Last Night / Decibel
Decibel Festival, Day 3: Biosphere, Eleh, Emptyset, Kangding Ray, Byetone
by Dave Segal
on Sat, Sep 29, 2012 at 3:54 PM
Some incredible shit went down Friday at Decibel. Some of it sounded like this.
BIOSPHERE @ BROADWAY PERFORMANCE HALL Honestly, Biosphere (Norway’s Geir Jenssen) put on a more varied, dynamic show at last year’s Substrata. His set last night wasn’t bad by any means, but the first track’s rhythm remained unvarying for about 15 minutes. Don't get me wrong, it was a fine rhythm (tom/2 kicks & 4 cymbal taps), but some changes wouldn’t have gone amiss. Like a masterly soundtrack composer, Biosphere increased the tension of his teeming, momentous drones in subtle increments. There was something almost classically Hollywood about the suspenseful atmospheres and melancholy grandeur of much of Biosphere’s performance. Toward the end, things became more limpidly ambient until a chilling synth part came in, sounding like Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking strings from Psycho flattened into a monotone EEEEEEEE. Aaaand scene…
ELEH @ BROADWAY PERFORMANCE HALL Eleh is cloaked in mystery. His identity is known only to a select circle of initiates. His music is so minimal, it makes Pan_sonic sound like ELP. Last night, he sat on the floor in the dark, his back to the audience, as he caressed a keyboard and tinkered with a Serge modular synthesizer that looked like it was shipped straight from Morton Subotnick’s studio ca. 1968. (Thank Allah Eleh wasn’t playing yet another fucking silver Mac.) Eleh began with keening, wispy tones that curled over a perpetual, faint universal 60-hz hum. Eventually, booming bass belches, methodically spaced, issued like a belligerent household appliance rebelling against its duties. This was followed by a fluctuating bass tone that felt like a blanket sweeping over you and tucking you in for your eternal dirt nap. Par-TAY. The epitome of an anti-personality, Eleh got up and walked offstage without acknowledging the crowd, as his sound continued to was and wane. Soon after, the lights went on. The end.
EMPTYSET @ MELROSE MARKET STUDIOS If you thought nothing could top Thursday’s Modern Love Records showcase (mea culpa), Emptyset kind of proved you wrong at the Raster-Noton showcase. (Raster-Noton has been one of the best labels on the planet since 1999.) The British duo played techno that belonged in an S&M grindhouse, its vicious tones and vengeful beats meting out punishment for the sheer glee of it. Machismo played a role in this music, but it didn’t come off as obnoxious, even at its most militaristic (beats going off like artillery). Emptyset’s heavy, maximal tekno bore some of the most obese kickdrums ever to give speakers embolisms. At times, their brutalist, abstractions recalled Fred Bigot’s bass-intensive slugfests. At others, the tempo picked up to a swift yet still massively heavy cruising speed, augmented by crazy, serrated, mechanized textures. Often you felt like you were in the presence of an megalomaniacal automaton. Frequently you felt like you were in an abattoir—or a war. “That was original,” someone said afterward. Um, yeah.
KANGDING RAY @ MELROSE MARKET STUDIOS Following Emptyset can’t be easy, but Kangding Ray killed it with a seriously grooving dance set. His techno’s heavy and complex, often shattering the genre’s gridlike tendencies. The bulk of his performance consisted of 130-bpm noisy techno that oddly made me think of ’90s titans like Prototype 909 and Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia. There was also some Shitkatapult-style schaffel going on and some cosmic-dusted, blobular techno that made me regret not dosing. What a master Kangding Ray be.
BYETONE @ MELROSE MARKET STUDIOS Byetone started his set this with shredding, menacing minimalism abristle with glowering tones. Gradually, he transitioned into an intricate electro steez with punishing bass. Most of his set sounded like an oblique homage to Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” (electro’s funky-as-fuck ground zero), an epic robotic boogie that intensified as it progressed, as numbers flashed on the screens in Melrose Market Studios, my favorite bunker-like facility in Seattle. Modern Love and Raster-Noton showcases on successive nights? Decibel quite possibly has already shot its copious wad.