Decibel officially kicked my ass this year. Despite all the drama, technical issues, and visa complications, the festival organizers once again put on one of the best electronic music festivals in North America right here in Seattle, giving the city a moment in the spotlight.
The opening gala at the Henry made for a great start. It was low-key, with a steady stream of people filtering from room to room and through the galleries. Kate Simko's set echoed through the building and spilled out into the surrounding blocks, with Philip Sherburne inspiring a motivated few to dance. The early highlight was Lusine, whose ambient set was complemented by the serene visuals and ultra-quiet auditorium. Overcast played a wonderfully dubby set to the handful of people that opted to stay in the increasingly chilly open-air space, an early surprise.
While that gala marked a good opening for the festival, it was just the calm before the storm over at the Death of the Party showcase. Despite Simian Mobile Disco's early slot, the audience was rendered a sweaty, dancing mess. Switch's stage presence and DJ skills were lacking, but his set reinforced his production acumen. Diplo proved why he's the king of the hipster dance circuit, dropping Nirvana (it wasn't entirely lame, really) along with his party cuts, inviting the crowd to party onstage with him. The fun was a bit more subdued over at the Orac showcase, where Konstantin Gabbro closed things out after inspired sets from the entire bill.
After Thursday's excess, Friday was largely a night of rest. Truckasauras brought out DJ Collage for their set, one of the tightest seen from the 8-bit beatsmiths. They did their best, but the malaise around Neumo's was impenetrable, whether it was Kill Memory Crash's industrial or Guns 'n' Bombs' set of aural exclamation points. Turns out the action was at Chop Suey, where Jacob London one-upped last year's surprise monkey-mic appearance by dressing in full wizard regalia. The music was great, but it was hard to not just stand and watch the spectacle.
Saturday afternoon, I opted for the Sensory Effect showcase. Taal Mala impressed by sticking to a deep and dubby aesthetic rather than strict genre. Lowfish's electro (the original variety) was equally bass-centric, but people were trickled out to catch Jerry Abstract's close. Neumo's was busier than the previous night for 3 Channels and Speedy J; the VIP Room was packed for Jeff Samuel, who moved to Berlin last year and brought the gritty, European vibe back with him. Kristina Childs delivered a blistering set at the afterparty before Speedy J did his thing once again.
Sunday looked like a scene from Dawn of the Dead, with most attendees lazily shuffling about. AAM's droning IDM was perfectly punctuated by live drumming and retro visuals. Frivolous delivered one of the festival's best sets, augmenting beats with his electromagnetic knife, animated presence, and bouncy experimental house. A hard act to follow, and Phon.o—performing without Chris De Luca, who was stopped at the border—seemed positively lethargic by comparison. Wolfgang Flur provided an anticlimactic close to Neumo's. Downstairs, the Mothership label showcase was a grand introduction to the experimental techno label's sound, closing out with a rousing set by an excited Italoboyz.
That's the thing about Decibel: With so much good music, there was no excuse to listen to anything less than great.