The Best Electronic-Music Smorgasbord/Marathon in the US
A Tightly Compressed Guide to Decibel Festival
Unlike most things in this world, Decibel keeps expanding and improving. Now in its ninth year, the Seattle festival of electronic music and visual art has grown both more accessible (Kimbra, Erykah Badu, Shpongle) and more adventurous (Demdike Stare, Cut Hands, Emptyset) while maintaining its trademark diversity. Director Sean Horton and his staff have leveraged an insane amount of artistic firepower into five days. Below is a compressed survey of Decibel's abundant highlights; a booklet literally could be written about them. Space limitations, however, prevented many worthy acts from inclusion. But, as always during Decibel, it's advisable to take risks, go outside your comfort zone, explore unknown artists... and stay hydrated. (More elaboration can be found in Data Breaker, page 53, Sound Check, page 43, and Up & Coming, page 46.)
Warp Showcase, Wed Sept 26, 9 pm, Crocodile: Hyperprolific UK producer Clark exemplifies Warp Records' mercurial creativity in the abstract-electronic realm—its unpredictable, futuristic thrust. Detroit native Jimmy Edgar has been putting the sexxxy into electro for a decade of over-the-top decadence that would make Prince blush. With Machinedrum and Jimi Jaxon.
dB in Dub, Wed Sept 26, 9 pm, Neumos: Witnessing a live performance by Monolake (aka Ableton Live engineer Robert Henke) is like watching a scientist tinkering with the DNA of dub-informed techno in real time and 360-degree high-definition sound. His music is psychedelia at its most clinically and intricately engineered, a more arctic version of what Amon Tobin's been doing lately, but with about $1 million less at his disposal. Bvdub (aka Brock van Wey) represents a polar shift from Monolake with his pastel, pastoral dub ethereality. With Cyanwave and Tarik Barri.
Modern Love Showcase, Thurs Sept 27, 10:30 pm, Melrose Market Studios: I raved at length about Demdike Stare's awesomeness in last week's issue. Just as crucial is fellow Brit Andy Stott, maker of perhaps the most sinister, slow-pulsed techno ever to ooze out of a speaker. His recent releases on Modern Love Records—Passed Me By and We Stay Together—possess a methodical malevolence that's as exhilarating as seeing a hippopotamus sink in quicksand. Cut Hands, the latest project by notorious noisician William Bennett, transmogrifies the feral power of his infamous work in Whitehouse into fierce, tribal, rhythmic workouts. On his 2011 album, Afro Noise 1, Bennett slashes his beat-heavy excursions—influenced by Ghanaian and Congolese percussion—with extreme frequencies of mysterious origin. Cut Hands creates some of the most intense music in the world right now. With MLZ.
Optical 2: Ascension, Thurs Sept 27, 5:30 pm, Triple Door: This female-heavy lineup is headed by Estonian producer/singer Maria Minerva, who's accumulating a loud buzz for her subliminal siren songs. Imagine if chillwave were as engrossing as its champions make it out to be, then further imagine a dulcet-voiced dub lover taking things even deeper into tranquil tranciness. The Dead Texan's Christina Vantzou weaves orchestral samples, synth, and her own voice into gorgeous tapestries that nod toward Brian Eno's ambient classic Discreet Music. Her visuals fluctuate in style between what looks like unconventional advertisements and avant-garde nature documentaries. With Julianna Barwick, Anenon, Lulacruza, and lissom.
Motor City Masters, Fri Sept 28, 9 pm, Showbox at the Market: Detroit techno's eternal importance to electronic music gets reiterated with performances by Carl Craig (aka 69, the most talented of the second wave of Motor City producer/DJs along with Jeff Mills and Rob Hood), Octave One (old-school, soulful trackmakers who remain relevant today), and former Seattleite/ex-Detroiter Jerry Abstract, whose DJ sets tap into the hardest and best specimens from back in the day and right now.
Raster-Noton Showcase, Fri Sept 28, 10:30 pm, Melrose Market Studios: Raster-Noton is the damn-near-infallible German experimental-electronic label. Its artists' highbrow aural emanations and severe, geometric visual accompaniments have yielded legendary results at past Decibel and MUTEK fests. Byetone and Kangding Ray bring a shocking rhythmic vitality to R-N's patented op-art minimalism and bleepy pointillism. These eggheads' tracks will stun you with their funkiness and danceability. Emptyset makes minimal techno that's coated in tar and throbbing with primeval vengefulness. Charles Bronson would love it.
Optical 3: Touch 30, Fri Sept 28, 7 pm, Broadway Performance Hall: On this bill of elite atmosphere conjurers, the most intriguing figure is Eleh. This enigma creates some of the most tabula-rasa'd drone that ever droned you into the Zen zone. With Jon Wozencroft, Biosphere, the Sight Below, lissom, and Leo Mayberry.
XLR8R Presents, Fri Sept 28, 9 pm, Baltic Room: The music on Actress's three scintillating albums slithers among pre- and post-dubstep genres with slick friction. Strange textures, eerily beautiful atmospheres, and coiled rhythms send you down fascinating and surprising alleyways. With Gulls, Teengirl Fantasy, and Ghosts on Tape.
Cerebral Vortex, Sat Sept 29, 9 pm, Neumos: Don't miss this rare Roman Flügel appearance if you value nuanced, melodic techno and/or heaven-lowering, banging techno (see Flügel's work as Alter Ego, who devastated Decibel in '09). With Max Cooper and Matt Tolfrey.