How about that feeling when you have unreasonably high expectations for a live performance and then they’re exceeded? Such a rare thing. But it happened last night at Triple Door during Raime’s set at the OPTICAL 4: Black Noise showcase. Primed by the 2012 album Quarter Turns Over a Living Line and previous EPs on the Blackest Ever Black label, I mentally elevated British duo Raime to this year’s Demdike Stare of Decibel.
Situated at the far right corner of the stage in darkness and augmented by
Leo Mayberry their own stark and unnerving visuals, Tom Halstead and Joe Andrews began by coaxing sepulchral drones punctuated by dungeon-door-slam beats. Later came methodical, glinting shafts of guitar and demonic angel sighs. Another track featured tolling bells of doom accompanied by an incongruously springy rhythm—but Raime’s beats seem to hurtle you toward oblivion, not the usual physical release. The set ended in slow-motion ambient desolation, a perfectly dank and melancholy conclusion. This is gothic music devoid of all kitsch, goth as existential condition. Raime’s is a universe purged of light and “fun.” Somehow, though, the pitilessness of their music is comforting. Someday, some risk-taking horror-film director is going to tap Raime to create the ultimate score for majestic hopelessness.
The Sight Below (Seattle’s Rafael Anton Irisarri) was feeling ill and had his hoodie pulled up and wore a jacket onstage, but he delivered what was at times his most abrasive ambient set to date. There was an orchestral grandeur to the Sight Below’s swarming drones that ranged from beatific to anguished. The performance was marked by one amazing anomaly: a massive ambient-dub bruiser that sounded like a combination of Seefeel and Scorn. More like this, please.
Nosaj Thing was subbing for the absent Oren Ambarchi, but I fled to hit Neumos for Archie Pelago. No snub to Nosaj—it’s just that I’ve seen him many times and he’s always great, but I’ve never seen Archie Pelago. And they did not disappoint. A trio featuring sax, cello (sometimes fingerpicked), and three laptops, AP played busy jazztronica that vibrates somewhere between Cinematic Orchestra and early Four Tet. It’s dance music, but Archie Pelago don’t make it overly easy or obvious. Their compositions squirm to get off the rhythmic grid and color outside of the lines. They thrive on chaos and excess, even though they have their minimalist streaks, too (the obsessive, uplifting repetition of Steve Reich and Rhys Chatham occasionally can be heard). This was some of the most involving organic/synthetic real-time mish-mashing I’ve witnessed happening on a stage. Would see again.
The tenth annual Decibel Festival once again was an overwhelming ocean of extraordinary tones and a galaxy of diverse beats. Not surprisingly, as it’s grown it’s become more accessible, but there are still enough challenging performers to wear out even curmudgeonly elitists over its five days. Director/founder Sean Horton announced with his traditional and endearingly hoarse voice from the Triple Door stage last night that Decibel had met attendance and artistic expectations, So I guess we can expect more of the same (and some of the different) next year. Congratulations to Decibel’s hard-working staff—and please consider cutting back to four days (my annual request, which will likely be ignored).
Obviously, every Decibel participant's experience is unique and you can't see everything and you may think I'm insane for spotlighting what I did. So, what were your Decibel highlights? And do you like Decibel as a five-day event or would you like to see it return to four days?