Decibel Festival 2014 Preview Guide & Picks

Seattle’s 11th annual Decibel Festival is quickly approaching, which means it’s time to start the agonizing process of picking and choosing amongst the myriad of showcases, Optical shows, After-Hours, conference workshops, and boat parties the festival has to offer. There are shows and conference activities offered up to 19 hours a day in 12 locations around the city, making the necessary choice between too many exciting options a stressful problem, but truly the best problem to have.

Seattle’s 11th annual Decibel Festival is quickly approaching, which means it’s time to start the agonizing process of picking and choosing amongst the myriad of showcases, Optical shows, After-Hours, conference workshops, and boat parties the festival has to offer. There are shows and conference activities offered up to 19 hours a day in 12 locations around the city, making the necessary choice between too many exciting options a stressful problem, but truly the best problem to have. One thing to keep in mind is the changeup of venues; the EMP (located in Seattle Center) is a newly added location that will house three of the showcase venues, as well as the entire conference portion of the festival. While it will be easy to move between EMP locations, moving between neighborhoods (i.e. getting from the EMP to Showbox SODO) is more difficult. Not unsympathetic to our scheduling woes, Decibel has done their part by offering a new transit option (see below!) and an interactive schedule where festival-goers can create custom schedules and then share them online with friends.Decibel Festival 2014In an effort to further ease your scheduling stresses, here are a few of our top picks for the festival, though we are only skimming the surface. Other runner-up sets worth mentioning including audio-visual performances by Max Cooper, Atom™ HD/AV, and Oneohtrix Point Never with Nate Boyce, as well as the Ostgut Ton After-Hours with Steffi and Marcel Dettman.
Wednesday, September 24

Natasha Kmeto __ Opening Gala // EMP Sky Church // 7:00-7:50pm

Portland talent Natasha Kmeto (Dropping Gems/Federal Prism) is set to ring in the festival on a heady, sexy note. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her perform numerous times over the past few years, and have watched her sets become increasingly more confident, nuanced, and emotionally biting. Her production is a beautiful marriage of tangibly dark and dubby beats with sensual vocals that seem just out of reach. Her new single does not disappoint, and I expect she will greet us with more cuts off her upcoming album. This performance is kicking it up another sensory dimension; she will be joined by Friends of Friends visual artist Effixx. I can’t imagine a better way to start off the festival.

Arca + Jessy Kanda __ Optical 1: Kinesthesia // EMP Sky Church // 12:00-1:15am

Fresh off production assists on the stunning FKA Twigs debut LP and 4 tracks on Kanye West’s Yeezus (“Hold My Liquor”; “I’m in It”; “Blood on the Leaves”; “Send It Up”), Venezuelan producer Arca will be performing a multimedia spectacle alongside visual artist Jesse Kanda. The two previously paired up in 2013 to present a film interpretation of Arca’s mixtape &&&&& at MoMA PS1, to much critical acclaim. Arca’s productions are haunting and glitchy, with an edge of anxiety that seems to match, rather than aggravate or soothe, the listener’s own anxiety. Kanda’s visuals bring this anxiety to life on the big screen, playing with light in unnerving and at times abstract ways.


Thursday, September 25

Andy Stott __ Modern Love Showcase // EMP – Level 3 // 11:45pm-1:00am

An expert at blending dark rhythms and hypnotic vocal hooks together towards progressively more danceable states, Modern Love’s Andy Stott is a powerful live performer that uses subtlety to the best of his advantage. His monochrome sounds induce listeners into mindless dancing trances, making this set a worthwhile repeat of a similar Modern Love showcase back in 2012.

TOKiMONSTA __ Rhythm & Bass Showcase // Showbox Market // 12:00am-1:30am

Red Bull Music Academy graduate TOKiMONSTA was born and raised in LA, and was notably the first female to join Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label. The music itself seems to defy solid genre categorization, flowing seamlessly between wonky hip-hop, trap, downtempo, and even indie-electronic and her live sets are known to utilize a variety of multimedia gear and live instrumentation.


Friday, September 26

Gui Boratto __ Gui Boratto & Friends Showcase // EMP – Level 3 // 11:45-1:30am

This showcase was originally supposed to be headlined by Scuba, but health issues led to him canceling a few festival appearances. Fortunately for us, Brazilian minimal producer Gui Boratto is filling in, which is more than enough to make up for the disappointment of not seeing Scuba this Decibel. Gui Boratto (newly inducted into BBC Radio 1 host Pete Tong’s Hall of Fame) was one of my early entry points for electronic music; his 2007 album Chromophobia has provided me years of late-night meditative reveries. Though his full-length albums are primarily minimal techno, his most recent releases have been much more house-infused and are quite dance-floor ready. Whatever he has in store for this performance, whether it’s minimal, house, or some combo of the two, I recommend being on the dance floor, front and center.


