Decibel Festival in Seattle has been running since 2003 bringing a diverse roster of electronic musicians, sound sculptors, and visual artists. In it’s ninth year, the folks behind Decibel showed no signs of slowing down after a week of non-stop action.
A furious run around Seattle could have been a bit excessive for my early arrival on Wednesday, Decibel’s first day. In an attempt to capture the most, I caught three acts in three different venues. Each gave off completely different vibes and a good taste of what was to come for the rest of the week.
The first showcase in the Optical series, “Ghosts in The Shadows,” proved to be a good starting point. Ambient music, through its textural and mood shifting qualities, is a style that becomes three-dimensional and is made to fill up the room and become part of it. That said, dalot, Brock Van Wey, and Robert Henke did an excellent job incorporating their envisioned atmospheres in the theater at The Triple Door. Henke in particular brought a particular sense of aliveness with a set in surround sound, developing a natural setting with sounds comparable to the hiss and burst of a crashing ocean, to a rolling thunder, drizzling rain, and back again.
Next up, I went to Re-Bar to meet up with some friends to catch Slow Hands. Thick basslines charged through his set, but they only offered so much drive with the way he played out his tracks. His signature deep house/disco sound was certainly smooth and sexy, but, well, his hands were slow! Afterwards, we wandered over to The Crocodile to catch Jimmy Edgar perform Magenta. Edgar’s A/V set was tinged with a good dose of juke that seemed to have the packed crowd frenzied in their state of excitement, confusion, and intoxication.
In search of something a little mellower, we went to Neumos to catch Robert Henke, aka Monolake, just before the club closed. Although I initially thought to pass on seeing Brock Van Wey and Robert Henke after their show at The Triple Door, catching the tail end of Henke’s set made me regret not coming earlier. At this point, Henke as Monolake was dishing out fast, heavy techno tracks. It was a good way to round off the night, and served as a reminder of the versatility of raw, minimalistic beats and how they can exude different moods with a change of tempo and rhythm.
The Modern Love showcase at Melrose Studios the next night similarly showed these dynamics. Demdike Stare made their debut SF appearance at Future Perfect earlier this year, and this time their set was just as impressive as before, with an added selection of film clips à la Anton LaVey. Where Demdike Stare laid the foundation for foreboding atmospherics, Andy Stott grounded the audience with steady beats and pulsing bass, leading the march into the wormhole.
Friday night offered a different sort of variety with Terence Parker at Re-Bar, followed by the Raster-Noton showcase at Melrose Studios. As a turntablist, Parker’s skills made for a seemingly effortless flow of energy through his set. Terrence Parker could have easily slayed at peak time, but an early set time didn’t prevent him from getting playful with his The guys at Raster-Noton played out their sterile brand of techno paired with their carefully crafted selection of visuals. Kanding Ray seemed to be the most dynamic performer, giving the audience hard and fast beats with intricate melody patterns. Byetone stuck to a minimal-is-more interpretation of techno that came off sounding flat in the studio. But the night was young, and I made my way back to Re-bar to check out As You Like It and Resident Advisor’s combined efforts for an afterparty headlined by Dixon.
Neither the timing nor the setting could have been better for Dixon’s 3 hour set early Saturday morning. Over the years, Dixon has made a name for himself as co-founder of the Berlin-based label, Innervisions, curating bright techno, drenched in pop and minimal house. The crowd glowed at 5am, and Dixon kept the magic flowing with dance music fit for the sunrise up until the 8am.
That night, I caught Roman Flügel both at Neumos and Q. The Frankfurter’s brand of deep house rattled the bass heavy sound system at Neumos. Still, Flügel’s choice for spacey melodies and pounding basslines made for an appropriate warm- up before he handed the reigns over to Max Cooper, who took his time lifting into a wild arrangement for his live set.
Q had a different feel entirely. The Miami-style club seemed like it was transformed from a supermarket, or at least it was a space big enough to allow their Funktion-One to sonically fill up well. Flügel picked up the pace and meandered through a selection of house and techno that never quite climaxed, but could have kept going for hours. Beautiful Swimmers came on after at 4:20am with a splash of disco for the early morning. It was funky and definitely fun for the morning, but at that point I was ready to head home and get ready for my trek back to California.
Decibel Festival has a little bit of everything and makes for a perfect getaway in the West Coast for electronic music lovers. Take the chance to check it out one fall, and you might discover new favorite artists for the years to come.