WORDS BY JOE RYAN

PHOTOGRAPHY BY NNEKA NAGBO

Arboretum Festival was fun but felt completely unfocused.

The festival venue has changed three times over the last three years, meaning logistical issues still exist where you would not expect them to. Arboretum suffers from trying to do too much for too many different groups. The festival’s strongest moments were performances from Partner, Sloan, and Mykki Blanco.

Partner’s charm, harmonies, and double neck guitar shredding made their Wednesday set a blast. For a band with no album and only three music videos, they draw a crowd big enough to pack the House of Common garage and some of the parking lot. Partner’s songs about weed, malaise, friendship, and love are all too relatable.

On Friday Sloan drew the biggest crowd around, delivered exactly what was expected of them and went the extra mile by performing an additional set in place of Metz. It was a great moment for Sloan fans and a deeply boring one for everyone else. Having Hull’s aggressive experimental jazz weirdos Fet.Nat play between Sloan’s sets was a programming decision that would have made a lot more sense if Metz played.

Mykki Blanco’s Saturday night set had him climbing on speakers and adventuring through the crowd multiple times. While rapping he generated a circle around himself and whipped his mic stand about over his head. He ran through new material, took off his clothes, and targeted theatrics to fans waving their phones. Mykki more than anyone else playing the festival understood how to put on a show.

His Saturday night set was followed by The Operators. Why would a band playing synth pop songs with a quarter of the stage presence of Mykki follow him and Jungle Pussy? I don’t know. Is there any cross-over between the two audiences? Maybe a better question is, why are festivals giving headlining slots to side projects of mid-aughts Canadian indie darlings???

Throughout Friday and Saturday nights, bands on the Debaser stage were continually punished in their quieter moments by sound bleed from DJs in the festival village. Sound bleed is a common problem at festivals but the culprit is two bands playing simultaneously at different stages. There is no excuse for it when there is only one band playing.

As a whole the festival seems a little confused. Headlining bands did not particularly compliment one another. Merchandise for artists was shoved between local vendors selling plants, hats, and jewelry. The space was too small to comfortably browse or navigate through. The festival layout, programming, vending space, and talks all somehow felt like an afterthought. Luckily for both the attendees and organizers, the artists were good enough to distract from some of the flaws.