George, what’s this “Ambient Picnic” all about?

Pretty Risky, Not Worried

Chris Long unpacks the genesis of Victoria’s newest festival and explores the “why bother?” of it all.

“Why another festival?”

For Victoria’s Pretty Good Society, the answer to that question is anything but flippant and is most definitely far from “why not?”

“But wait!” you likely won’t cry. “Pretty Good Society, what is the story man?”

The intent here is not to grandstand, indulge or bore. This is a long read, but with Pretty Good Not Bad’s asserted commitment to mutual engagement with Victoria’s already-fertile creative community, I feel there is insight and context to be gained from understanding the how and the why associated with the festival’s origin story. Yeah, we’re super-heroes.

The How

From 2011 to 2015, Animal Productions sat at the heart of Victoria’s independent music scene. Started by Ali Lopez and Michelle Macklem, the team gradually evolved with the Victoria bands they supported, eventually becoming a nonprofit in 2014. That same year, Phoenix Bain joined to support with bookings, while Ali continued to shoulder the administration, organization and overall vision.

Animal staked its claim in town, booking some notable international artists (Islands, Shabazz Palaces, Viet Cong and MNDSGN). In the summer of 2015, the pair decided to throw their time, energy and relationships at a festival. Building on the cumulative equity they’d earned in and amongst Victoria’s indie/underground/weird music community, the pair felt like a weekend festival with 30+ bands from across Canada and the US was a challenging but sound idea. They called the whole thing GOAT.

GOAT Festival’s poster

It’s worth noting that Animal never wavered in their vocal support of Victoria’s active local scene. Walking that talk, Animal’s legacy of bookings that showcase Victoria’s legit underground scene is unmatched: Freak Heat Waves, Fountain, Righteous Rainbows of Togetherness and Iceberg Ferg (among many others) all received attention, focus and continuous opportunity. Ali and Phoenix filled that crucial gap that most culturally active scenes require: boots-on-the-ground, creatively enthusiastic risk-takers.

As GOAT approached its July 2015 weekend (Animal’s demise wasn’t quite on the radar yet), I was quietly orchestrating a wind-down of sub|division. For five and half years, I’d been cozy within BC’s dance music landscape, pouring my passion for electronic music and events into a monthly residency at Lucky Bar. As is to be expected, life and interests wander. As such, the energy and resources I was able to afford sub|div in its formative years were running a bit thin and there was an overall sense that conceptually, there wasn’t much to tackle that we hadn’t already executed. It was simply time for a break.

sub|division’s three year anniversary celebration at Lucky Bar

sub|division was part of a beautiful, robust community of adventurous club-goers and waiting in the wings was Urban Therapy aka URTH, an entity formed by die-hard sub|div family members who, understandably, were having their own ideas and energies targeting events they wanted to execute. Embedded at the core of URTH are Toni Hall and Dan Godlovitch.

Hall is responsible for a variety of stunning visual/multimedia work and collaborative projects with Arya Hawker and Steeve Bjørnson under the EMP Interactions banner. She is a get-shit-donner of the highest order and when she finds the time, she delivers fierce sets of dungeon-happy bass music. You should probably book her (but not for your wedding).

Godlovitch is a recovering CFUV DJ and has been producing experimental electronic music as either ookpik or okpk for the better part of the last decade. He is a member of the Krells and more recently, has gained many high-fives and smiles with the hyper-colourful post-everything dance music he produces with Colin Olav as Laggards. (PS – Fuck Laggards)

Coming out of GOAT, Ali and Phoenix were fatigued. Despite the festival’s conceptual win, some great shows and tangible engagement with the community, attendance was not as strong as expected. Additionally, the pair recognized fundamental cracks in their framework, namely, the recursive challenges associated with Animal’s familiar mode of engagement: bands x bars x beers. Investing time, energy and love into events and a community with little-to-no financial return is manageable if at the end of the day, there is meaning. If they were to continue on, there needed to be more meaning.

I had my own similar internal dialog around sub|div’s limitations and the programming barriers that accompany the traditional promoter/artist/attendee model. So it’s no surprise that in December, Phoenix and I ended up in a meeting with Dan and Toni, who were feeling like their conceptual tendencies and experimental affinities needed a separate vessel from URTH. Ali joined us for the second meeting, and quite quickly, with some clear mutual goals established, our conversations focused on exploring the possibility for a new annual event, what we wanted to see out of said event and how the shit we might execute it.

In the process, Animal transformed into a new organization with a new team and mandate, becoming the Pretty Good Society. Pretty Good Not Bad, happening June 17–19 at venues all over town, is where we arrived for our first event together.

This is Ali, not running a festival

A note on Ali Lopez

As of January, Ali has officially left the Pretty Good Society, although she is very much with us in spirit. Ali has goals that extend beyond event planning and production and require something that running a festival will completely obliterate: time. Pretty Good Society is forever indebted to the work Ali invested with Phoenix and Animal and we love her to bits. Watch out for her volunteering all over the shop June 17–19.

A note on Alyssa Hrenyk

With Ali’s departure, we wanted to keep an odd balance of board members and so we were lucky to have CFUV’s volunteer coordinator Alyssa Hrenyk jump on board with her smiles, boundless enthusiasm and sick spreadsheets. Alyssa is the only board member that owns any clothes that aren’t black, white or grey.

