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Laurel Halo with Loscil and WAV_FORMS: PGNB Festival


Last friday, a new story for live music in Victoria began, and this was the first chapter - the first performance of a busy weekend billing itself as Pretty Good Not Bad, taking over unconventional venues with unconventional music across our city in a truly impressive showing for a first time outing, put together by an all-local cast of both veterans and relative newcomers in the business of putting on shows. 


To do something different in Victoria is a roll of the dice. The music culture of the city is rather firmly entrenched in an organic, folksy sensibility - So if the lovers of the synthetic, the cutting edge, the high tech and engineered are going to make their voices heard, they’d better do it right. In the opinion of this attendee that’s exactly what happened on Friday night.


Around the doors of Alix Goolden Performance Hall at 9 milled about some of the usual suspects you come to expect at electronic shows in our city, along with some excited teenagers, no doubt pleased about the idea of something interesting being put on offer without an age restriction.


The energy was akin to anything exciting that you’re doing for the first time - show organizers could be seen hurriedly pacing around the building, talking purposefully on their phones, the crowd outside the door giving off a sense of anticipation mixed with curiosity, not knowing where the weekend was going to go after this, it being the first year for this festival, but that this was where it all began.


The doors opened, the lower level of the hall slowly filled up, and after a short introduction by Chris Long, acknowledging the First Nations’ space on which the performance was about to take place and the organizers who made it happen, Sean Evans and Chris Dammeyer took the stage as WAV_FORMS for the first set of the night. 


Accompanied by kaleidoscopic, brightly colored projections courtesy of Dammeyer, WAV_FORMS started off with a simple looping and manipulation of a Barry White interview clip which slowly melted away as if into a dream state for the first in a series of airy, emotional ambient vignettes - the tempo of each piece may have been slow but the pace of the set felt fast as they moved through perhaps a dozen or more pieces, occasionally dipping into more monochromatic/austere territory in terms of both sound and sight before coming back to the real world momentarily for the set’s emotional crescendo as the sounds of bygone longing via Judy Garland appearing before us gave way to the most adrenaline charged piece of their set.


Finishing with visions of fire to accompany what sounded like a tribute to the kind of sounds Vangelis cultivated on his soundtrack for Blade Runner, waking us up from the dream we had just been on and in a way, setting the tone for the set to follow.


 Loscil was up next - a veteran local producer, he wasted no time in showing us the virtue of experience - at this point his sound and visual identity has had time to be honed, made exact, and we were treated to the latest chapter in his going on 10 years+ exploration of interpreting the setting of our province into audio form. 


Gone were the colors and emotionally sensitive vibes of the previous performance, Loscil traffics in a much more austere product - all black and white, stark realist imagery of Pacific Northwest landscapes, forestry and geological formations, with similarly large-scale music - hypnotic tones and textures married to long, crushing bass pulses with lurching rhythms that at times felt like they could drive the world’s slowest dancefloor.


While the gravity of the music was relatively the same as the set that preceded, the tone was more dirge than fever dream.


The credits could have easily rolled after the previous two sets, as they accomplished a perfectly satisfactory yin/yang effect - the greyscale of Loscil proving a more than worthy counterpoint to the sensuality of WAV_FORMS. What happened next though was that things went completely off the deep end for another 50 minutes.


Laurel Halo quietly took the stage and proceeded to unleash a tangled web of near indescribable sounds in what had to be the best bonus value set included in a ticket, maybe ever. Trying to articulate what exactly Laurel Halo is currently doing is a difficult task - for maybe 1/5th of her set was there a clearly discernable rhythm as she gave us a taste of the more straight up techno side of her repertoire, but largely the set had a feeling of what I could best describe as the most futuristic of jazz.


Heard softly in the distance could at times be heard electric piano chords and string basses, busy rhythms meandering, and while the sounds were all being generated by the array of machines she had on her desk, there was a sense that the bizarre, organic sounding squiggles and buzzes emanating from within were being just barely held together - nervous energy getting ready to burst at the seams, impossible to predict where it was getting ready to go, an unregimented feeling atypical to what’s usually produced by anything synced to a MIDI clock. To give us a sense of place to match, local video artist COMP_ZIT had prepared live reactive visuals with geometric motifs and abstract, shifting/glitching textures that brought to mind the idea that one was exploring the catacombs of an alien temple. 


When all was said and done, what Pretty Good Not Bad managed to accomplish with it’s very first show was about as good as it gets when it comes to presenting forward-looking computer music in an engaging way, merging content, context, setting and progression for what was one of the more memorable nights of music I’ve experienced in this city, setting an excellent precedent for the weekend to come, and one can only hope, the first in many more weekends and events to come.


Words from Lance Dobbie