Ah, Victoria. Canada’s little tropical hamlet of the West. Observe the British colonial architecture and Salish art, the mid-February to October flower blooms, giveaway boxes of clothing and trinkets on residential streets, hip coffee shops and even hipper dispensaries, and the yogis, bohemians, students, cyclists, surfers, and visually-unassuming-but-secretly-hella-eclectic folk who call it home. This city is also home to some amazing music, and once you invest a bit of time finding your birds-of-feather peeps, there is a rich underground too. However, in the way of platforms, that is to say opportunities for these various niche culture-pockets to explore cohesion, collaboration, and dialogue, Victoria is slightly parched. But. This may all just be about to change. Enter Pretty Good Not Bad, a hot off the presses, non-for-profit festival, unveiling itself for the first time ever this June.
The PGNB creators have an impressive history of local involvement already under their belts. From throwing underground raves, to punk shows, to big indie rock shows, to Rifflandia, the five board members are no strangers to understanding the ins and outs of event execution. In an above aforementioned coffee shop, I had the pleasure of sitting down with 1/5 of the team, Chris Longshanks, to talk a bit about what’s in store.
Multidisciplinary Artistic Weirdness!
“So we all got together in November, and I think we kind of all knew we wanted to do a festival, but no one wanted to say it – cause that’s kind of crazy – but we did some proper brand identity and discovery, asking ourselves what our values were, and realized we were all here for the same reasons. We felt Victoria can and should have an event that is not about the mainstream, and can explore the other things that typically get ignored in the event ecosystem. “
The PGNB premise: What is the music, how can it work in the space, how can it be augmented with another discipline, and what is the value of the content?
“Exploration and the principle of feeling weird at shows is so awesome,” says Longshanks. Like when I got to Anti-Matter every year I’m so stoked and inspired, its such a great takeaway to know there are people out there working on weird stuff.” Enhancing sound with other artistic formats like dance, or theatre doesn’t seem like a totally novel concept, yet for whatever reason, it occurs less then it should.
And the value of said content? The June 18th Studio Robazzo performance will be the perfect testing grounds for what these modalities amalgamated can produce. Local dance company, Broken Rhythms, have prepared some modern moves to accompany the sets of resident modular wizard OKPK, Toronto’s Phèdre, and Berlin-based HYENAZ, whose live sets are just as notable for sound as the erotic theatrics.
Set and Setting
Something I love to geek out about, and that the PGNB team has evidently put ALOT of thought into, is how space/setting informs, and is in fact impossible to separate from performance. From a Jean-Michel Blais’ classical piano set, nestled in the modern opulence of the Atrium building’s future forest glass curvatures (also, I’m told there will be plants) to Souns and Magneticring permeating our ears whilst EMP Interactions project their signature visual/lighting accompaniments across the geometric playground of the Craig X Climbing wall. If there was ever a performance in which the lines of sensory perception could perhaps begin to blur together, I would bank it on being this one.
And to re-iterate Mr. Longshank’s premise of ‘value-of-content,’ removing performances from their usual venues like bars or clubs, and placing them someplace new not only has potential to alter and expand content and meaning of said performance, but it helps us as public citizens and community members re-imagine the possibilities for engagement with everyday spaces we all share.
I’m not just using this word because it’s a-trendin’ these days. I mean it. PGNB Festival is super conscious of accessibility, which almost feels a bit contradictory for a festival curating such wonderfully obscure content. (I suppose I’ve been socially conditioned to expect some pretention and exclusivity when it comes to cool things like this.)
“There are many young people who are super into modern media and want to engage with it.” The vast majority of the PGNB performances are designed for an all-ages audience, and why shouldn’t they be? I can’t remember anything I was more articulate and completely stoked about in high school than music, yet because of my age I was able to attend (at least legally) very few things.
Another gold star on behalf of accessibility is that this festival won’t break the bank. “I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple amazing experiences this year I would never normally go to,” says Longshanks. For instance at the Royal Theatre, seeing modern dance being done to Steve Reich music. It was amazing, but the problem with that scene is there is a real class barrier. No one who is twenty-seven can pay fifty bucks to see ballet.” Four of the PGNB events, one being a six-hour duration downtown Ambient Picnic, are completely free.
Headlining this year is Laurel Halo, a US-born, now Berlin-based electronic composer whose cerebral approach to production originated in the realm of ambient soundscapes, but has gone on to successfully infiltrate almost everything under the sun. She’s a wonderfully mixed bag of exploration, and her songs range a multidimensional spectrum with everything from pieces with vocally focused frameworks to extremely harsh and disjointed techno. Her set, the debut of her Western-Canadian travels, will reverberate the basilica-esque balcony of Alix Goolden Hall, in good company of audio-visual artists Loscil, Comp_Zit, Sean Evans, and Chris Dammeyer. It should be extremely enchanting and/or weird and unsettling, and either way I’m really excited.
Another performer, Zad Kokar, from Strasbourg France, channels frenzied prophecies of some sort of alien space language, among other things, into his instrumental noise sets. He plays the Sunset Room June 17th alongside a slew of fantabulous noizey-weirdos; Vancouver’s Shearing Pinx, Toronto’s Crosss, and locals Psychic Pollution and Sister Blanche.
Bridging The Local Underground
The majority of PGNB performers are from our very own backyards, and this is important. While having any city play host to the plethora of faraway acts like, for example, Victoria does for Rifflandia, is no-doubt inspiring and exoticizing, its important for us to give recognition to the fantastic things being done at home. Facilitating an experience for locals to work and play together, or at the very least, to be exposed to one another and the kind of awesomeness lurking in their very own neighborhoods strengthens and defines local identity as a whole, and keeps the scene authentic.
“We have all these different siloed communities, that just need to cross over a bit more. At the end of the day, even if we don’t grow much and it stays a local festival, if it manages to build the bridges for that stronger dialogue between the visual arts communities, the noise community, the ambient music community, and whatever other communities want to be a part of that – completely valid.“
Pretty Good Not Bad runs June 17-19th in Victoria, BC. For more info on the creators, artists, tickets, and volunteer opportunities please visit https://prettygoodnotbad.ca
“There are people who toil away in the trenches doing music by themselves, off of their own bank account, because they just love it. This (festival) is for them.” -Chris Longshanks, co-founder of PGNB Festival.