Now in its tenth year, Seattle's Decibel Festival has grown from a tiny electronic celebration to a world-renowned music festival without sacrificing attention to detail along the way. From fabric wristbands to the notable lack of corporate sponsors -- save for ones that directly affect the electronic music scene in some way -- Decibel has retained a number of the charming qualities which usually become lost to larger festivals. Its continued stress on the audio-visual merging of music and motion art continue to push the festival forward as well, as Seattle's best venues were sometimes upgraded with video equipment and makeshift spaces were sometimes transformed into festival-worthy ones. Decibel's continued Optical series is the festival's low-key element, which focuses on mixed media programming that combines ambient, modern classical and experimental sound art with live video, films and installations. This review highlights some of Optical 2012's best moments, in our eyes, with reviews of performances by Robert Henke, Biosphere, and The Sight Below. SEE FULL SHOW REVIEW

Robert Henke

Optical 1: Ghosts In The Shadows -- September 26th, 2012 @ The Triple Door, Seattle, WA Written by VIVIAN HUA With the pounding of chaotic weather against manmade walls, Robert Henke introduced the crowd at The Triple Door to six channels of surround sound. The stage itself stood dark and empty, with the maestro nowhere to be seen. Rain in one ear morphed into train tracks rattling by; howling winds in the other transformed into vehicles and airplanes soaring past. Henke's sounds were so convincing of reality and so unseeming that the audience at The Triple Door carried on with conversation well into the opening minutes of the performance. But as the light rain increased into a torrential downpour, it gave way to machine-like sputtering and alien crackling, and those who hadn't been paying attention finally began to do so. SHOW REVIEW CONTINUED BELOW

 

Early Fall is apparently the time in Portland for experimental and ambient listening events galore. These exciting weeks begin on Sunday, September 23rd with a FREE six-channel installation at PNCA featuring Robert Henke (Monolake), Marcus Fischer, and many more local musicians. It continues on September 26th and September 28th with two sessions from New Age guru IASOS, and goes even further on September 30th with a REDEFINE-sponsored event with modern classical composer Nils Frahm. Frahm, Henke, and collaborators from Nueva Forma will also be playing at Seattle's all-encompassing electronic music festival, Decibel, from September 26th through 30th. Expect two more similar events next week, centered around Deep Listening and John Cage.

An Intimate Evening w/ Nils Frahm

Presented by Adso Ink, REDEFINE magazine, and Classic Pianos
In a live setting, contemporary composer Nils Frahm is known for working with whatever keys come his way, to improvise a new composition every time. The video below showcases his ability to stretch this out in a way that suits not only his personal style, but his immediate surroundings as well. Sunday, September 30th, 2012 @ Classic Pianos (3003 SE Milwaukie Ave, Portland, OR) $15 Advance | $20 Day of Show | All Ages

 

Pre-sale tickets FACEBOOK EVENT FULL DETAILS Frahm has rightly caught the attention of Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Kieran Hebden of Four Tet with his unconventional approach to modern piano. He will no doubt bring his playful and humble attitude to Portland, for an intimate evening at the beautiful showrooms of Classic Pianos. Portland-based sound artist Marcus Fischer will open the event. Please join us.

 

Imagine the possibilities of world revolution – an upheaval of design, and distribution of resources lighting the path to global peace and (relative) happiness. The largesse of this task is daunting, and has throughout history been commandeered by a few ambitious individuals. Thoughts like these swirled about in a small man with coke-bottle glasses: the inimitable R. Buckminster Fuller. Inventor, engineer, architect, theorist, orator, among many other things, Fuller was first and foremost a futurist – an optimistic man bent on improving his social, political, psychic and physical world with radical thought. His unique life and lifestyle have created an altogether compelling character of sizeable proportion, comprised of all the quirks, hiccups, and gemstone moments worthy of a Wes Anderson-inspired montage. And certainly, director Sam Green’s treatment of Fuller and his life work is admirable in The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, a live documentary collaboration with indie rock veterans Yo La Tengo.
SEE FULL REVIEW

 

