REVIEW: DECIBEL FESTIVAL 2013

Zola Jesus, Decibel 2013

We were able to make the trip down to Seattle to experience a couple of nights of this years Decibel Festival, and in a way having only that brief window was quite fitting. With 138 performances taking place over the five day duration, catching a glimpse of anywhere near everything that was on offer was quite clearly out of the question. 

One shining aspect of the festival that was a treat from the beginning was its setting. Even with the rainstorms that seemed to plague most of the weekend, venues were a short cab ride from each other, with the after-hours showcases often either just round the corner or in the same venue as a complimentary earlier showcase. This attention to detail showed a real understanding on the part of the festival organizers as to what helps a weekend flow well, especially from the point of view of a newcomer to Seattle. The fact that the city is in no short supply of quality independent bars and restaurants added to this sense of cohesion with a consistently welcoming atmosphere, proving the city to be a perfect backdrop for a five-day excursion into forward-thinking music.

Our first foray into the festival’s numerous showcases was for the weekend’s second Deep Roots event, which had Axel Boman, Waifs & Strays, and Henrik Schwarz play at Q Nightclub. The venue is one that really needs to be full to work at it’s best, and whilst this wasn’t the case for the earlier half of the evening, we were still treated to quality selections of bumping tech-house. As the size and energy of the crowd increased, the Waifs & Strays duo matched their music to fit, letting the party finally get into full swing with a funky house remix of Nate Dogg’s ‘Get Up’. Henrik Schwarz followed on this energy, and although those familiar with his live show were in for few surprises, it was a treat to see him take charge of the soundsystem.

Midland, Decibel 2013

As the showcase at Q built to a close, anticipation for the Hessle Audio after-hours party was building relentlessly. Despite a slight delay letting people into Neumo’s due to some technical difficulties, Ben UFO, Pangaea and Pearson Sound wasted no time in showing why the label that they run is one of the most relevant in modern dance music. The trio traded places behind the decks with an effortless sense of playfulness, with Pearson Sound showcasing his trademark bass-heavy rhythmic experimentation, Pangaea foraying into pounding techno, and Ben UFO’s selective prowess throwing curve-balls into the mix, showing just how cohesive a constant element of surprise can sound.

Saturday evening began with the perfect antithesis to the previous night’s dance-floor mania and a shining example of the breadth of Decibel’s programming, as we were treated to performances by Pharmakon and Zola Jesus at the Triple Door Theatre. Pharmakon’s intensely captivating experimental-industrial performance was a stark contrast in itself to the serene atmosphere of the table service theatre venue, yet was probably made all the more powerful because of this setting. Zola Jesus on the other hand, dressed in a black ball gown and accompanied by the Mivos string quartet, gave the impression that this was a venue made solely for her performance. Displaying a beautifully emotive voice and inventive use of almost haunting melodies, this was undoubtedly one of the most moving shows of the whole weekend.

Derrick Carter, Decibel 2013

Returning to Q Nightclub for the remainder of Saturday night, it seemed immediately apparent that the atmosphere in the venue had a positive charge right from the beginning. We caught the end of J. Alvarez starting the Home Bass showcase off perfectly, before Midland took the crowd completely under his control with a demonstration of big-room tech house selection at it’s finest. Dusky followed in similarly flawless style, with fairly standard track-to-track progression that nevertheless impressed with consistent quality and had an undeniable highlight as soon as the vocal hook of ‘Nobody’ dropped. The showcase then seamlessly progressed into the Mixmag after-hours featuring Kyle Hall, Derrick Carter and Pezzner, with Kyle Hall deviating from Dusky’s more crisply produced sound into acid-leaning house and techno with raw drum samples and the occasional taste of disco. This high energy genre-crossing built an already excited crowd into a frenzy before passing over to Derrick Carter, who seamlessly introduced a flavour of Chicago house, keeping the energy up with funky samples and wildly infective vocal hooks. Though we would have loved to have stayed at Q to see Pezzner, we elected to take a moment to relax in one of Seattle’s hotel sauna’s before catching the bus out of town. It was always going to be impossible to see everything after all, but even this brief glimpse of Decibel festival has been enough to show that it is truly an outstanding presentation of cutting edge electronic music, and a trip that is already in next year’s calendar.

By: Andy Soloman