Pretty Good Board L-R: Toni Hall, Phoenix Bain, Dan Godlovitch, Alyssa Hrenyk, Chris Long

The Why

Pretty Good Not Bad’s existential genesis fixated on a hydra-headed pursuit:

How do we make a difference/try something new/positively affect the cultural make up of the city WITHOUT stepping on toes/diving into a pool of debt/over-extending ourselves?

Further to that, with our cumulative experience promoting, marketing and engaging with Victoria’s music-consuming public, we acknowledged some familiar risks to those who work in this city’s event ecosystem:

Is Victoria interested in this calibre of programming? 
How do we involve our community but maintain quality control? 
How do we sell tickets to anything without booking the Funk Hunters?

We cautioned ourselves from the get-go. But with financial gain far from motivation, we slowly and carefully navigated PGNB’s organization with the following principles guiding our outreach, understanding and decisions;

We believe in Victoria.

Aww, doesn’t that sound lovely? From the onset, we aligned around the idea that whatever the event ended up becoming, its programming had to reflect an authentic snapshot of Victoria’s contemporary creative identity. That meant discussing locals and focusing on who we collectively felt was engaged in meaningful work. If you didn’t know already, there is a metric ton of great things going on in nooks and crannies all over the city. You know the old adage ;) “If you think Victoria is a boring scene with a passive arts community, you are likely the boring one that simply doesn’t engage enough.”

We are not attempting to “ignite a scene”—we want to provide a platform for Victoria’s disparate micro-scenes to shine a little brighter.

Empathy and relative context are at the core of this whole endeavour. The city is blessed with dedicated artists, musicians, producers, creatives, curators, volunteers, dancers, organizers, promoters and venues that support or produce excellent progressive, contemporary creative work. Open Space; Jzero and Renee and the fifty fifty/Copper Owl; Dyana Sonik-Henderson and her Broken Rhythms Dance Company; Andy Andersson and CAVITY; Thomas Di Ninno; the Limbic Media team; the list goes on and that’s before we start talking about Vancouver. PGNB has to be about working with these crucial community lynchpins.

Further to that: free, all-ages programming was important. Most of the showcases throughout the Pretty Good weekend are all-ages. We’re proud to be providing free programming everyday of the festival as well.

We reached out to many stakeholders that we felt might respond to our ideas and we’re happy to report that most of them are on board for 2016. (Open Space the exception, simply due to scheduling. We’re hopeful for a collaboration in 2017, which is exciting.) PGNB will continue to seek the council of Victoria’s creative community as it evolves and grows.

EMP Interactions will execute a large-scale projection map inside Crag X Climbing Centre for the June 18 performance featuring music from Souns and Magneticring.

Spaces are important.

Kind of obvious, but harkening back to Ali and Phoenix’s conflict over bands x bars x beers, we all agreed that we needed to have some fresh perspective when it came to venues to dissolve some of the stigmatic routine associated with going to a show.

We drew from influential, inspiring experiences at events like Mutek, Sled Island, Primavera Sound and Decibel, most of which involved attendees’ expectations being reconfigured, typically triggered by a unique venue.

Spaces like Crag X, Studio Robazzo and the Atrium offer distinct environments that are largely untapped when it comes to live creative performances. We’re excited to animate these spaces June 17–19.

It’s not just about music.

Reflecting a contemporary approach to festival programming means that at every juncture, we needed to ask ourselves how creators and their content might work with other disciplines. We are aiming to provide unique and hopefully immersive experiences by combining music performance with other disciplines like multimedia projections, modern dance choreography and simple environmental lighting.

Let’s book some dope shit.

In an era where Bieber tribute nights, West Coast surf-rock and EDM survivalists still have a half-hearted stranglehold on local events, discussing headliners for an openly progressive multidisciplinary festival was easy. The guiding principle was simple:

Pretty Good Not Bad • June 17–19 • Victoria, BC • pgnb.ca
We believe there is an under-serviced appetite for quality contemporary experimental art, music and culture in Victoria.

As our ideas made their way to whiteboards and collaborative recommendations fused with existing relationships and intuitive suggestions, we started to see a fulsome picture. Modern dance choreographed to live electronic music? Sure.

A free afternoon of ambient music in downtown on a Saturday? Sounds great. 
Free all-ages showcases all weekend focused on Victoria’s noise and experimental community? But of course. 
Experimental music inside the crazy new climbing gym downtown? No-brainer.

As the ideas came, what became readily apparent is that there was no turning back—in our furtive solitude through the first three months of 2016, we’d ostensibly convinced ourselves that we had to do this!

I can’t think of an artist that embodies our programming aims and collective passion for creativity more than Laurel Halo. Her work over the past four years shows an expansive pursuit of diverse approaches to electronic composition, with some standout moments scattered across all of her releases for Hyperdub, Hippos In Tanks and Honest Jon’s. We are ecstatic to be presenting her Western Canadian debut in Alix Goolden Hall on Friday June 17.

In Closing

There is much to learn and still, a month out, a lot to do. We are grateful to the community that has guided us to this point and we are excited to introduce something new to Victoria June 17–19.

Tickets can be found here.

We want to extend a huge dollop of thanks to Thomas Di Ninno, Sean Evans, Jessica Kosichek, Devlin Hogg, Amy Kirtay, Andrew Andersson and The Number for their creative/technical support of the festival.

PGNB2016 Poster