We Went to a Festival - Pretty Good Not Bad 2017 : Every Show a Showcase

Review by Colin Crawford               Photos by Elyse Mathes

Pretty Good Not Bad presents itself as both unassuming and intelligent, with multi-media programming that is not feathered with big-name festival artists, but will absolutely play host to the unconventional and evocative. Departing from progressive counterparts such as Music Waste or Sled Island, PGNB differentiates itself through its scope, scale, and conceptual intent, negotiating the intersections of technology, performance and art. For those who create or consume experimental and boundary-pushing sonic and visual experiences through music, noise, electronic synthesis, visual projection, performance, and dance, PGNB is a haven for interesting media that will surely surprise you. Connecting visual, musical, and performance artists in creative, accessible, all-ages spaces, this festival achieves a very intentional human scale, grounded by its community-oriented curatorial philosophy and vision.

I think there are two big camps of how you do a festival. One is ‘okay, here’s a whole bunch of really cool stuff and we’re going to put it in a bag and shake it and dump it out on a city for three days or four days so you can have these amazing experiences’ ... there’s everything all at once. I think we’re tending towards the idea that at every show, there is a concept behind the show, I mean artist, venue and visuals. Everything is put together to create a whole.
-Dan Godlovitch, PGNB Vice President

Building off of the success of the first Pretty Good Not Bad last June, the team switched up the venues, booked more artists, and added a fourth day to the festival calendar. Fort Tectoria, the TicketRocket office headquarters, the Fort Common’s courtyard, and Crag X Climbing Gym were all successfully re-imagined and re-purposed as interesting host spaces for the tangling of visual, noise and dance art. This festival creates a fertile ground for happy accidents. Passers by on Fort Street could wander into Fort Tectoria for the complete Organ Mood experience:  participatory instruments for audience members and four grade-school slide projectors rigged up to Ableton. Saturday’s Ambient Picnic in Centennial Square provided a place where parents could take their kids for ice cream and tacos while enjoying the synthesized wanderings of Olav or Psychic Pollution.

If you put on a show at Lucky, it’s almost impossible to change that space enough so it’s not a show at Lucky… you kind of have expectations built in, whereas if you walk into a space that is new, is somewhat foreign, it opens you up. We want to build that trust with [our audience] so that it’s like ‘I don’t know what this is going to be like, but I trust PGNB.”  -Phoenix Bain, PGNB President

Through an intentional human scale, PGNB provides opportunities for artists and audiences to form unique and unlikely relationships. Montreal’s melodic-downtempo artist Wiklow and local visual artist Lane Butler became fast friends after being introduced by the festival team, creating collaborative content online with 5000km between them, and meeting in person for the first time just a day before their performance. Another cross-continental connection brought to life by PGNB was Alaska’s Indian Agent and Toronto’s Above Top Secret. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the two Sunday shows were merged into one super show at Fort Tectoria, and these two politically charged alt-hip-hop groups got to close out the festival together after hanging out in our town for the weekend.

PGNB’s highly anticipated second annual event at Crag X featured dozens of attendees sprawled across the foam floors, taking in Ikigai’s 40ft projections alongside electronic ambience from Calgary’s Slope and contemporary composer Sarah Davachi’s beautiful undulating noise. While many were in deep relaxation at the climbing gym, a stacked 6-band art-rock showcase was happening up Pandora street at Wood Hall. This bill kept one on their aesthetic toes, from the jarring, emotive performances of Maskara, Kye Plant, and Sister Blanche, the krautrock-like rhythms of Novel and Jo Passed, and of course the charmingly cosmic love songs of Teenage Wedding.

The Fort Common’s courtyard filled with eager audience members for Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s headline performance, opened up by dream-poppers Hush Pup, Vancouver art-pop soloist Mourning Coup, and Victoria’s genre-busting dance group Broken Rhythms. Under the direction of Dyana Sonik-Henderson, Broken Rhythms interrogates the limits of dance and performance through choreography and spontaneity. With the help of ladders and translucent tarps, this piece featured a wall sized live hand painting, creating a narrative arch alongside the repetitive, animalistic movements of the dancers. After the June sun had set, it was finally dark enough for Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s projections (which she created) to shine above her on the Fort Common wall. Smith’s fingers flew across her infamous Buchla Music Easel synthesizer, as she sang into her vocally modulated headset. Focusing on her revered 2016 record EARS, Smith effortlessly showcased her innovation and talent as both producer and performer with this set.

It is impossible to capture each perfect moment from this weekend, such as Cavity Curiosity Shop’s unforgettable free night of grimy underground electronic at Upside Studio in Chinatown where moody bangers from Void Mirror, Klubovader, Animal Bodies, and Formidable Liquorice were drenched in immersive projections from Nicholas Sassoon. Or the Saskatoon husband-wife collab of ambient producer Chad Munson and Ghosthouse, who’s totally unique visual projections feature a glass basin of ink and patterned screens.

I personally don’t think there’s a desire within the group to grow [PGNB] massive. We want to keep just doing this niche thing every year because we’re able to really focus in on what we care about and what we say we want to do in our mission.” Phoenix Bain, PGNB President

The fierce organization and passion of the Pretty Good Society allow them to host acclaimed international acts such as Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith alongside dozens of independent and local artists in our small city for a weekend. Seeking out and mobilizing all of the resources available to them, PGNB’s labour of love delivered another memorable festival for artists and audiences alike. As a non-profit organization, funded primarily by grants and local sponsors, this festival is refreshingly driven by their commitment to artistic integrity as opposed to commerce and partying. With intentions of growing deeper as opposed to wider, this team’s vision is a blessing to the art community in Victoria and abroad, encouraging experimentation and innovation through appreciation.

Thank you to Pretty Good Not Bad for having us, and thanks for reading!

- HOLY SMOKES

Video by Colby Carruthers