After the rave boom of the 1990s fizzled, Decibel Festival was founded by Sean Horton in 2003 as a way to showcase the beauty and diversity of electronic music. This year’s festival showcased 143 artists from over a dozen countries performing at 31 unique showcases at venues around Seattle. It’s a “techno SXSW” of sorts, one that floods the Emerald City with beats, beeps, and walls of lab-created sound.
Though I was well aware I would be in attendance, it took me until the night before the festival started to finally nail down my itinerary. There was so much good music scheduled to happen simultaneously! The hardest decision was what to check out on Wednesday, the first night of the festival. Zomby, DJ Krush, and Toro y Moi were all scheduled to headline showcases. After some heartbreaking deliberation, I decided to head out to Beat Prodigies, where DJ Krush was scheduled to spin. (He’s one of my all-time favorites). Also, Beat Prodigies was scheduled to go down at a nice place called Neumo’s in Capitol Hill, which is one of my favorite neighborhoods to see live music in Seattle.
I arrived right when the doors opened, and Marley Carroll’s set began immediately. Carroll hails from Asheville, North Carolina and his set was rather chill, a nice way to ease us into a long night of beats. He sung over his music a little, and his vocals reminded me a bit of Ben Gibbard.
Next up was Shigeto, who started out by telling us how happy he was to be there. He said with a smile, “Playing with Krush is, like, a lifetime achievement for me.” I’ve gotta say, I was really impressed with his performance! His music is unique, beat-driven, and full of life. He showed off his skills not only on the tables, but on live drums as well. The crowd ate it up! I couldn’t believe I’d never heard his stuff before.
I tore myself away from Shigeto towards the end of his set, promising myself that next time he was in town that I’d go watch him spin and stay for the duration. I hoofed it over to the HG Lounge to check out some of the local shit that was going on at the Dropping Gems showcase.
When I walked in, Citymouth was playing. He peered through a rectangular window above the dance floor, the trippy projected lights reflecting off his glasses like he was a villain in an anime. I only caught a song or two before he ended his set. Ghost Feet, from Olympia, Washington were up next. They had been standing to the left of Citymouth, waiting to play. Much of the festival went that way — to keep people dancing, one performer would set up while the other was finishing up. This kept the beats constant and the crowds happy. Ghost Feet had big smiles on their faces as the duo blended guitar and beats. As soon as they finished I made a beeline for Neumo’s –I wanted to be sure to catch Araabmuzik beating on his MPC.
I walked in, and indeed, Araabmuzik’s hands were blurring as he pounded out hard-ass beats on the MPC. The size of the crowd had almost tripled since I had ducked out to the HG, and they were loving it. I was able to wriggle my way to the front to get a closer look. I was shooting photos, and it seemed that no matter how fast I set my shutter speed his lightning-quick hands were a blur in every picture. He had a buddy on stage with him, a tall dude with enormous bling hanging around his neck who just kind of stood there nodding his head to the beats. I wondered if he had done something earlier in the performance that I missed. Was he an MC? Did he interpretive dance? Was he Araabmuzik’s official body guard? I’ll never know.
Next up was DJ Krush, and the sweaty crowd went positively nuts when he came on stage. They should — the man is a legend. Hailing from Japan, Krush is one of pioneers of Japanese hip-hop, and one of the first musicians, in 1991, to use turntables as live instruments while performing with musicians onstage. He started his set smooth and jazzy, greatly contrasting Araabmuzik’s hard-hitting beats.
Krush unveiled artfully mixed music of all genres over the course of his set, starting off the hip-hop section with Method Man and Redman’s classic hit “How High.” He then moved on to classic rock, of all things, launching in with a mix that utilized the stadium handclaps and chorus of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” He mashed the epic tune up with Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” He brought in vintage pop, too, with a little MJ in the form of a track you may have heard once or twice, “Billie Jean.”
I could have listened to him all night, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. At 1:35 am, a security guard came on stage and gave him a five-minute warning, and the crowd yelled out in protest. Krush nodded and a pensive look came on his face as he flipped the script, moving from mixes of others’ music to sick beats that were all his own. If you get the chance to see Krush spin live, do it! You won’t be disappointed.
What to do on the second day of Decibel Festival was, for me, a no-brainer. I was going to see Amon Tobin‘s ISAM Live at the Paramount, of course! Amon Tobin is one of the most interesting artists in electronic music right now, and there’s no way I was going to miss the highly anticipated American debut of his giant 3D art installation.
I walked into the historic Paramount during Tokimonsta’s set, and she was looking and sounding beautiful. Following her was ESKMO, who was filling in for Baths. He pulled props out of a box like Carrot Top, and looped the sounds with his voice and beats, warming the crowd up nicely.
Finally, it was time for Amon Tobin. The theater’s red velvet curtain was pulled back to reveal a big white structure, composed of many different sized cubes. The music started and lights were projected onto the canvas. The lights made the structure appear to glow from within, spin, fall to pieces, blow away, explode, and fly away, even though it sat still. Tobin sat in a cube at the center controlling both the visuals and the music.
It’s hard to put to words how gorgeous the sights and sounds were. I expected the show to be beautiful, but I wasn’t prepared for how mezmerized I would become. I was like a baby staring at a mobile, my mouth agape, my eyes darting back and forth to take it all in. I’ve seen many impressive displays in my time, giant shifting LCD screens, lasers, and the like. This is not the biggest, but it’s possibly my favorite. It walks that gorgeous line between simplicity and complexity.
I drove home, reeling from the amazing experience that evening. There was still more Decibel to come, and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store.