Decibel Festival of Electronic Music Performance, Visual Art + New Media 2015 Seattle – Preview Guide & Picks

September is my favorite month in the NW for two reasons: optional sweater weather and Decibel Festival. The value of the first should be self-evident to anyone who enjoys being comfortable and the second, well, that just so happens to be the topic of this preliminary write-up. Decibel has brought together some of the finest electronic music acts and video artists in the world to this blessed corner of the country for 12 years now, offering up a range of programming from sweaty late night techno parties to seated sound design demonstrations and audio-visual workshops and conferences. There are even boat parties for god’s sake, though good luck finding your way on aboard (they sell out fast). The important thing to note, though, is that this is not some pseudo-hippy EDM MDMA swap meet attended by 16-year-olds dressed like cartoon characters and middle aged Google executives looking to ruin another well-intentioned thing that got too big for its own good. While there are some artists who will inevitably bring the stereotypical party, the vast majority of-Decibel’s lineup consists of the real shit and every year, the festival presents the nerds of the NW with a new set of logistical dilemmas because there are too many amazing things going on at the same time in different parts of town. Label showcases, after hours parties, Optical events; there is no way to do it all, unfortunately. One has to be selective but nimble, and above all, aware. To that end, I’ve made a list of the events that I am most particularly stoked on and placed it here as a guide of sorts to help those of you who may be unsure, uninformed, or generally insecure about the festival. Be forewarned: the highlighted events are heavily skewed towards the industrial techno and noise performances — but if you are excited about the fact that so many of Europe’s deepest and darkest are able to make it over to Seattle this year, then this is for you.

Decibel Festival 2015

Wednesday, September 23th, 2015

Secondnature with Tin Man and Cassegrain @ the Crocodile __ RSVP ON FACEBOOK

Acid house and techno have come back in a big way over the last few years, and I’ve got to say that I’m generally pretty tired of them at this point. That said, Tin Man has been making the best case for the revival, and his records with Donato Dozzy and Cassegrain have been some of the best 303-flavored works since the early ’90s. His appearance with the latter is sure to be immeasurably deep, as Cassegrain are amongst the most tastefully psychedelic sound designers in techno today. Their minimalist approach draws heavily from the LSD-soaked industrialism of Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle by way of early Jeff Mills at his most brutally meditative. The result is the dance music equivalent of driving through and endless pituitary tunnel. Secondnature hosts Archivist and Josef Gaard will also be on hand to prep the vibe.


Optical Kick-Off Party with Richard Devine, Raica and Kid Smpl @ Re-Bar

The Optical events were amongst the most visually mind-bending for me at last year’s Decibel Festival, and with opening night lineup consisting of Richard Devine, Raica and Kid Simpl, it looks like the folks behind these parties are aiming to explore the same deep ass hole in the bottom of our collective consciousnesses this year. Devine is lauded synthman whose wizardry has been utilized for building far out patches for some of the best soft synths on the market including Reaktor, Absynth and Animoog, but he also conjures his own jams from time to time, including a series of killer EPs and LPs on Schematic and Warp in the ’90s and early ’00s. This will be a great opportunity to watch a master at work. He’s joined by Raica who is amongst Seattle’s most prolific and gifted electronic artists. Her music ranges from subtle and beautiful ambient pieces to harsh and robotic techno and while the same could be said for a lot of artists, few totally commit to these sounds with such intensity and pull them off with equal precision and personality. Add the fact the she runs the stellar Further Records — who have been responsible for some of my favorite drone, ambient and techno records in recent years — and you have yourself one of the most important individuals in the Seattle scene. Kid Simpl rounds out the night with a distorted blend of hip-hop, bass music and pastoral noise. No word on the visual artists yet, but rest assured they will slay.


