Pretty Good Not Bad festival raises all and no expectations

Culture Music

Summer’s here, and that means one thing: it’s music fest season, my dudes. With the arrival of good weather comes the usual suspects, including such favourites as Victoria Ska Fest, the Philips Backyard Weekender, Rock the Shores (though it’ll be taking a notable absence this year), and, of course, Rifflandia.

But before all of that comes something that strays a little ways off the beaten path — something “sticky and intriguing” that its masterminds hope you’ll check out this Victoria Day long weekend for its second iteration: Pretty Good Not Bad.

Pretty Good Not Bad (PGNB) is a music festival that runs May 18–21, with shows and events taking place all over Victoria’s downtown core. The festival is hosted and organized by the Pretty Good Society, which is itself a transformation and continuation of Animal Productions and sub|division. It’s within that history that the origins of PGNB can be found.

In July 2015, the Animal team hosted GOAT, a four-day music festival that, despite being what PGNB treasurer and marketing guru Chris Long called “a conceptual win,” didn’t merit as strong of attendance as the organizers hoped.

The Animal team, which included former CFUV music director Ali Lopez and current Pretty Good Society president Phoenix Bain, resolved to rethink their mandate, and established the Pretty Good Society alongside Long, Toni Hall, and Dan Godlovitch — the latter two bringing their expertise and ideas from Urban Therapy (aka URTH).

From that, Pretty Good Not Bad was born.

Synth artist Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith performs the second night of Pretty Good Not Bad 2016, which is returning for its second year on May 18–21. Photo provided by Pretty Good Society
Synth artist Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith will perform the second night of Pretty Good Not Bad, which is returning for its second year on May 18–21. Photo provided by Pretty Good Society

Speaking with me in the Martlet office, Long says that in establishing the festival, the Pretty Good Society wanted to “fill a perceived void” in the Victoria music scene.

The festival focuses on experimental music and progressive multimedia while also incorporating physical art elements, with a lineup including California synth artist Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (pictured), Toronto dream-pop outfit Hush Pup, and a bevy of local Victoria talent including Kye Plant, Aimée van Drimmelen, and even the Broken Rhythms Dance Company, to name a few.

“When we started thinking about what this festival could be,” Long says, “there was a lot of alignment around the more philosophical approach to programming. It’s not genre-based, it’s really content-based . . . It’s a reflection of a really disparate but eclectic set of tastes.”

But in a city that’s well known for an array of summer festivals, was there ever any worry of wading into a saturated market?

“I don’t think that there’s anything [in the city] quite like what we’re doing, at the scale that we’re doing, and melding the different disciplines in that we are,” says Bain, who on top of being the Pretty Good Society president is also the festival’s music programmer. She says PGNB doesn’t follow a “traditional fest vibe,” and that the usual ‘beers and bands’ festival model was something they wanted to move away from.

In practice, that could look like a classical piano performance in the Atrium, or, in my experience last year, a dimly lit noise music performance amongst the rows of vinyl at Ditch Records — both a far cry from the usual festival fare.

I asked the pair if they still feel like there’s, in the words of Long circa 2016, “an under-serviced appetite for quality contemporary experimental art, music, and culture in Victoria.”

Long doesn’t skip a beat with his answer: “Yep, totally.” But Bain is a bit more measured. “Since last year, I’ve seen a change in the music a little bit here in Victoria, in that there’s more happening more often, but it’s a lot of the same content.

“And so I definitely agree with Chris that we’re not there yet.”

“We’ve always said from the beginning we’re not trying to start a movement or ignite anything,” Long says. “There’s lots of people in Victoria who have been doing things for a minute, and doing them really, really well. But because of the nature of Victoria, they just haven’t had the visibility or resources to do anything greater than a friend in their show’s basement. So that’s something we hope to provide.”

Those who are so inclined are invited by Long and Bain to check the festival out, even if they have reservations about the unique lineup. “Just try us out,” Bain says. “I think that’s what’s kind of fun about our name, is people see it and go, ‘What the?’”

“Come with no expectations, and all the expectations,” Long adds. “At the end of the day, the festival is built on the principle of sharing this stuff.”
All PGNB shows are all-ages, and many of them are free to attend. For more info on artists and showtimes, visit