I was fortunate enough this year to make it to the annual Decibel Festival in Seattle, Washington. It happens every year around the end of September, for 4-5 days. It is, in my humble opinion, the best underground electronic music festival in the US. Merck did the opening showcase for the festival in 2005 (DJ Merck, Deceptikon, Deru, Proem, Machinedrum, DJ Narita), and I was able to make it out in 2009 to check it out as well. After seeing the lineup this year, I put some money away this spring, and bought a ticket. The festival is non-profit, and utilizes volunteers to manage most of the showcases and work behind the scenes of the event, so I volunteered to help out on 3 of the nights stage managing at some of the events (Warp, Raster Noton, Nueva Forma). I suggest you head over to their site and peruse a bit, browse the showcases and stuff available before reading this, as it will help this make a little more sense, and at the very least hopefully convince you to come out next year. dbfestival.com
Heres a rough run down of what I did, what I saw, and a few words about it. Please excuse the few of these that are Instagrammed out. I happen to think that Instagram is the greatest thing to happen to social media since Myspace (No, its not Twitter, millions of people shouting at no one. Or Facebook, just a perfectation of Myspace). It really is such a nice, quick, and easy way to do a photoblog. I’ll type hundreds of words here, but a dozen pictures will say almost just as much. Nonetheless, back to the festival!
Wednesday Day: Monolake lecture. I wasn’t able to go to his live show that evening because I was stage managing at the Warp Showcase (details below), so I caught a lecture he gave earlier in the day. It was great, he has a lovely german personality, and he talked to us about some of his recent music and art projects he has been working on. Including a sound installation in a massive vacant water storage structure, and his work with lasers. Very enjoyable.
Wednesday Night: Warp Showcase: Machinedrum, Jimmy Edgar, and Clark. Quite a way to open the festival, it was gonna be hard to top the audio dynamite of these 3. All excellent, and specializing in certain audio areas, without overlapping too much. I helped stage manage this one, on what was almost exactly the 10 year anniversary of the first show that Travis, Jimmy, and I (plus Lassi), played in New York together. So that was neat to see how we’ve changed, but how we have almost the same chemistry and interaction as we did 10 years age (They’re both taller than me now though!). Local DJ Jimi Jaxon opened up, and then Travis was on after him. He annihilated the place with his combo of IDM, Dubstep, Lovestep, Trap, and general fuckery. Jimmy came on after and played a more Techno/Electro oriented set, but it definitely had some bassbombs as well. Clark was the final act of the night, playing his signature take on IDM, excellently produced, with lots of gear to keep the set interesting. I left the venue thinking, there is no way that this night will be topped, and I was basically right, but there was still some good stuff to see coming up!
Thursday Day: Jimmy Edgar & Appleblim were DJing on a boat, cruising through the two main lakes in Seattle on a sunny Seattle afternoon. I could not miss this. The system was so insanely bassy (see pic), that I could barely stand to be downstairs with Appleblim while DJing, his set sounded decent, but it was hard to enjoy due to the setup. By the time Jimmy went on, the Bass and audio dynamics had been worked out a bit better and he did what was probably the best DJ set of the festival. Bouncing between different electro, bass, dance, and even a Nine Inch Nails song. Very enjoyable.
Thursday Night: First I went to see Objekt, played a decent set, only person to DJ an Autechre track during the festival. Then over to see Baths, based off a friends recommendation, but it was not my thing at all. Basically a disguised crowd of screaming teeny boppers, going off to his simply produced beats and contrived singing. Fortunately for me, it was then on to see Andy Stott. He played a great set, of what I’m assuming will be very similar to his album coming out soon. Hovering somewhere in the realms of his new zoned out minimal techno style. Played in a nice basement club, on a very loud system, I will be getting that album soon after release.
