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Decibel Festival: The Anti-Festival (Review)

As we dug into Decibel Festival this year we were a staff divided by those who felt unfamiliar, yet enthralled with all the unique artists in the lineup, and those who were giddy with excitement at what lesser-known extraordinary talent Decibel was bringing to our home grounds. So we decided to review the festival from both angles to give a good perspective of what Decibel brings to a range of music-lovers.

[authorbox authorid=”277″ title=”Sights from the Wide-Eyed Beginners”]Festival season is winding down, and all over the country we are seeing just how far festivals (particularly electronic festivals) have evolved. It seems that you can’t go to a festival anymore without finding some major corporate sponsored stage or a list of headliners that you’re already very familiar with. This is why we are calling Decibel Festival the anti-festival. The organizers of this festival are going against the grain to bring back what makes festivals so great: the music.

Let’s talk about the lineup. For most of us at Dance Music Northwest, we couldn’t identify more than 15% of the artists listed on schedule. Sure we had Dirty Bird extraordinaire J Phlip, and Northwest native and DMNW friend Manatee Commune, along with major players like Shiba San and Thievory Corporation. But for the most part we were pretty unfamiliar with the list. That is what makes this festival one of the best. (There was just so much music and artists that we were exposed to that we had never heard of before. Quickly fading are the days when you can go to a festival and easily explore the multitudes of unfamiliar names that brought a deeper understanding of what the bounds of your favorite genre can bring.) The curators of this festival have done an incredible job of providing that very platform for you to immerse yourself in something different from the norm.

Another interesting aspect of Decibel festival is where they host the shows. Most festivals organize themselves on one property with multiple stages, which is actually relatively convenient. Decibel Festival shows were held in multiple different venues throughout the city; places from the Showbox SODO in the south and Volunteer Park in the north. You might be thinking of SXSW or Austin city limits, but those festivals are primarily located on sixth street and have a small foot print. Decibel Festival featured most of the great neighborhoods in Seattle, which gave anybody coming from outside the city a chance to explore the corky burrows the city has offer. Overall, this festival actually allowed for patrons visiting Seattle to really explore Seattle in all of its beauty, rather than having you fixed in one spot.

The music its self was amazing. There are very few opportunities to see electronic music being created right before your eyes. I was sitting in Neumos watching Photay open up on Thursday night and heard music that we were not particularly familiar with. Equipped with just an APC, he challenged the normal formula of cadence and composure and offered a new perspective of what music should sound like. I spoke with him for a bit after his set and came to find that he came from a punk rock background; having played in punk bands growing up. He says he likes to take his music to a different level and throw in some “goofy” components to allow your mind to open up to new sounds. He also enjoyed the way that Decibel Festival is going against the grain when it comes to music festivals.


Photay (Photo Credit: Decibel Festival)

The greatest highlight from the five-day festival came at the end of the weekend for the show in Volunteer Park. This was a free event to the public and a perfect day to have it. The sun was shining, and the vibes were absolutely perfect. The day was full of good music and good people. The main stage that was set up only echoed the Decibel Festival’s focus on the music. Just a few speakers and a table for the decks. No overly elaborate lighting displays or branding. Just music and dancing in the grass. The music was enjoyed by all age groups. We saw babies with adorable ear protection juxaposed to senior citizens reminiscing of Woodstock and hippie culture. It was beautiful.

If you EVER get a chance to go to the Decibel Festival, it is well worth it. Come and enjoy all the beauty that Seattle has to offer along with really good music and really good people. This has been one of our favorite festivals we have been to this year.

[authorbox authorid=”1392″ title=”The Ear-to-the-Ground Experience”]“I’m mostly here to do some dancing,” a photographer from KEXP told me in between sets on the first night of the 2015 Decibel Festival, a seemingly endless hour before Nicolas Jaar took center-stage at The Showbox. As the clock struck 10:30, an entranced Jaar entered from stage left, and wasted no time enshrouding the cramped, antsy crowd in his own otherworld of beautiful, far-reaching soundscapes, sharp radio feedback, bizarre found sounds and samples, and busy, unpredictable beats. The madman’s two-hour DJ set may have seemed a bit slow-to-start for some of the more impatient crowd members (the set didn’t take a turn for the danceable until around 10 to 20 minutes in), but by the end of the night, Nico had proven to every last person in the to-capacity venue just why he’s one of the most acclaimed DJs in the world.

For those with their ears to the ground when it comes to the latest and greatest in electronic music, Seattle’s annual Decibel Festival feels like a dream come true. Five days of some of the most stellar acts in modern day electronic music, spread across some of the best venues in downtown Seattle, partnered with some of the best electronic music publications in the game; what isn’t to love? Decibel is no stranger to fantastic lineups, but when the first wave of artists alone touted such names as Dan Deacon, Tim Hecker, Recondite, and Autechre, we knew we were in for a full lineup somewhere between life-changing and orgasmic. And when the full lineup was announced, and Nico Jaar was added to the lineup, along with the likes of Pharmakon, Laurel Halo, J.Phlip, Mick Jenkins, Thievery Corporation, and many more, I was floored by the lineup Sean Horton and co. had curated this time around.


Autechre (Photo Credit: Decibel Festival)

The decision to book Hyperdub signee Laurel Halo and legendary IDM duo Autechre back-to-back for the Resident Advisor showcase at The Showbox Wednesday night felt like a match made in heaven. Halo came out just after Rob Hall’s potent techno set had wrapped up, and wasted no time brandishing her trademark abstract, outsider approach  to techno music, which, while light on the ears, was anything but easily digestible. One of my favorite parts of her set was looking around and watching others trying their hardest to move their bodies to the complicated, ever-changing grooves brought by her set. By contrast, Autechre’s set was extremely loud, harsh, and, while beat-driven, was completely unwilling to adhere to any sort of consistent groove, as one would expect from a live Autechre set. Given how infrequently Autechre perform stateside, I’d be willing to bet that many people were seeing them for the first time, as I was, and we were all completely floored by what we heard.

The local openers definitely held their own as well. Seattle native and STYLSS affiliate IG88 threw down a fantastic, showy MIDI controller-driven performance opening for Nicolas Jaar, during which time he brought out a handful of vocal guests to add to his songs, among them Shaprece, who sang two original songs with IG88 on production, Michael Harris, who also shared the stage with him for a couple tracks, and my personal favorite, Jenni Potts, who was brought out to perform my favorite IG88 song, A Subtle Separation, which alone sold the night for me even before Nico came on.

The Decibel Festival consistently feels like a truly audience-favoring festival year after year. Being in a venue, surrounded by hundreds of other people into the same music as you, there’s a constant overlying feeling of shared anticipation when there’s only a few minutes until your unanimous favorite producer comes out onto the stage. Unlike other annual Seattle festivals, Decibel is wholly devoid of any sort of audience segregation, and instead presents a friendly, inviting environment where anyone is welcome regardless of skin color, gender identity, or sexual orientation. And though I do think they could serve to be a bit more inclusive of those under 21, the near-lack thereof isn’t surprising given how big a role bars and nightclubs play in Decibel’s dynamic.

Ultimately, what I really love about Decibel is that no one is judged for being “uncool” or unworthy because of their taste in music. Decibel is one big loving nerd-off, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.


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