Decibel Festival V.3 has been booked as if it were a make-or-break proposition—although it could be argued that each Decibel has been run this way, as it is a grassroots operation supported mostly by director Sean Horton's personal funds. Clearly, Horton and his dedicated volunteer staff have gone to great lengths to organize an event that ranges broadly and deeply among many electronic genres while also giving greater attention this year to the performances' visual aspect.
"I've always envisioned Decibel as a multimedia/arts festival," says Horton, "but due to limited resources and budget, we've really had to focus on club events the first couple years. We've always had VJs at our club events and a strong emphasis on visual components thanks to Jerry Abstract, our creative director and website developer, but not until the addition of the Broadway Performance Hall last year have we really had the right venue for visual art. [Visual coordinator] Leo Mayberry is really at the heart of Decibel's visual component, and without his help in coordinating the VJs and equipment we wouldn't have the visual emphasis that we've had the past two years."
Thus, Decibel is devoting an entire showcase (Sunday, September 17, at Broadway Performance Hall) to multimedia and visual art called OPTICAL. "The idea is to continue booking multimedia events moving forward under the OPTICAL name and eventually set up a separate business that caters specifically to visual art," Horton says. "[It's] simply the natural progression."
Horton admits being frustrated at not "having enough time, money, and energy to dedicate to the festival. [Almost] the entire group works full-time jobs outside of the festival, which means we're working 12- to 18-hour days several months out of the year. I long for the day that the festival can generate the type of revenue we need to make it our full-time job, but I don't see that happening any time soon."
Despite these obstacles, Decibel again has procured an impressive roster of over 80 artists who will turn Seattle's Capitol Hill into a digital-art mecca from Thursday, September 14—Sunday, September 17. Each day offers way more talent than anyone can experience without cloning him/herself or consuming massive amounts of amphetamines and Red Bull and donning track shoes. With that in mind, I present a guide to the acts I think will deliver the biggest bangs for your bucks. But do try to catch everything (gear clinics and panel discussion, included). Be curious; take risks.
Speedy J, Sun Sept 17, Broadway Performance Hall, 2:15 pm w/Scott Pagano (5.1 audio/video screening); Neumo's, midnight. The 16-year vet began as a preeminent Dutch interpreter of aerodynamic Detroit techno, but Speedy J's gradually increased the grit, glitch, and girth of his music, while maintaining a deft ambient touch, peaking with the diverse, experimental classics Public Energy No. 1 (1997) and 2000's A Shocking Hobby. J still keeps it hard and banging with his Collabs 3000 project with Chris Liebing.
Thomas Fehlmann, Fri Sept 15, Broadway Performance Hall, 8:30 pm. The glee-inducing German producer wowed 2005 Decibelistas with a transcendent live minimal-techno set. This year, Fehlmann busts out his buoyant dub-centric stylings; if his 2004 Lowflow album on Plug Research and recent work with the Orb are indicative, expect lush, efflorescent atmospheres and razor-sharp rhythmic inventiveness.
[a]pendics.shuffle, Sat Sept 16, Neumo's, 11:15 pm. L.A. track-making maniac Ken Gibson applies a dirty, quirky patina to techno's often stoic demeanor. Hot-footed funkiness and much wacky dancing ensue. Do yourself a favor and check his outstanding Helicopter Hearts LP on Seattle's Orac Records.
Taylor Deupree, Sat Sept 16, Broadway Performance Hall, 9 pm. NYC microsound master is sure to spellbind with his pointillist tone painting and mesmerizing dronewerk. Listen closely and glimpse infinity in a grain of sound.
Robin Judge, Sat Sept 16, Bad Juju, 10 pm. With Tomas Jirku, Judge coproduced the Chain Reaction—esque, minimal-glitchno gem Plusism for Onitor. Now solo, she brandishes a deep palette of timbres that have helped her to break into Mille Plateaux's male-dominated Clicks & Cuts cabal.
Alex Smoke, Fri Sept 15, Neumo's, 1:15 am. With a classical-music background, this Glasgow, Scotland, producer is equipped to invest substantial orchestral finesse into his telectro tracks. Plus, dude's remixed Steve Reich.
Ruoho Ruotsi, Sat Sept 16, Bad Juju, 1 am. Another Reich remixer, San Francisco's Ruotsi creates hypnotic, texturally riveting minimal techno with sweet dub and funk undercurrents. Proof that Decibel's done some digging to bring obscure talent to the fest.
Andreas Tilliander/Mokira, Sat Sept 16, Neumo's, 5 am/Sun Sept 17, Broadway Performance Hall, 7 pm. As Mokira, this Swedish producer has been known to forge angular Nordic hiphop, beautifully frigid ambience, and exploratory IDM. Under his own name and the Lowfour moniker, Tilliander launches brittle techno salvos and involving clicks & cuts abstractions.
More info: www.decibelfestival.com.