Decibel Festival 2010 : Ben Frost, Grouper, Lawrence English Live Show Review

In no time at all, the Decibel Festival in Seattle has apparently become one of the premier all-things-electronic festivals in the nation. Most electronic music isn’t really my bag; year in, year out, I know maybe one or two of the international acts that descend upon Seattle during Decibel Festival. This year, I knew Ben Frost, who was headlining the Room40 Label’s 10-year anniversary showcase, along with Lawrence English and Grouper.

Australia’s Lawrence English came out and told everyone that his music was better experienced by lying on the floor, so the Decibel Festival-goers all moved the chairs that had been set up in Pravda Studio and found a good spot on the cold, hard floor. English wasn’t lying. His first song came in with a torrential blast of distortion that literally sounded like hurricane-force rain and wind. Then the bass came in, and this must be what English is known for — despite the extreme, harsh distortion, the bass absolutely walloped through the floor, resulting in a full body vibration. His ambient tones were virtually nature-influenced at this point; it sounded and felt like the elements were tearing the venue apart, one floor board, one roof tile at a time.

But just as quickly as it started, English was off, segueing seamlessly into the softer, spacey, guitar-driven tones of Portland’s Grouper. The one-woman show started her soothing set with English standing off-stage, waiting for his hurricane to die down. It couldn’t have been a more jarring change, but the ebb and flow of the music worked out quite well. Liz Harris’ sounds were equally comforting as they were eerie, as she floated through her set in a ghost-like trance.

Iceland-born and Australia-raised Ben Frost hopped up onto the stage in his bare feet, launching into his horrifying brand of ambient electronic — insanely harsh distortion, wolves yelping and howling — Ben Frost was locked in. His focus onstage was intense, , and as he launched into “Killshot” off last year’s utterly fantastic By the Throat, it became clear that Frost is in a style of electronic all his own. Where everyone else is more concerned with setting a tone that lulls you into a dreamy haze, Ben Frost is busy creating a nightmare that you have no escape from. His music is scary, frightening, and uncomfortable, but you have no choice to try and survive — if Ben Frost allows you to.

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