Thursday, September 24th, 2015

DISCWOMAN with Jlin, Natasha Kmeto, Raica, Young Ejecta and Experimental Housewife @ Re-Bar__ RSVP ON FACEBOOK

Natasha Kmeto is one of Portland’s finest artists, and her new record, Inevitable is sure to crush when it comes out later this month. She’s finally allowed her incredible voice to sit front and center in these new productions, and the result is the pop record I’ve been waiting for her to make. There are a lot of underground R&B artists these days, but few of them have a voice like Kmeto’s. This is hard classic soul diva territory, and it sets her far apart from the legions of bedroom producers aping Teddy Riley tracks from the early ’90s. The sound design and engineering have also leveled up significantly from her previous releases, offering a lush intersection between contemporary soul and classic house tropes exquisitely backing up the aforementioned power of her voice and lyrics. Did I mention that she can sing?

Anyway. there are also other people playing this show. Jlin’s debut LP, Dark Energy, is one of the most perplexing releases of 2015. On first listen, its glitchy footwork subversions sound like the perfect soundtrack for a bunch of stoned early 20-somethings vicariously exorcising their sheltered suburban rage through a first-person shooter financed by the military — which is to say that it isn’t really my deal, but dammit if it isn’t super interesting. I’m definitely excited to check her live show as it promises to be amongst the most chaotic and befuddling of the festival. In fact, it would have fit right in with the Laurel Halo and Autechre show, but then that might have been too much weird for one room.

This is going to be the show to see on Thursday night, y’all.


Friday, September 25th, 2015 __ RSVP ON FACEBOOK

MOTOR with Shifted, Pharmakon, Container, P L L and Sean Pierce @ the Crocodile

Thank God that someone booked two Autechre shows in PDX earlier in the week, because I would have found myself in the midst of a serious crisis if I had to choose between seeing my childhood heroes and this show. Why would such a thing be up for debate, you might ask? Well lemme tell you: this lineup is super exciting for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that I’m stoked to see the folks behind Motor Records and Decibel working together on a show that features some of the most amazing international and regional noise and techno artists around. If nothing else, it is a huge bump for Motor, who have been throwing some of the best underground parties in Seattle, bringing out forward-thinking techno artists from Europe and pairing them with the current gang of criminally under-appreciated NW producers, two of whom are playing this show.

P L L is Seattle modular man Chris Davis of Brain Fruit and Master Musicians of Bukkake fame. This dude’s dedication to synthesis apparent in every track he drops and word he speaks, and he has been a part of some of the most interesting and beautiful electronic music to emerge from the NW over the last decade. Sean Pierce is one half of PDX industrialish duo ASSS, whose solo ventures have been increasingly forthcoming and intense in recent months. Raw acid techno and cold grinding noise are this sweet dude’s deals, and I can’t express enough how happy I am to see him get some attention for his musics.

As for the non-regional artists on this bill, I’m most excited to see Container. His records channel the energy and excitement of the hardcore and power violence 7″s that defined my teens into one of the most abrasive and ass kicking techno projects I’ve ever heard. This is a fine example of the evolution of American art-damaged punk, from skronky guitar bands to harsh noise and onward to danceish future music. Pharmakon provides the perfect foil for Container as she dispenses with the beats and gets right down to the catharsis. Black metal, noise, industrial and doom musics are all stripped to their pomp here and fused into one super fucked but highly distinct and disgusting discharge. This will surely be the most intense performance of the festival. Bring clothes that you are cool with getting shredded. Oh and Shifted: guy makes some of the best bleak ass techno out their right now. If you can’t make Cassegrain earlier in the week, console yourself with this.


