Appleblim embarks on his set with a dark cinematic intro absent of a beat. The volume of the house system is turned up and the sounds are snapping at your third eye—this is my official introduction to Decibel Fest.
We are seeing a major movement in Boston. It spawned from the intersection of kids getting past the dubstep hype, traditional electronic dance music genres colliding and multiplying, and the vets of the scene getting fed up with how few and far between good music comes around. To be fair, I think Boston is deeper into the cultural shift than most cities in the US, but there are some happenings taking place in our country that can show us what real, tasteful curating can exhibit—one such happening is Seattle’s Decibel Festival.
The people behind Decibel are in no way part of our country’s late arrival to the forward-thinking music party. For nine years, in fact, they’ve conducted a generation-leading conference and music festival stationed on the front lines of music.
After hearing about this blip of unrivaled innovation going on in the Pacific Northwest for a handful of years now, I decided it was time to take a peek for myself. As someone who helps run Decibel’s younger cousin here in Boston, Together Festival, I knew there’d be plenty to gain from the journey.
I fly out Wednesday, only hours past kick off, arriving to perfect weather and an unexplored city. Like Together Festival, Decibel’s multi-venue configuration allows attendees to experience Seattle in a unique and exhilarating way. It’s strange how perfect the layout of Seattle’s venues caters to such a mega-event. Participating venues were situated in clusters, with the headquarters hosted at the Seattle Central Community College, while classes smoothly continued in symbioses.
I naturally gravitate to the Headquarters as I’m too flustered to try and reason what to do first alone (there’s a lot), and I know some friends are there. Plus, I probably have to pick up my press pass. In line with the festival’s seemingly perfect geographical arrangement, the SCCC serves as an ideal physical center for the festival, comprised of a front lobby with computer stations exhibiting relevant DJ software, classrooms for panels, and an auditorium for performances, larger workshops, and discussions.
After grabbing the required heap of programs and swag, the Ex-Director of Biz Dev for Together/Assistant Market Researcher for Ableton/dubstep don and local legend (honestly, if you don’t know this dude, move back to where you came from), Coleman Goughary (DJ Codiac), greets me with a mischievous giggle, hiding the fact that the girl standing right next to him is the person I’m looking for: Decibel’s PR hand, Melissa. Totally oblivious to Cole’s prank, I finally meet the person responsible for getting me to Decibel. I’m officially cozy in this new city.
“Prominent, contemporary artist reconstructing a 1970s cult classic”?
Using obscure vinyl, effects, and controllers, Demdike seamlessly weaves a soundscape that revives the true macabre nature of the film while managing to push the deep piece even deeper into the un-ventured.
Organic basses swell while wisps of raw audio signal lurk and unsettling clatter provokes mental shivers.
Occasional resampling of the film’s quirky dialogue allow for bubbles of comedic relief. The Demdike boys do a terrific job of putting your nerves in a corner and hosting their own aghast-branded party in your system.
Upon exiting the theatre, I bump into another Boston homie and staple to the dubstep scene, Yumiko (DJ U.M.I/SUBduction). Yumiko had been out there since Tuesday volunteering for the festival, and would later prove to be my catalyst for meeting the brilliant folks behind this phenomenon and many other moguls of the culture like Resident Advisor’s Editor in Cheif, Todd Burns.
I don’t have to go far from the headquarters to find a plethora of A-list restaurants and coffee shops. Oh, the cafes! I can’t claim to be a connoisseur, but I think anyone can appreciate the best coffee in the world to supplement a festival experience. I needeth not walk a block before finding a fantastic Contintental restaraunt, Oddfellows, for a noteworthy dinner before my first night of much-anticipated showcases. I recharge where I’m staying on First Hill and head back out to ignite the night.
I head straight to Re-Bar for the Global Skeletors showcase; the first in a three part dB series.
Wolf & Lamb‘s Slow Hands warms us up with some elusive house, spanning deep to ethereal and leaving me to sum up his set as the first front-to-back, left-field 4/4 excursion I’ve heard live.
Come 11 p.m., Skull Disco co-founder and Apple Pips founder Appleblim embarks on his set with a dark cinematic intro absent of a beat.
The volume of the house system is turned up and the sounds are snapping at your third eye—this is my official introduction to Decibel Fest.
As the dub pioneer hikes into some slow, moody 4/4, I pull up front to snag some photos. Looking to my left, the girl next to me has her eyes closed and her head back, swaying as if her light heart is picking on gravity. To my right, my dude is sporting the same jive.
As I gradually turn around, I notice the whole club is possessed in a uniform style: eye’s peacefully shut; spines delicately removed from their bodies.
As I’m pulled onto the unified wavelength, I imagine that this whole ceremony is like being at one of the original dubtechno nights, in an underground venue in London—the kind of atmospheric nights that existed back when Skull Disco was first fringing new rhythms into dubstep.
I bounce out in time to catch Clark at the Warp Records Showcase. As soon as I step through the door, the Warp veteran goes on, and the place erupts into a hailstorm of bleeps, sirens, and oscillating bass. I know I just described dubstep, but it was anything but. Equipped with Ableton, an effects pedal, and two hard synths including a Moog, Clark moves in spastic motions over his gear, masterfully smacking his Moog as if he doesn’t care about the output.
(Clark -- “New Year Storm”)
But somehow what falls onto the crowd’s ears is ironically precise bleeps—digital fluency.
Did I say “falls”?
I meant plunges, pierces, penetrates our eardrums.
Pinning his set down to a certain tempo or genre would be futile, as his music has always been preter-genrefication. Half way into the set he drops fan favorite, “New Year Storm,” and the crowd loses it. From here on, his set hosts an extra layer of industrial grind that wears the brain to mush and the body to bone.
STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF JONNY’S REPORTING LIVE SERIES FROM DECIBEL FESTIVAL. DAY II COMING TOMORROW!