Saturday, September 27

Hush Hush Showcase __ EMP – JBL Theater // 7:30-10:30pm

Most of my recommendations are for individual artists, but this whole showcase is not to be missed. It’s an early one, so there’s plenty of time to catch another showcase after this one ends! Seattle label Hush Hush Records is home to a growing selection of artists in the aptly coined “night bus” genre (music that you would listen to at night… on a bus… it rarely requires further explanation). Cock & Swan lead off the showcase; the dark and dreamy pop duo uses analog synths, live instrumentation and a washed out vocal style to ease you into an eery-yet-ambrosial soundscape. Next is Hanssen, one half of Jacob London (his collaboration with Pezzner). While Jacob London is heavily dance floor-driven, Hanssen’s solo project is far more meditative and personal, though far from un-danceable. Kid Smpl follows, bringing with him a set of sounds that are darkly ambient, yet remain warm and lush. His highly praised 2012 debut album, Skylight, is my favorite headphone soundtrack to reading by myself at bars–alone but surrounded by people–an experience I look forward to simulating at this showcase. Closing the showcase is Slow Year, whose stylistic use of vocal samples and haunting industrial-sounding drum timbres immediately recall a heavy Burial influence. No complaints there.

KiNK ft. Rachel Row __ dB After-Hours 3: Dialated presented by Rane // Q Nightclub // 2:15-3:45am

KiNK is a (re)mixing super-force. While his own productions indisputably stand on their own, it is his prowess at remixes and live sets that have propelled him to instant and canonical fame. In a time where the club DJ is arguably more flash and show than actual talent, KiNK remains true to his art, reportedly even occasionally handing his gear to the audience to let them turn knobs, which he then works impressively and seamlessly into the sets. Over the years, KiNK has frequently worked with producer/vocalist Rachel Row, and the two are currently working on her solo material. This afterhours performance is sure to be intricate, upbeat, and extremely danceable; even if you’re not the “afterhours” type, this one is worth staying up for.

Sunday, September 28th

Greg Gives Peter Space __ Optical 6: Erased Tapes // The Triple Door // 8:30-9:30pm

At last year’s Decibel, I had the pleasure of seeing Erased Tapes label-mates Peter Broderick and Nils Frahm perform separately and then together as their project Oliveray at the Nordstrom Recital Hall. It was one of my favorite performances of the festival, and though I’m disappointed Nils Frahm isn’t on the lineup this year (he’s playing a Decibel-promoted show in November), I’m happy to see another Erased Tapes collaboration on the bill. Peter Broderick (the “Peter” in “Greg Gives Peter Space”)–sometimes folk-y, sometimes classical–brings an eclectic array of styles and instruments to the table, including piano, fiddle, and his own vocals. Greg Haines (the “Greg” in “Greg Gives Peter Space”) is a contemporary classical composer who weaves ambient, dubby, and sometimes plangent textures using a variety of synthesizers, tape delays, and reel-to-reel machines. Their collaboration is tagged as “dub-folk,” but that hastily pasted-together attempt at genre classification doesn’t do justice to the depth of music itself. The Triple Door as a venue has an unappealing number of distractions (there is dinner service during the performance), but I am nevertheless looking forward to seeing Greg and Peter play off each other’s instruments and musical purviews in sonic (and potentially physical) space.

Pete Tong __ All Gone Pete Tong Showcase // Q Nightclub // 12:30-2:00am

I have so much respect for Pete Tong, both as a tastemaker and as a DJ. The longtime BBC Radio 1 host is bringing his expertise to us in his very own showcase. I saw him DJ earlier this year at Movement Festival in Detroit, and his set was among my favorite of the weekend. Tong was able to maintain the crowd’s incredible energy for the entirety of his 1.5 hour set, throwing out house anthem after house anthem, both from (by his own radio show categorizations) “future stars” and “hall of fame-ers.” I expect no less from this set, and I look forward to letting this showcase close out the festival on a high note.


Have a Decibel pass? Here are a few exclusive perks:

– Getting from Seattle Center to other venues can be tough, as few buses run in that direction and rush hour traffic can make the commute frustrating. This year, Decibel is offering FREE monorail rides to all pass-holders! The monorail runs from Seattle Center (conveniently right next to the EMP) to downtown (conveniently near Showbox Market and Nordstrom Recital hall, a manageable walk/cab/bus-ride to Showbox Sodo, The Crocodile, and Q)

-Passholders get FREE entry to the EMP during the museum’s regular business hours, so don’t forget to check out the interactive music video exhibit “Spectacle” that’s currently on display. There’s also the Science Fiction museum located in the basement–a hidden gem of a museum sure to satisfy nerds of every variety.

Don’t have a pass?

That’s okay! Tickets to individual showcases are available, and can be a more affordable and selective way to enjoy the festival. In addition, the conference portion of the festival is FREE and open to the public.


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