s Urban Therapy--busy throwing one-off parties in warehouses and art galleries, intentionally outside of the club scene--had become interested in transitioning into it. Thus Urban Therapy presented itself as the natural successor to sub∣division, allowing Long to more easily transition into his next creative phase. What he wanted to do was emulate in Victoria the inspiring programming he saw going on in other communities; in the end this became an excuse for all of them all to collaborate. Bain brought on Alyssa Hrenyk of CFUV and Eventide Music Festival, with whom she had worked in the past. “She’s had her hand in the music scene for many years but you might not have seen her doing what she does. She’s the glue that holds us together.”
A major component of what makes PGNB notable is its choice of venues. “Part of our mandate when we were sitting down and talking about what we wanted to be and what we wanted this event to be was to activate spaces that weren’t typical.” Says Bain. While some of the locales utilized by PGNB are well-known performance spaces -- Copper Owl, Alex Goolden Hall, Intrepid Theatre -- others like Studio Robazzo and the Crag X climbing gym are not, and should offer something new to those who attend.
“Studio Robazo is kind of a cool secret in town.” says Long. “The show we’re doing in there has a modern-dance theme to it. It’ll be dynamic and I know a lot of people will be like ‘oh this is fun I’ve never been in here.’” The modern dance element Long alludes to includes Berlin synth-dance team Hyenaz, whose bold stage personas caused electro-punk queen -- and this year’s guest curator at Sled Island -- Peaches to call them a “performative monster duo”. Guests will also witness collaboration between local producer OKPK (the solo iteration of Godlovitch’s creative efforts) and Broken Rhythms, a Victoria dance troupe who have choreographed a performance to OKPK’s sounds.
Bain became especially animated when talking about the Crag X event. “We’re video-mapping the geometric walls at Crag X and having two artists--Souns is the one I’m most excited for from Vancouver--and Magneticring create a visual experience where you could lie on the floor if you wanted and just take in what’s happening.”
Bain gets to say “we” because the Victoria Pretty Good Society’s Toni Hall will be responsible for the evening’s visual component. The Crag X climbing gym, with its rainbow array of slopers, crimps and pinches, and two-tone grey-black oblong walls pitched at athletic angles, will be her atelier for the evening.
These unconventional events are bookended by concerts in two of Victoria’s most aesthetically appealing structures -- Alix Goolden Hall and The Atrium. The former, a formidable stone church replete with brass organ and stained wooden benches will be graced by festival headliner Laurel Halo and her rhythmically rigorous electronic atmospheres alongside the glitched visuals of Victoria’s Comp_Zit. They will be supported by Vancouver ambient progenitor Loscil, as well as Sean Evans and Chris Dammeyer, presenting their multidisciplinary collaboration WAV_FORMS.
As the final ticketed event of the festival, pianist Jean-Michel Blais brings the music of his cinematic debut II to the Atrium alongside inimitable Pender Island songwriter Iceberg Ferg and DIY instrument architects Southwoods. The concert will begin at dusk, just as the light settles down.
As anyone who has lived in Victoria for a period of time long enough to be inspired to strive to make it a more creative space can tell you, this is a city full of weirdos. There is a strong DIY arts culture hidden in plain sight, on the walls of bakeries and galleries, holed up in the odd corners of gentrified downtown, taking center stage when it can. It is also a city whose weirdos have to constantly compete with Victoria’s identity as tourist destination and hub of governmental status quo. Pretty Good Not Bad won’t solve any of this (not in its first year anyhow) but it does bring some of Victoria’s more mindful and interesting creative individuals together, placing them alongside inspiring national and international acts.
If you scroll down the schedule at prettygoodnotbad.ca, or flip through one of their flyers about town, or talk to some of the festival's approachable creators, you’ll notice something about PGNB’s programming: half of the events are free and all ages. This includes several noise shows curated by Andrew Andersson through his store/moniker Cavity, a kid-friendly ambient picnic broadcasting Eno-esque compositions by some of the festival’s main talents in Centennial Square, and an installation at the 50/50 Art Gallery that will take on the conventional interpretations of Victoria’s troubled tourist city identity.
Godlovitch speaks to his ideal festival goers experience: “My sort of poetic image of what is a success for me, is some 15-16 year old who goes to ambient picnic, sticks around, like never having really engaged with that before and walking home she’s like ‘shit I’m gonna go get some reverb pedals and see what I can do.’”
It’s the original mandate of the VPGS to stimulate and nurture Victoria’s appetite for the so-called other that guides this festival’s inaugural happening. For Victoria Pretty Good Society president Phoenix Bain, one of the simpler motivations behind this festival was to create a unique, transformative experience. “[Success] for me, is when someone walks away from a show and says ‘never thought I’d see that but that was great.’”
For Long, inspiration comes from elsewhere. No one would assume that a small city on the Pacific coast of Canada’s mainland would be at the forefront of arts and culture, and quite simply it isn’t. So there is opportunity as well as room for innovation. The successful though perhaps less enthusiastically odd yearly festival Rifflandia has set a precedent for how to organize large-scale, multi-day events with the city. “We just simply don’t exist without the legacy of an event like Rifflandia, and that’s a fundamental thing to understand.” But a more global culture necessitates a more globally aware arts community and a festival like PGNB is designed to express that, and even mirror what it is inspired by. “We’ve all been lucky enough to go to Sled Island or Mute Tech and have your mind blown by amazing multimedia installations and stuff and you’re just like ‘why can’t we do stuff like this in Victoria?’ And the answer is we can, we just have to have someone who’s committed to the vision of how that will occur, have some foresight and commitment to the programming and pour a bunch of time into writing grants.”
So Pretty Good Not Bad Festival is a passion project that’s seriousness is undercut by a silly name--what else? In the indie-folk climate of Victoria, programming like this speaks for itself and in its own language. Some of Victoria’s most characterizing spaces will be reimagined for one night, playing their part in a weekend full of unique sounds, visuals and performances that do not so much aim to highlight the other as they do recognize it for us in ourselves. “The point of art is that it’s supposed to be this potentially transcendent experience and I think everything that we’ve done is going for that.” Says Godlovitch. “I think we’re going to hit it.”