Decibel’s fourth and fifth days couldn’t match its first three, and consequently I suffered from a severe aesthetic comedown, as well as general fatigue. (Will you please sign my petition to scale back Decibel to 4 days?). Still, here are some highlights and medlights [sic].
SATURDAY SEPT. 29
Nils Frahm stole the night, in many people’s ears. I missed the first part of his performance (Orcas’ technical problems with Broadway Performance Hall's infrastructure shifted the time slots; ultimately they never sorted them out and Orcas didn’t play), but he reportedly dazzled by drumming with two mallets on his piano’s body and innards. You could hear a pen click (that was me; sorry!) during Frahm’s gorgeous lyrical impressionism and crystalline melancholy motifs on piano and electric organ. His touch can be extremely feathery or violently percussive; no matter the approach, though, Frahm’s music is wholly inspirational. He provoked the most vigorous standing ovation and cheers I heard all festival.
Following Frahm’s breathtaking show, I flit between Q and Neumos, catching snippets of Dave Aju’s live set and Roman Flügel and Nina Kraviz’s DJ sets. The former’s off-center techno sounded good in Q, but one wished for higher definition to the high and low ends. What I heard of Flügel and Kraviz’s selections was solid, but only catching the early stages of their stints didn’t allow for any definitive conclusions. Matthew Dear’s live performance at Showbox at the Market was beckoning.
Canadian composer Dan Snaith is the maestro behind the icy/ass-shaking synthesis that is Caribou, a live instrumentation, downer disco, psychedelic band/project who have always worn his deeply ingrained electronica DJ ways on their sleeve.
In 2011 Dan began working under the moniker Daphni, an entirely electronic effort that captures more clearly the world beat influences that lay just beneath the surfaces of Caribou's live percussion and keys.
His new album JIAOLONG is available to stream in its entirety for the first time over at Resident Advisor .
Heavy, sustained cello samples clamor with robot winces, claps, and every percussion instrument available on a drum package, from bongos to timbales. The distorted beats become so baptized in their own holy spirit, they break out in sparse vocal sample chants like “Ye-ye-ye.” At times, it’s like a Caribou album played through cheap, tinny computer speakers—that somehow improves their sound—and at others it’s the trance inducing ritual of a tribe of trogloxenes, confined to the darkness of the club, guided by the light of the laser machine, and sustained by the rave cave's slinky, bottomless beats.
Perhaphs my expectations were too high for Decibel Festival’s XLR8R showcase. With the crushing blow of the removal of British sample savant Actress from the bill due to visa complications, I was already let down before the show began. Things got better when some friends from out of town joined the caravan. We made our way into the city talking about Craig Johnson Records, Joe McPhee Music (Seattle shit, natch), Vancouver Jazz festivals gone by, and bop and acid jazz greats like Pharoah Sanders and Elvin Jones shows we were lucky enough to catch years ago.
This is Boe Oddisey of The Boe Oddisey Scarf Dance and Art Company. Boe was basking and doling to the J Rocc, Dam-Funk, Nosaj Thing, and Supreme La Rock of the Decibel Do-Over in the sun at the Broadway Performance Hall Plaza. Boe came to Seattle from Bremerton in 1971. He says, “Celebrate and seize the day.” Boe gives out hugs, and art, and is available for private parties. I love Boe. He’s a beautiful addition to our city. He says, “All fan mail welcomed at PMB B40, 1463 E. Republican St, Seattle, WA, 98102. Exotic and/or all age scarf dancing, comedy, abstract, acrylic painting, massage for you. Clean, sober, tobacco free, vegan option on life. Just do it. The time is now. We are here.”
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.
The bass in mix for Erykah Badu and the Cannabinoids at the Paramount Theater was overpowering, and there were 17 laptops onstage. Actually I counted seven, with one of the Cannabinoids regularly pressing the “wind chime” button. On the floor, toward the rear of the Fabergé confines of the Paramount, the sound was a swampy mess. Reports from the balcony were that the bass overpowered up there as well. Her vocals were completely indiscernible, washed in realms of reverb and delay, but she still owned it powerfully. In the live context of her show with the Cannabinoids, Badu’s voice slots in more as an instrument, so understanding every word isn’t what I think she’s going for anyway. Highpoint was a Flying Lotus number off Until the Quiet Comes out October 2 in the US. Occasionally she palmed at a drum pad (hello bass) to her left, (with a brain to her right) sometimes topping off the plain of the song with a hand-tied 808 flurry. Projections sailed through seas of animated ganglia and Tron-world dolly shots of the pyramids. Songs mostly stayed on their own mid to down tempo flight paths with few key changes, and when they touched down, for my ears, the bass just overtook too much. It was one of those shows that seemed to drain, not charge. I love Erykah Badu, though; she can do no wrong. Maybe I should have been stoned. (Brain picture after jump.)
It's to the advantage of artists and audiences alike that Decibel discourages flash photography and limits picture-taking to the first three songs of each set (there might be exceptions, but those were the basic rules laid out in the press logistics mailing). It's also why the photos below aren't all that great, but at least you get the gist of Brooklyn's Julianna Barwick and London's Maria Minerva, who both performed solo at the Triple Door as part of the Optical 2: Ascension showcase (I wasn't able to catch Lulacruza and Anenon, who rounded out the bill).
