“I’d rather fail as a business than support the commercialization of something that I’ve been pouring my heart and soul into for over 20 years,”
-Decibel Director + Curator Sean Horton
I would absolutely say they pulled it off and then some.
I rise early Saturday and grab brunch at Café Presse, another amazing food and coffee joint right in the middle of Decibel Campus in Capitol home. If you go, get the Croque Madame, their clever little spin on the traditional Croque monsieur. Delish.
Saturday daytime programming has been made rather simple for the Festival goer. The Conference has ended and the only event taking place under the sun’s hours is the LA-based outdoor party, the Do-Over, with surprise special guest DJs.
I take this opportunity to talk to the Seans, as they’ve been kind enough to cut out some time and pass on their vast wisdom for me to gift to the Together team. It really blew me away that they could calmly take 30 minutes out of the Saturday of their festival to talk to me about our festival back east, which is taking place almost seven months from now. They really love and appreciate what we do, and the brotherly (festival) love couldn’t be more prevalent. We cheers to the meeting by stepping outside to the front of SCCC campus where the Do-Over is and have drinks.
Peering over the beer garden’s ledge into the courtyard, I spot a familiar smorgasbord of vintage drum sequencers and Kaospads. The dude from the previous night’s afterparty! Novatron is tearing up his array of Electribes and effects modules like he’d been going since the night before. I point him out to Yumi, who gawks, and contently turn back around to enjoy my beer.
Yumi and Sean Power proceed to introduce me to more amazing folk such as Blip Festival founder, Michael Rosenthal, and Resident Advisor Editor-in-Chief, Todd Burns, who put Decibel at #2 for Top Ten September Festivals for 2012. The air is thick with flavorful intelligent music moguls with minimal ego and maximal sharing.
The courtyard builds up with Festival-goers and local Seattleites as one of the surprise DJs, J-Rocc, pleases the crowd. The weather is perfect.
A brush of melancholy pats me on the shoulder as I know I have to leave that evening, and the kinetic energy that’s been building up all festival will burst into infinite pieces later that night.
C’est la vie. It’s just one more reason to make sure I come back next year.
I grab dinner before my last hurrah, the Discreet Tones Optical. The Optical series is a powerful asset of the Festival experience, as it is given the same dedicated attention from its own crew of producers, curators, technical team and volunteers, separate than the Conference and the Festival. The Discreet Tones Optical gloriously hosted a stage of seminal neoclassical artists that would subsequently perform highly-acclaimed original work. The cast includes Nils Frahm, CFCF, Sylvian Chauveau, and ORCAS, containing Rafael Anton Irisarri, one of Decibel’s curators who’s helped build the Decibel from the start.
Needless to say, this is a treat.
Despite some technical difficulties and a late start, breaking the potent vibe of this unique narrative of contemporary electroacoustic exploration is impossible. This is part assumption, as I had to leave after the beginning of the second performer, Nils Frahm.
Frahm introduces himself with an anecdote about recently breaking his finger and asking his doctor, “What do I do? I have a gigs all around the world coming up.”
“Pick up the drums,” was the insight his doctor gave him. The German composer reveals a sincere grin as he finishes his intro and turns back to his piano.
Without sitting down, he whips out two marching drum mallets and begins pecking at the the grand piano’s sound board strings. The crowd turns to each and I smile large as this is the perfect cap to my journey of musical abstraction. He carries on for no more than five minutes, transforming the piano’s source sound device into a percussive instrument. He smacks his last string and the audience delightfully applauds.
A breath passes and Nils sits down and starts delicately caressing the C key. Although I was aware of how legendary the Discreet Tones lineup was, I can’t honestly say that I’m able to point out any of the performers’ music. Until now.
He repeatedly hits the one key, fluctuating in velocity. I have one of those moments where you feel dumb because your temporal lobe flashes from the sound of someone mashing a single a note. Relax, I tell my brain. He rides the one key for what feels like too long, then slowly ventures into minor riffs. OK—yes—I absolutely have heard this before, but identifying what it is isn’t proving successful and I’ll just have to go insane like every other masterful tune that my brain decides to disregard credit. I’m so absorbed that I exit the theater 20 minutes later than I’m supposed to to catch my flight.
I cab back to my base, bid a gracious farewell to my host and dash for my flight. I get a text from Yumi: “If you miss you’re flight I’ll help you find a new one and make sure everything works out.” Just what I needed: to be more torn. Yumi’s been at the Festival almost a week now, working her ass off.
Even with a combined crew of 150 directors, staff, curators and volunteers combined, putting on such a multi-dimensional production throughout a major city, is no part-time gig for anyone involved.
I’ve already started talking about 2013 with partners,” claims Sponsorship Coordinator, Cody Morrison. The crew works year round to make this the spectacular.
On top of covering music, technology, and culture, vertically and horizontally, Decibel strives to maintain tasteful diet of what is still considered underground music in a country that is a little behind the EDM curve—a region that doesn’t have the robust scene that say, London or Berlin has had for almost two decades.
In an interview with Sean Horton before the Festival, Sean says, “I made a conscious decision this year not to jump on the bandwagon. Instead, I went back to my roots (Orbital, DJ Shadow, Carl Craig, Biosphere). I also wanted to highlight the more soulful and feminine aspects of electronic music (e.g. Erykah Badu, Kimbra, John Talabot, Dixon, Shlohmo, Star Slinger, Baths, etc). Whether or not we can pull it off remains to be seen,”
“but I’d rather fail as a business than support the commercialization of something that I’ve been pouring my heart and soul into for over 20 years.”
I would absolutely say they pulled it off and then some. The saturation of Seattle with the best in bleeding edge music artists is not conjured by magic. Curating a one-week-long event of this magnitude means making big sacrifices. Much like our Together Festival, attendees have to to be torn night to night on which of the many headliners they’ll treat themselves to.
“Being heartbroken is part of the Decibel Festival experience,” explains Director of Marketing and Conference Co-Chair, Sean Power. It was nice to hear someone put it so poetically.
And let’s be real, if having to decide which of the world’s most innovative musical acts you’re going to see that night is one of your problems, I’d say you’re doing fine with the whole life thing.
I could only be so upset about missing a night of the best music on the planet among some of the best people I have met in my life.
To cope, I threw on an old-time favorite mix by one of Saturday’s—and the Festival’s for that matter—headlining acts, Max Cooper. I’ve probably listened to Max Cooper’s Get The Curse mix half a hundred times and it only increases in substance each time. I hit play, space for 30 seconds, and then comes a pure classical piano’s C note strikes; the same repeated note that echoed through the SCCC theatre merely an hour before. Bah, that’s where I know that emotive masterpiece from: Max Cooper.
I soak in the poetic puddle of the connection as I ride the Lightrail to the airport to go back to Boston.
The itch has been scratched.