Thursday was a night of disappointments and astonishments.

First, a slight letdown: One of the most hyped Decibel artists, Huerco S., was slated to play live at Chop Suey, according to the official program. Instead, he DJed. Well, at least he spun vinyl. But still, people were jonesin’ to hear tracks off the new Colonial Patterns album, but we got a solid set nonetheless. Huerco started with some medium-level, dub-dusted build-up cuts. Just as I was thinking, “This could be weirder,” it got weirder with an abrupt transition into some kind of Raster-Noton or PAN-style glitchy techno. From then on, the tempo accelerated and the strange tonalities teemed. Just as things were properly saturating my wheelhouse, our party decided to zip over to Crocodile for Actress.

Huerco S., waxing weird.
  • Josh Bis
  • Huerco S., waxing weird.

Notorious for missing the last two Decibels due to visa issues (so the official story goes), Actress came on about 30 minutes late and spent another 20 making very quiet rumbles, glitches, burbles that made me think somebody had slipped a Clicks & Cuts CD or an Eno album from the ’00s into his laptop. Some audience members loudly wondered if Actress had actually started. There was something pretty soundcheck-y about the non-committal ambience issuing forth.

Close to 1 am, Actress dropped his first beats and commenced with some Eraserhead techno—very dreary and melancholy atmospheres wafting over 128 bpms. Then came the peak of his set and of Decibel itself: a slow-motion doom-dub piece that recalled Scorn circa Gyral and Techno Animal’s lost 1995 classic, Re-entry. Later a rapacious bass smear, like the sound used to crack terrorist suspects’ wills, entered over slow, skittering beats. One could sense a pervasive uneasiness in the crowd.

After 1 am, the room began to thin the hell out. Most people were not feeling Actress’ techno as space oddity and anomic drift, his dissonant, subaquatic drones and cryptic voice samples, Cut Hands-like tribal techno and jagged, Autechre-esque abstractions. This was the antithesis of pandering (Actress said nothing the whole time and was barely visible behind his gear). A lot of punters left feeling underwhelmed and confused. I may be in the minority here, but after the slow start, I think Actress did a great, unpredictable, and challenging set.

For afterhours, I hit up Electric Tea Garden’s Sweatbox party (not technically part of Decibel) and found Caro (Seattle major dude/synth builder Randy Jones) laying down his patented cracked house tunes, soul-man vox and all. He bust out those old chestnuts from his 2005 album, The Return of Caro, and kept the floor throbbing like a champ.

Then Rrose took over at 3:20 am. Rrose is a stoic man (a powerful catalyst in the Bay Area’s experimental techno scene) in drag who reportedly was feeling ill during his performance. Despite the sickness, Rrose teased out fathoms-deep, un-Shazzamable techno, totally devoid of sentimentality. This was subterranean dance music tunneling into the inmost psychedelic depths of pure/impure sound. “Waterfall” was a particular highlight in a performance full of them. There wasn’t an undilated pupil in the house.

My favorite memory of the night was of the 50something businessman type dancing wildly with dangerous swinging-lasso moves. Gramps was on fire. Unquestionably, Rrose’s was the most mind-altering live techno set I’ve heard since, I don’t know, Plastikman back in 1993? This was some historical shit.