Spanning from ambient to dub to techno to industrial, there was a philosophy underlying all of the music that was gradually peeling back from the streets of Seattle, where grunge was pioneered and hardcore of all shapes and sizes had thrived.
The contemporary manifestation of Seattle’s ’90s rock scene lay before me.
Friday I hop on the Surefire Boat Party a little after noon. Sure enough, I meet the whole Surefire team and put a face to one of the most important behind-the-scenes people in tasteful bass music, Miro, co-founder of Surefire.
Nothing beats cruising through the bay and scoping the skyline of a new city while listening to world-class beats.
Tyler Tastemaker opens up sail-setting with some West Coast style trap followed by some serious dubstep classics and some of that purple. A short, red-headed lad then plays a refreshingly eclectic set of sharp techno, 2 step, and other-worldly breaks. The US-born, Bristol-based producer goes by the name of Ginz.
After his set, I notice Ginz talking to a very familiar face: David Letillier, better known as Kangding Ray. I impatiently wait for Ginz to leave him alone so I can tell him my phone is dead and I can’t do an interview. Any excuse to talk to a bona fide explorer of unknown sound scapes, I’ll take.
Ginz exits stage left and I make my introduction. We talk about niche minimal techno and how nice it is to hang at a festival for days, seeing amazing acts and hanging with peer artists and hardworking industry folk. He leaves me with one token of advice,
“See Emptyset tonight [his opener at the Raster-Noton showcase]. They are the most ‘massive’ act of the year and I can’t get stress that enough,” David exclaims.
I’d heard of Emptyset before from being into the Subtext releases and from my general avant garde ambient/techno knowledge, but had managed to brush past them until this point. Little did I know that the man I impatiently waited to leave David’s presence was one half of Emptyset. Little did I know that that same man co-wrote Joker‘s seminal dubstep album, Purple City. Little did I know that that little ginger Brit started Multiverse, the parent label to Tectonic, Subtext, Earwax and many more. Honestly, I didn’t find this out until about a few sentences ago when I decided to look James Ginzburg up. Thanks to Cole, I did get a chance to talk to James on the boat for a healthy moment and he’s strikingly hilarious.
Cole and I head back over to “campus” to recharge for less than half an hour before heading to the second Decibel Boiler Room. At the door, “But I RSVPed, I can show you the e-mail.” “Yaaa, they do that a lot,” says the doorman, and the hip dude behind him raises his chin.
I cross my arms in disapproval while Cole just says the word “Ableton.”
The door swings open, the doorman steps aside, and the hip dude behind him lowers his chin.
Cole, Cole’s girlfriend, my host, and myself all comfortably walk in. We mill about to the sounds of DevonWho of Dropping Gems. I spot a fellow scrawny white kid with a familiar face. The man behind Objekt, TJ Hertz is calmly enjoying Devonwho in the corner. I ask him about his future direction. He claims to be having a very hard time making the techno he wants, and I make him promise to get weird for my friends back home when he plays in New York.
Another mini-mission accomplished.
I get tired pretty quickly and go to nap in preparation for final beatdown. Due to real life crap (its always “crap”) and being poor, I had to truncate my trip a day. Terribly sad. I wake up at 11 p.m. on the dot and the first thing I think is, “Am I going to listen to David or not?” Emptyset would literally be going on that moment. I thrust myself out of bed and call a cab while tossing camera in bag and rum down throat. I shudder and move forward.
I hadn’t missed too much apparently (nothing starts on time in the music industry). But I will tell you that an Emptyset set is meant to be experienced in full. How do I describe Emptyset?
Close your eyes and revisit the most visceral experience you’ve ever had. Hold that sensation and open your eyes. That’s as close as you’ll get to an Emptyset performance unless you go see them.
James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas aren’t fucking around when it comes to showing you what sound can do.
Loose circuitry and untethered electricity sizzle throughout the room, soldering your frontal lobe to your forehead. Uncured drums cut through industrial wastelands and the boys have yet to look up. The whole thing builds up to a hyper-cinematic drop of Roly Porter’s remix of Emptyset’s “Function”.
Kangding Ray was right. I hope KR didn’t mind following such a performance; I sure didn’t. Kangding Ray plays a flawless avant garde techno set that reveals the full clarity of the massive basement’s sound system. Oh yeah—Raster-Noton is in the same industrial space as Modern Love. The Decibel curators are smart.
Kangding Ray sports a touch screen that he uses to control his tracks in Ableton, which have been deconstructed into 10 to 15 stems a song—a true live PA permitting an assuredly forward-thinking set that begs notes on process as much as output.
The set is emotionally dynamic, ranging from dark to euphoric.
Raster-Noton stalwart Byetone plays last and carries the energy gorgeously. His sound is the most “fun” of the bunch. The beginning is almost Clark-esque: concise live mixing of liberated audio signals soaring around the venue. He churns this raw production into pronounced, pounding beats that get the dancefloor in full motion. There is a slight surfer-rock undertone to his performance that makes you want to clap your hands and throw back your pho-hawk.
As Byetone wraps up his set—encore included—I spot another vaguely familliar face; someone I had met during Together Festival 2012, in fact. Phaedra Brucato came out to Seattle to visit her family and brought a solid posse of Boston heads who appreciate the boundary-breaking nature of noise and post-industrial music. My Decibel experience was slowly turning into a unified exploration of the raw unadulterated culture that is noise music.
Spanning from ambient to dub to techno to industrial, there was a philosophy underlying all of the music—particularly the Modern Love Showcase and the Raster Noton Showcase—that was gradually peeling back from the streets of Seattle, where grunge was pioneered and hardcore of all shapes and sizes had thrived.
The contemporary manifestation of Seattle’s ’90s rock scene lay before me.
The whole engulfment is romantically sealed when I hop in Phaedra’s friend’s car to head to an afterparty and discussion of Roly Porter and Merzbow takes place over a Regis & Peter Sutton collaboration on the car stereo.
Over the past couple of days I had a made a new friend of the drum and bass realm, my EDM stomping grounds. Jeremy Sinistarr Howard played the only drum and bass showcase of the festival the first night and conveniently locked an unofficial afterparty gig at a robustly sized barn out in Georgetown, miles away from Capitol Hill. He sent me a text with the information and me, Phaedra and company arrived in time for the beatdown.
Sinistarr warned me of his juke/drum and bass hybrid sets that split eardrums and melted dancefloors, but seeing it in full force at an after party setting was the only way to properly comprehend.
He played about twenty favorite tracks, which was a nice rinse of the past two days of fluctuating white noise from the outer rim of the sonic stratosphere.
As I get ready to round up the troops so I can go home and crash harder than all of the nights before combined, a tall geeky dude opens up his flight case revealing three Electribes, two Kaos pads, a Kaosillator, and a battle mixer. I literally stop in my tracks and shuffle backwards.
We stick around a few more hours to experience a real live PA rave set before calling it a night.