The third day of Decibel, for me, got off to a late start. I unfortunately missed out on a showcase I had wanted to attend, Optical 1. I later found out that the headliner Urlich Schnauss missed it as well due to visa issues. For the night’s activities, rather than going all of the way to the Showbox SoDo to see Moby spin a DJ set, I decided I’d rather do a dubstep case study at the Showbox at the Market downtown.
After riding around forever looking for a parking spot, I finally found one and allowed the robot at the parking lot to devour $15 of my hard-earned cash. I arrived at the door to the venue and the doorman rifled through my camera bag, suspiciously eyeing the generic Advil I had brought with me. He opened the bottle, shook the pills around, and gave me the once over. “It’s Advil,” I said. I was free to go.
As soon as I got inside, I realized why he was so touchy — pills were big business at the Showbox that evening! Everywhere I looked there were big black pupils staring back at me. Kids were sucking on pacifiers and wearing beaded necklaces, glow-in-the-dark accessories, hats that looked like gutted stuffed animals, and t-shirts with sayings like “E-MAZING” emblazoned on them. Did I step through some kind of time portal into the ’90s? Was I at…a rave?
The sounds of Breakage thumping on the speakers reminded me that no, it’s not the ’90s, it’s 2011, and things are different now. “This is something we call dubstep,” the UK DJ said to the audience as he spun records that had everyone drawing breath as the songs built up into explosive climaxes. The club had a feel of excitement and frenetic energy, and it was hot as hell in there. A thick cloud of moist air hung over the dance floor — no fog machine was required. Any empty piece of floor space was quickly filled by a dancer with liquid arms, blinking lights on a string, or white gloves with glowy things at the tips of the fingers. Even the wallflowers seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves.
The fans I came in contact with were extremely friendly. They chattily asked me to take their picture, and rewarded me with smiles and hugs when I agreed to do so. Generally I attend metal or indie rock shows, where everyone keeps to themselves. I had found a family atmosphere in an unlikely place. I began to understand the draw of the dubstep scene, but didn’t feel I was done with my dubstep case study just yet.
Next up was Mt Eden. When they came on the energy of the club — already at I’d say a seven or eight — cranked its way up to a solid 11. Jesse and Harley stepped onstage and instantly connected with the crowd — they had the same friendly air onstage that their fans had on the floor. They were all smiles, and kept their charismatic energy going for the entirety of the set, constantly praising the audience for their enthusiasm. I’ve heard many an artist address the audience saying, “You guys are great!” but never have I felt the artist was so sincere, or that the compliment was so well deserved as it was that evening. I think if Jesse could’ve hugged every single person in the audience he would have.
Musically, Mt Eden is tight. I found myself tweeting, “Ah, so this is dubstep in its purest form, eh? It’s actually pretty fucking hard!” The bass pounded, the drums kicked, the buildups exploded, and, well, it moved me. I may have been converted. In fact, I may even go pick up a copy of their EP, Meds, and see if I like it as much in my car as I did in the club. I’m sure I probably will. Good music is good music, no matter what label you slap on it.
At 1:35, after an epic finish in which the whole crowd had their arms in the air, singing along to “Sierra Leone,” the New Zealand duo bid the audience adieu. The audience wasn’t ready to go, though. They screamed, “One more song! One more song!” and Mt Eden obliged, only to have the lights turned on and the music shut off mid-song. Rather than riot or throw a fit, people peacefully meandered out to the streets, no doubt headed to the next party. If so desired, you could hear electronic music 24 hours a day in Seattle that weekend. Parties would start at two a.m. and last until five, then another would start at six and last until noon, when Decibel’s infamous boat parties began. Afterparties blended into pre-funks — all day, all night, and all day again. I decided to call it a night.
The next day I managed to catch Optical 2: Grains of Sound at the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya. The recital hall had small piles of gear on the stage, and a big screen at the center. The whole goal of the two Optical showcases was to “explore the boundaries between experimental electronic music and visual art.” I settled in and looked forward to the upcoming visual and aural buffet.
Matthewdavid came on, and he started his set off with a repeating sample that said, “Let us give thanks for the colors.” He played an hour-long set of dreamy, warm, ambient electronica while splashes of color were displayed on the screen on stage. Perhaps Amon Tobin‘s set on Thursday had set the bar a bit high, but I expected the visuals to be a little more compelling. There was nothing crazy going on, just colors. That’s not to say it was a terrible experience, though. I enjoyed the music.
Christopher Willits followed, and his music was even more ambient and dreamy than Matthewdavid’s. He sat indian style on the floor of the stage with a small guitar in his lap. He plucked the strings, looped them through his laptop, and they came out sounding nothing like a guitar–if I hadn’t been watching him create the sounds, I wouldn’t have guessed that there were any live instruments involved at all. The images projected behind Willits were nature photos, lots of rich browns and greens. When the bass pulsed, so did the image on screen. I sunk into my seat and took a deep breath, placing my camera down and just absorbing the music. I thought about how drastically different this was from the insanity at the Showbox the night before. The music at Optical didn’t even have beats so far.
The final performance of Optical did have beats, though, disjointed though they may have been. Oval’s music and visuals were different from the first two performers, a bit livelier, more complex. I definitely want to hear more from him.
After enjoying the bassy music at the Showbox so much the night prior, I decided to attend Community Bass Session at the Crocodile Cafe that evening. However, when I drove by the club, for some reason I felt a little sketched out. Instincts kicked in and I made a snap decision to go up to Capitol Hill and see what was going on at Neumo’s.
I arrived at Neumo’s to find a sweaty club full of people dancing to a DJ set by famed deep house producer Deniz Kurtel. I’ve never been a huge fan of house music, but when you’ve got a world renowned producer in town, it’s a good idea to go check it out. I have to say, she was really good! House music is dance music, plain and simple. She, as well as the DJs that followed her, Chateau Flight, kept the crowd in constant motion for the duration of the evening.
I scooted out a few minutes before the showcase ended. Capitol Hill is full of bars, and it was close to closing time. The streets were full of people: Decibel Festers from Neumo’s, metal fans spilling out of the Absolute Monarchs show at the Comet Tavern across the way. I jumped, hearing a loud crash followed by a big “Oh!” from the people on the streets. There had been a car accident, it looked like three cars had gotten into a fender-bender. With a shake of my head, I turned away from the scene and walked away, my steps in time with the thumping house music beat in my head. What a crazy week! Can’t wait for next year.