What some of us might call the Pacific Northwest's best music festival -- and maybe the next and more relaxed SXSW -- is Musicfest NW, a multi-day spread across Portland's best venues. Featuring diverse and exceptional booking, we've split our coverage this year between indie staples, unconventional dance acts, and heavy riffers. Over the course of four days, we gush about everyone from Hot Snakes to The Helio Sequence, Mean Jeans to Omar Souleyman, John Maus to Pure Bathing Culture... and many more, including Swans, Beirut, and Chelsea Wolfe, to name a few. TEXT BY VIVIAN HUA & ERIK BURG; PHOTOGRAPHY BY LYMAY IWASAKI & NATHAN WATTERS SEE FULL FESTIVAL RECAP & PHOTO GALLERY
Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Red Fang

When Red Fang’s beardy, Pabst-swilling selves took the stage at Roseland Theater, the crowd thundered with a hand-clapping, foot-stomping welcome as driving as the band’s opening notes. In a bill consisting of them, Hungry Ghost, and Hot Snakes, Red Fang were easily the crowd favorites of the night. They built off of the unintentionally playful sonics of Hungry Ghost by one-upping similar rhythms and stylistic shifts into much gnarlier and more interesting territory. With every seemingly mediocre or white bread songwriting move came the crust of a more delicious lick; their beastly instrumental slaughtering led to their carving out juicy hunks of musical turkey, next to what had previously been cold and bland deli meat. Red Fang have gained an extensive following locally and beyond in recent years, and the ease with which they toe the line between accessibility and unpredictable manipulation is one main reason. Even those who can’t stand their brand of rock can appreciate that they do what they do with a high caliber of professionalism and an impressive display of confidence. - VIVIAN HUA SEE ALSO: CHARITABLE MUSICIANS: RED FANG BENEFIT PORTLAND ARTS EDUCATION (W/ INTERVIEW)

 

"Love in the world is very short/ Don’t look back," sang the Portland-via-Somalia Iftin Band. Their translated message wrapped up the Global and Mobile Pop event at TBA Festival 2012. The crux of the evening was indeed about not looking back, but about looking everywhere, in a celebratory program of global music paired with local savvy. Co-curated by Portland's purveyors of tropical pop, Brainstorm, and self-proclaimed amateur ethnomusicologist, Christopher Kirkley of sahelsounds, Global and Mobile Pop strung together the work of musicians (foreign and domestic) in the African tradition, but with an Information Age twist. A triad of tall screens provided a data-rich backdrop with imagery evoking the foreign and the familiar: hyperbolic, color-saturated music videos hailing from West Africa; Safari windows devoted to on-the-spot search results piloted by local musician turned website jockey, Jason Urick; and a live Twitter feed soliciting audience participation, with all the facets of the microblogging world -- sometimes informative, other times insightful, or irreverent.
SEE FULL SHOW REVIEW Brainstorm - "Flat Earth"

 

Bumbershoot still remains one of the more diversely curated festivals in the nation. That is probably why they referred to it completely as Seattle’s Music & Arts Festival. In its 42nd year, the 2012 edition was not lacking in diversity, as the main headliners over the course of Labor Day Weekend varied from Jane’s Addiction to Mac Miller and Skrillex. With six musical stages, and a wealth of other stages hosting comedy acts, readings and various panels, it is impossible to catch everything over the weekend. So here are the highlights instead, not in any particular order of awesomeness.

 

M83

M83 acquired quite a bit of hype this past year. In fact, 2011 may have been THEIR year. With their hit single "Midnight City," it seemed like nearly everyone was jumping on the M83 band wagon. The funny thing about that is the band has actually been around for years; they released their first record in 2001. Securing a spot on the main stage for Bumbershoot 2012, M83 played to an audience packed with fans and those simply curious about the band. After witnessing this performance, I can tell you that I've truly never seen anything like it. The intro was a spectacle all on its own with lasers and complex flashing lights that even I have a hard time describing. Both lead singer Anthony Gonzalez and keyboardist/back-up singer Morgan Kibby were extraordinarily entertaining. Their vocals were nearly spot-on with their record, but not in a lip-syching kind of way like we're used to at the award shows. The instrumental drum solos were riveting and exciting. The performance was everything that I hoped it would be, but I'm afraid to say that it is unfortunate that all many are remembering is the crowd of kids rushing to the floor and causing mayhem break loose. You can read all about that mess here. - KATIE NGUYEN

 

 

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

This funk/soul band has been around since the mid-'90s, but if you didn’t know any better you would assume they formed in the early ‘70s. Carried on the shoulder by the spectacular voice of Sharon Jones and then brought to the forefront by the impeccable revivalist sound of the Dap-Kings, this big band lives up to all they hype their live show comes with. Despite playing on the main stage of the Key Arena, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were able to generate energy in the crowd that transported you straight back to a seedy bar in Motown Detroit. Their music is approachable by individuals of all ages, as are their tributes to the various dances of the '60s and '70s, which are like an instructional video led by Sharon Jones herself. Her spirit is infectious, even if you weren’t alive to experience the origins of the music the band aims to bring back to a new century. Sharon Jones’ energy, charisma, and stage performance are liable to make her and the Dap-Kings the best set of any festival they attend, and Bumbershoot was no different.