Resident Advisor Showcase with Autechre, Laurel Halo, Rob Hall and Cygnus @ Showbox at the Market __ RSVP ON FACEBOOK

Ugh. Definitely not going to make it to this show but if you cant make it to one of Autechre’s PDX nights, then I have to emphatically suggest that you go to this. Autechre’s Amber was the first electronic music record that completely blew my mind. Fast-forward fifteen years, and it’s still one of the most unique albums I’ve ever heard, to say nothing of the work they’ve done since then, which is equally strange and beautiful in different ways. If you are somehow not familiar with these dudes, then stop reading this right now and go check out everything ever with their name on it. And if you have heard these guys, then I probably don’t need to sell you on this show so I’ll move on. Laurel Halo is also on the bill and while I don’t dig everything she releases, I can definitely say that it is all super interesting and worth checking out. The way she mixes her records can be so confrontational that it transcends the sounds themselves, allowing the frame to be just as important than the content. I’m talking Iggy Pop’s version of Raw Power vs. Bowie’s here. The latter just pushes everything right into your face until you can feel the unbearable urgency pounding into your skull. It’s less aesthetic than it is imperative, and I find this highly refreshing in the current age of pristine digital sound design and its antithetical partner lo-fi fuck-off grit. Oh, and her compositional choices are often strangely listenable batshit outsider genre mash ups that confound and compel in equal measure. This is one of the sets that I am totally bummed on missing this year.


XLR8R After Hours Party with Marcel Dettman, Function and Vril @ Q Nightclub __ RSVP ON FACEBOOK

The wonderful people behind Decibel decided to do me a solid after booking Autechre and Container on the same night by giving me this after party as a consolation. Seriously, these are some of the most amazing techno artists in the world right now. Marcel Dettman is probably the most famous, so I’ll skip him and move on to the other two. Function has been a staple of the U.S. scene forever, and I would suggest dropping everything right now to go check out his collaboration with Regis, Female, and Silent Servant, called Sandwell District. That project/ label yielded some of the deepest non-Basic Channel dance music ever made. His solo record is a fairly incredible mix of brooding minimal tracks and throwback peak time killers. I’m actually jamming his Boiler Room set as I write this and it rules.

And then there is Vril. I love minimal dub techno, but I’ll be the first person to say that a lot of it can be pretty samey. Vril, however, is one of those truly unique artists who has created a thoroughly recognizable universe out of the genre’s codified components. His newest album, Portals, offers a series of ultra compact loops woven through with weightless oscillations that seem to ebb and flow in a 3-dimensional space, moving in all directions at once other than building toward a traditional climax. This is one of the sets that I am most excited to see this year. As for Marcel Dettman, the Berghainian waxman is generally known for his severely stark and brutal productions and DJ sets. Though he’s been known to drop a funkier house jam in the mix from time to time, his set at last year’s Decibel Afterparty was amongst the most austere, relentless and meticulously destructive that I’ve ever seen. I can’t say that I danced much to it, but it was an amazing experience just standing in front of a pair of Funktion-One speakers and getting pummeled by Dettman’s selections. All of this is going down at like 3 in the morning, so be sure to take yourself a nice nap or drugs beforehand.


Saturday, September 26th, 2015

Optical 1: Dark Overtones with Tim Hecker, Dasha Rush and Alexander Lewis __ RSVP ON FACEBOOK

Being a generally progressive dude, NPR and I agree about a few things. The most pertinent to this write-up is that we both feel that Tim Hecker is one of the greatest living composers. To refer to him as anything else feels like its selling the man short. Sure, he often makes shredded ambient music meant to be played at extreme volumes, but he’s also responsible for some of the most beautiful solo piano music of the last forever. Just check out his album Dropped Pianos next time you reach for that Satie compilation that you’ve already jammed a thousand times, and you’ll see what I mean. The core of Hecker’s music has a stately and timeless quality that sets him far apart from the masses of ambient and experimental producers and leaves him firmly in the company of the world’s great classical composers.

Also on board for this show is Dasha Rush whose Sleepstep LP released on Rastor Norton earlier this year is an absolutely gorgeous excursion into subtle, dubbish fall weather sound design. And Guy Brewer of the aforementioned Shifted returns to the stage with his Alexander Lewis moniker, this time shedding the brutal percussive textures of his body music project in favor of heady drones. This will be my last night at the festival, and I can’t think of a better way to close out a week of pummeling dance music than to sit back and chill out to some deeply moving vibes provided by a few of the most accomplished sound sculptors of our time.


Written by
Troy Micheau
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