Friday Day: A few forgettable lectures and then: Carl Craig & Roger Linn in conversation. I’m hoping you all know who Carl Craig is, but for those who don’t know about Roger Linn, he was the main brains behind the MPC drum machines (as well as several less famous, but influential, ones before that). Their chat was nothing amazing, but just sitting in the room with these two was cool enough. Then it was on to the early evening show with Sight Below, Biopshere, and Eleh. I caught the first two, but had to leave before Eleh to go to my night duties. Both sets were excellent, and it was really satisfying to finally see Biosphere live after being a fan for 1.5 decades.
Friday Night: After the above quiet performance hall ambience, I was off to my evening volunteer position helping out at the Raster Noton show. As far as my view on the label; most of the early Noton stuff, I appreciate what they’re doing, but I can’t say that I really listened to it much. But it seemed around the time of the demise of Merck, they moved more into a much more listenable sound, some might even say mainstream IDM oriented electronica. Music was provided by: Emptyset, Kangding Ray, Byetone. Emptyset is all the rage now, and they did play an excellent set of what I would describe as Experimental Bass music. Kangding Ray, who has 3 nice albums out (probably my favorite things I’ve heard on Raster Noton), of what I would describe as active versions of Shuttle358 stuff, actually played a dark techno set. Not what I was expecting, but still good, portions of it vaguely reminiscent of some of the Anders Ilar stuff on Narita. Byetone had a decent set, of what I would describe as generic IDM type electroey stuff. Good, but the first 2 sets were more interesting. Overall an excellent showcase, though it was aurally fatiguing, and the set order probably should have been reversed. (Sorry, was too busy working to take any pics)
Saturday: I messed around during the day, and got ready for the evening shows of Lusine & Tycho (at the Ghostly Showcase) and then Sepalcure (at the Hotflush showcase). I have to say the most disappointing set of the festival was Lusine. I had been told when I got to Seattle that he was debuting a lot of material from his upcoming album on Ghostly. Which had me looking forward to some new and interesting sounds for the festival days leading up to it, but it was basically just more generic versions of the sound hes been evolving on Ghostly to stay relevant to whatever post-techno-pop scene the kids are into nowadays. Sadly mediocre set. Especially disappointing from someone that I, as well as almost the entire Merck roster, really looked up to as one of the earliest and most impressive people in the US IDM scene. His debut self titled album, along with Proem’s on Hydrant, both released in early 1999, really were an important thing to help me realize that there were lots of new artists popping up around the US, and some potential to harness that sound and birth a label. Up until that point I had seen the quality in the local Miami scene, and stuff coming out of Europe/UK. But those 2 albums changed my view on that, they were in nonstop rotation for most of 1999, until Merck began its life in 2000 (and I was fortunate enough to release material from both of them over the course of Merck). Tycho did his usual live show, but this one was neat to see him playing his Merck material for nearly a 1000 people. After his set I headed up to the Hotflush Showcase to catch Travis and Praveen do their Sepalcure live set. Upon getting there, Travis informed me that they were playing their entire debut album in live form, so that got my psyched. Their set was fun to watch, Praveen turns into a maniac once he gets behind the gear with a crowd watching. Just seeing him make these bizarre, but awesome faces, keeps the show interesting.
Sunday: I did some sightseeing during the day and then headed over to the Nueva Forma Showcase that I was helping out with that night. They are a newer label, based out of Portland, with a vaguely IDM type of sound, seems like some fresher younger guys involved in it. Was interesting to help them out in what was one of their first big shows. The standout to me was The Bear & The Sea, he has what could be best described as an evolved sound of Boards of Canada, Machinedrum, and Tycho, into a more modern and slightly more indie rock type of sound. They also had a fellow named Wndfrm who opened the night. He did an interesting set of Dub techno, but without falling into the rut of using the same standard beat styles and arrangements, he kind of kept it slightly awkward in that regard all night, but that was interesting, and had me wanting to hear just a normal 4/4 beat under his sounds, but guiltily so. Looking forward to hearing more new music from all of these guys in the future.
So that was the festival, I really enjoyed it. It has a really nice balance of all styles of contemporarily popular underground electronic music. I’m definitely already considering going out next year. Feel free to ask any questions, and I will be posting up video I took of the acts, in a future blog post.