 

MusicfestNW does one of the better jobs in the festival circuit of scheduling the heavy bands. Reason being that MusicfestNW, unlike most festivals, doesn’t take place in one central location. Rather, it is scattered amongst the various venues throughout Portland, Oregon. And although normally walls might seem like a constricting measure in life, the walls of the venue provide a safe haven for the volume to hit extreme levels, the vocals to shriek instead of harmonize, the double bass to reach red-lining beats per minute and the guitar distortion to be devastatingly heavy. Aural Devastation is a recurring column about heavy music.

 

Swans

Seeing Swans is an emotional experience and a tough one to make it through, at that. Charging off the brilliance of Michael Gira and company's epic new release, The Seer, Portland was laid to waste by the heaviness that is Gira’s project. Gira is well-known throughout the live circuit for his intensity, and although he is no longer as confrontational as he was in the early days, his intensity on stage translates immediately and effortlessly to Swans live show. It is a slog that is based on repetitive, almost locomotive-like mashes of noise and distortion. Over it all, Gira can be seen yelling at his band, demanding more energy and channeling some sort of weird musical rage. With every heavy stomp and grimace, one felt Gira’s pain as if it were one's own. There were a few souls in the Hawthorne Theatre without earplugs. They must have ignored the decibel warning on the front door. Not a smart idea. The Seer is a 2-CD record that saw an August 28th release. It is the result of the band's getting back together in 2010, after a 14-year hiatus.

 

Throughout the year FYF produces some of the best shows all around the LA area, but when it comes to Labor Day weekend, the FYF Fest is their indie rock prom. And since this year, they made it a two-day affair, you can consider it their homecoming dance too. Everyone dresses up in their best summer attire and afterward spends days talking about about it all. The festival's lineup is always impressive, but this year was really something to write home about, from beginning to end. So if you were fashionably late, you missed out on some great openers. And if you called it an early night, you can consider your weekend a failure for not watching some epic sets. While it seemed a bit subliminal to see two big screens on the ends of the main stage flashing text that said "best weekend of the summer," looking back, it actually was the best weekend of the summer.

 

WORDS BY KARLA HERNANDEZ; PHOTOS BY KOURY ANGELO THE CROWD AT REFUSED

 

Music, just like any other art medium, beckons an emotional response. Sometimes when we get lost in beats, drum fills, guitar riffs, and lyrical dexterity, we don't realize it. But at Substrata Festival, all those elements go out the window, and showgoers are left with an isolated core of noise as it is being created, manipulated, and eventually destroyed by artists whose only goal is to expound upon the notion of presenting what is naturally occurring in a seemingly unnatural way. The ambient/experimental musical showcase takes place in a beautiful, giant brick building in the Seattle neighborhood of Wallingford, a sleepy zip code more known for its single family residential units and restaurants than anything else. The space is called The Chapel with good reason. High arches tower into the air in Renaissance-influenced glory and stained glass windows line both sides of the open room, suggesting more of a connection to a higher power than to a musical influence. The hardwood floors are lined with rows of chairs angled into two sections, after soaking it all in, you realize that what you are about to witness at Substrata Festival is not a show in traditional sense of the term; you are about to witness a performance.

 

See our interview with Substrata Festival's Founder and Curator, Rafael Anton Irisarri of The Sight Below & Orcas
“There is no 'now' with sound... the moment it hits you ear that moment is already gone.” – Lawrence English

 

Since my move to Portland a few years ago, what has continued to fascinate me is the diversity of music fans in the area and their inability to get involved with many concerts which likely interest them. So rarely is there ever a mix of under twenty-one concertgoers with the more bourgeois, approaching-thirty art folk who run the city’s night life. This isn’t meant to be a slight on either demographic, as it is out of both of their hands completely, but compared to other cities, the way in which Portland concerts are a walled garden of sorts continues to confuse me.

 

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs Live Show Review August 6th, 2012 @ The Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR