Rambunctious German house DJ/producer San Proper is rocking Q nightclub's powerful system at Shelter, a weekly Wednesday-night event dedicated to bringing in world-class dance-music headliners to play deep cuts... to 29 people. It's one of the Seattle music scene's most epic fails in years.
But this disappointing turnout hasn't dimmed the enthusiasm of Shelter's promoter, Cody Morrison. He's continued to book major acts that most other promoters either don't know or refuse to hire because they're too risky. (Upcoming shows feature underground favorites Cio D'or and Gerd Janson and Kompakt Records icon Michael Mayer.)
However, Shelter is but one facet in Morrison's multipronged strategy to energize Seattle's electronic-music scene, already one of the country's strongest. Along with Jeremy Grant, he is co-owner of the High & Tight party-throwing team and the Nuearth Kitchen label, a rising force in left-field house music, featuring sterling, twisted releases by Jon McMillion, Madteo, and others. Most crucially, Morrison—a commercial real- estate broker by day—is sponsorship director for Decibel Festival.
Not bad for a former pro baseball pitcher who did stints with the Seattle Mariners' and Anaheim Angels' minor-league systems, as well as a brief spell with the latter's major-league team. (At a powerfully built six foot two, Morrison also physically stands out from nearly everyone in the city's electronic underground. You believe it when he says his fastball used to blaze at 90 miles per hour.)
A graduate of Kelso High School and University of Washington, Morrison grew up with hippie parents and was steeped in jam-band culture. He majored in French at UW because, he says, it came easy to him and allowed him to play ball and go to raves without too much stress. During one of those outdoor parties, Morrison had the sort of transcendental revelation that converts ravers into lifelong aficionados of electronic music. "You feel a connection to everybody in the room," he says in his huge Capitol Hill loft apartment, outfitted with an enviable DJ setup and sound system. "I got turned on by it and haven't been able to spit the hook yet."
Morrison's seven-year run in baseball ended in 2005. Fascinated by the inner workings of big dance events, he cold-called Decibel founder Sean Horton in 2008 and told him he could help Decibel. Horton tapped Morrison to head the sponsorship department. Since Morrison assumed that role, Decibel's been in the black.
"When Cody first came on board, we weren't in a good place financially," Horton says. "Cody has been instrumental in creating new opportunities for the festival, many of which have flourished beyond funding into creative partnerships. Some of the key partners Cody has quarterbacked for us over his tenure include Rane, EAW, Rdio, Ableton, Bookr, and the W Hotel." Horton cites Morrison as a stabilizing force among Decibel's sprawling staff.
Keep in mind that this growth has happened during a recession. It's a testament to Morrison's persuasiveness and business savvy that Decibel has become both bigger and more ambitious when many companies have been tightening belts.
Ruminating on how to improve Decibel, he asks rhetorically, "How do you grow while still maintaining your principles, keeping the production bar and the user experience very high without sacrificing the reason you started it in the first place? It's not like a Coachella or even a Block Party, where there are outdoor stages and a lot of capacity. We're limited by the sizes of our venues. To continue to grow the festival in an urban environment with smaller capacities is really hard. That's why we took risks by bringing in Erykah Badu and Orbital last year. For the most part, that was a success. We wanted to grow the user base and turn more people on to the festival without sacrificing the type of artists who really get us excited."
With this year being Decibel's 10th anniversary (Sept 25–29), people are harboring high expectations. "I'd be dishonest if I said we still didn't have a ways to go to lock in some more acts. The popularity of EDM—and I hate that term—in North America has caused fees to rise so much, and there's more competition now. It's been tough to come to an agreement with some artists we thought would not be so difficult. The headliners we have in the works are in line with what you've seen in previous editions. There's gonna be an awesome Optical lineup this year. I was pretty excited with our sound last year, and you're going to see more of that, the EAW speakers at Neumos and some of those big, sexy rigs. It's going to be our biggest and best program yet."
Deeming himself "stubborn," and clearly still as competitive as he was in his pitching days, Morrison says, "I'm putting my ass on the line. I've lost money on several events, but I'm not doing this to make money. I want Seattle to be the kind of city where people want to come and play—a destination for really thoughtful, intelligent, passionate dance music, because there's not a ton of people who are doing this stuff. That's why the same circle of agents and artists are always hitting Sean and me up, trying to get on our radar. It'd be much easier if we wanted to program bullshit EDM like some of the other people in town, but I'd fucking kill myself if I did that."