The 11th year of Decibel Festival is upon us. Major international producers, musicians and artists are converging on Seattle for a 5-day extravaganza of electronic brilliance. The festival takes place at venues throughout the city, with panels and Q&As in the afternoons and performances into the wee hours. Creating a schedule is daunting, even for seasoned fans with a full festival ticket that gives access to most events. It’s overwhelming for newcomers, too, who may want to dive in but don’t know where to start. Here are some recommendations.
Wednesday, September 24
Evening: Opening Gala and Pop-Up Art Show, featuring Sabota, Natasha Kmeto and Lusine
Of course the grand entrance in worth checking out, and it happens before most of the evening performances begin, at 6 PM at the EMP Sky Church. It features three acts from musicians in the greater northwest, from Portland to British Columbia. The producer duo Sabota hails from Canada and is an apt opener for the festival’s dawn: “The name comes from the infamous area in Nelson, BC, where kids congregate late at night to smoke weed, hook up and watch the sun come up… Sabota’s sound is inspired by what happened on Sabota Road, and on similar streets in similar places, in the hour just before sunrise.”
Portland-based singer and producer Natasha Kmeto follows, bringing her personal blend of dance, pop and R&B to get the crowd moving, collaborating with filmmaker Effixx. The third act is Seattle-based Lusine (Jeff McIlwain), whose deep, melodic work has been featured on many compilations and in films that he has scored, such as The Linewatch in 2009. His sophomore album The Waiting Room was released in 2013 to critical acclaim.
The gala will be a feast for the eyes and ears and gives a sense of some of the variety in Seattle’s established and growing electronic music scene.
Night: BassDrop Presents Showcase OR Pitch black Showcase
If you are in the mood to dance to an upbeat blend of genres, from soul to rock to hip-hop, head for Neumos (925 E Pike St) for the BassDrop Presents Showcase, featuring sets from DJs WD4D (Seattle) and Ana Sia (San Francisco) and a live performance by Prefuse 73 (Atlanta). Doors at 9PM (21+), advance tickets $15. Free with Festival Pass.
If you want a moodier, more avant-garde exploration of sound, the place to be is Re-Bar (1114 Howell St) for the Pitch Black Showcase featuring live performances by Rrose, Vatican Shadow (Los Angeles) and Black Asteroid (New York). Doors at 10PM (21+), advance tickets $20. Free with Festival Pass.
Thursday, September 25
Evening: Max Cooper (with The Pendelteon House + Benjamin Van Citters), Survive and Alice Boman
The evening starts at Benaroya Hall’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall (200 University St). Doors open at 6 PM and the trio of international acts begins at 6:30. This is part of the Optical series at Decibel. At each Optical performance is accompanied by an audio-visual spectacle produced live. Up-and-coming Swedish singer-producer Alice Boman starts the night, followed by Austin-based Survive. Rising star and avid collaborator Max Cooper finishes the night with live dance performance by The Pendleton House, whose movements will generate a digital fantasia through the live manipulations of visual artist Benjamin Van Citters. This will probably be the highlight of my week. Doors at 6PM (all ages with 21+ bar), advance tickets $35. Free with Festival Pass.
Night: Modern Love Showcase OR Nark Magazine Showcase
Unless you leave the evening show a little early, you’ll miss the beginning of either of these sets…which is a painful choice to make. The Modern Love Showcase at EMP starts with Demdike Stare, one of my favorite acts in recent years. The producer duo draw from the archives of world music and create a dark, dusky blend that is food for the soul. Similar can be said of the other two acts acts in this showcase of Manchester-based label Modern Love, which has a love for hearing anew what is old, and relishing the mysterious patina of it. Millie & Andrea follow Demdike Stare with typically more percussive and uptempo tracks, while Andy Stott has spent his career developing a sophisticated, urban sound and never relaxing in one genre for too long. Doors at 9PM (all ages with 21+ bar), advance tickets $22. Free with Festival Pass.
If you want a funkier party atmosphere, look no further than the Nark Magazine Showcase at Neumos (925 E Pike St). Kevin Kauer a.k.a. NARK is one of the few reasons why there is still any interesting nightlife on the street level in Seattle. His parties have gotten national attention and pushed back against repressive vice laws in Seattle that threatened all that is good after dark. Not to mention…he has really good taste in music, and he precedes three diverse, emerging and acclaimed global acts: Little Daylight (NYC), Kim Ann Foxman (NYC, Europe), Clean Bandit (London). Doors at 9PM (21+), advance tickets $25. Free with Festival Pass.
Friday, September 26
Evening: WIFE, Alessandro Cortini and 1979 (feat. Deru & Effixx)
Another Optical showcase, this one titled Static Memory, an audiovisual feast in three acts, united by a love of evocative sounds and aural memories. WIFE opens the evening. This solo act of musician James Kelly is a side project from his metal band Altar of Plagues, but carries some of the influences of that genre, along with traces of plainsong and industrial. Alessandro Cortini follows, with visuals by local artist Leo Mayberry, who has collaborated with many dance and performance groups, including Degenerate Art Ensemble. Cortini surprised and delighted audiences and critics with an adventurous EP made from a lo-fi distorted recording of hotel rooms and the noises therein. Deru and Effixx finish the night. Both are Chiacgo natives now based in Los Angeles, and the duo have collaborated to create 1979: “a concept album and sculptural object, featuring nine songs by Deru accompanied by nine short films by video artist Anthony Ciannamea [Effixx], that are housed in a customized handheld video projector. The subject matter is nostalgic and emotive, focusing on common origins and shared human experiences.” Doors at 6 PM, show at 6:30 (all ages with 21+ bar), advance tickets $35. Free with Festival Pass. Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall in Benaroya Hall (200 University St., Seattle)
Night: Sines of Life Showcase OR Soulection Showcase
The Sines of Life showcase brings together an eclectic bunch from North America. The night begins with VOX MOD, one of the more in-demand Seattle-based producers of late. His recent release The Great Oscillator treads the line between pop and atmospheric electronica, oscillating between music to sway to and music to swoon to. The night continues with Montreal-based duo Blue Hawaii, whose pensive works show a balance of warmth and intimacy and cool isolation—a sonic, melancholic exploration of how art and technology, physical spaces and phases of life alter our perception of self and other. Two musical acts from Long Beach close the night: Yppah has released two albums arcing from melancholy shoegazer tunes to more rock-infused electronica over the years, balanced with varied collaborations with other musical artists. Producer duo El Ten Eleven have been playing together since 2002 and touring a large portion of that time, while also releasing complex and personal albums, including their latest, Transitions, and all the while defying categorization.
Eden Hagos (San Diego) starts the Soulection Showcase at The Crocodile. The Eritrean-born beatmaker and producer is known for rich, smooth and danceable blends of soul, R&B and downtempo electronica. Up next is the solo downtempo, folktronica and hip hop project of San-diego based Shinya Mizoguchi known as starRo, who is then followed by the dreamy pop-R&B blend of Brooklyn-based Antonio Cuna a.k.a. Sweater Beats. The night ends with a dual set by two Michigan-based DJ-producers, Waldo and Sango. Bring your dancing shoes. Doors at 6 PM (21+), advance tickets $22. Free with Festival Pass. At The Crocodile (2200 2nd Ave).