Stranger photographer Jack Newton snapped some sweet pics of Orbital last night at the Paramount. A friend who went said he left after 30 minutes because Orbital sounded "too normal." What's your take?
Last night, my little slice of Decibel was so intense and amazing. It went something like this…
MARIA MINERVA @ TRIPLE DOOR
Maria Minerva looked like she was dressed to perform some modern dance, but instead she (wo)manned her gear with one hand and gripped the mic in the other. With these rudimentary tools, she enchanted a sedate crowd at Triple Door, a venue that always seems too posh for the music I go there to hear. Minerva slung her voice like a lasso, flamboyantly swooping up and down her register while coaxing distorted keyboard ululations. Her set largely explored a languid sort of dub and electronic pop hybrid, but sometimes diverged into deep drone zones, sculpted airplane-engine roar, lopsided house music, midtempo funk, and, during the last track, a Moog-like babble that evoked Mort Garson, Dick Hyman, and Gershon Kingsley. Lots of people were leaving throughout the performance (probably to see Orbital, who, according to reports I heard, were weak). Bad choice, people.
DJAO @ BARBOZA
I will keep saying this until it happens (or it doesn’t): Local producer DJAO (aka Alex Osuch) is going to blow up, any year now. He led off the Dropping Gems showcase with a masterly set of slow-your-roll hiphop/future bass spectrality that had the crowd transfixed. DJAO contrasted ocean-floor bass pressure with ethereal tone impressionism and angelic croons (his own) to stunningly beautiful and yearning effect. And as the sole practitioner of Chiltonwave™, he scropped and chewed Big Star’s “Thirteen” until it gradually deliquesced into a pool of molasses-y loveliness. DUG DJ Jon François said, “I like [DJAO’s music] because I feel like I’m alone when I’m listening to it, even in a club.” Achieving that sort of intimacy is a special skill.
CUT HANDS @ MELROSE MARKET STUDIOS
I hate to be that guy, but if you missed the Modern Love Records showcase at MMS, you fucked up, badly. Cut Hands (William Bennett of Whitehouse, looking like your favorite humanities professor) unleashed a sadistic rhythm orgy, a relentless barrage of percussion and flayed frequencies, for a little over an hour. It was one of the most intense sets I’ve seen at Decibel, and I’ve been going since year 1. Cut Hands’ most recent album is titled Afro Noise, and that’s what the man delivered. An iconoclastic Caucasian Brit messing around with Ghanaian and Congolese rhythms risks accusations of cultural colonialism, but fuck, this shit sounds phenomenal, so loosen up, Mr. Politically Correct. Bennett, now in his 50s, danced feverishly to his own clattering madness, an elephant stampede of kick/kettle drums—or maybe frame drums the size of a satellite dish? Whatever they were, they left you dazed and contused. Frequent metallic tonalities clanged like gangbusters and drums progressively became more weapon-like as the night wore on. You couldn't help feeling thoroughly pummeled. So damn primal...
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.
This afternoon from 2 to 3 at Broadway Performance Hall I'll be participating in a panel discussion about getting coverage in the media, festivals, and retail outlets. Joining me on this Decibel Festival-sanctioned panel will be Darek Mazzone (KEXP), Shawn Reynaldo (XLR8R), Alain Mongeau (MUTEK), Andrew Ryce (Resident Advisor), and Rachel Gibbs (music curator for Victoria's Secret). If you're a musician who's looking for tips on how to get more exposure (and revenue), you may want to attend. More information here.
If you answered yes, I can direct you to someone looking to unload one, for face value and fees. Email me at email@example.com and I'll connect you with him.
Orbital play the Paramount Theatre with Paul Chambers.
Ann Arbor based Dabrye phased in and out of his citywise cuts slyly last night at Barboza. After some technical difficulties and delay, he began his set with the Close Encounters of the Third Kind theme. All was a head nod/body job from that point on. Dabrye’s a devotee of downtowned, crate dug beats. He lowballed, highballed, J Dilla-balled and ball-balled, with nothing too full bore, and nothing overstated. His trafficked pulses are natural, with stems from funk, jive, and R&B. Highpoints for me were the instrumental in-betweens. The oddball crossovers, where beats converged in transition. The main line would fade out, and the weirder, bizarre-er rhythm would be left alone, paired with a looping or sampled sound. The beat seemed bigger then, more hopping, more impossible to ignore.
Even on relatively light opening nights, Decibel is overwhelming. For example…
DEMDIKE STARE RE-SCORING JEAN ROLLIN’S LA VAMPIRE NUE @ BROADWAY PERFORMANCE HALL
Demdike Stare’s re-purposed score for this kitsch softcore-erotica/faux-existential-horror flick outclassed the movie by several orders of magnitude; I’m still trying to figure out by exactly how much. The British duo sat to the left of the screen and unspooled tenebrous drones and cobra-charming beats and eerie airs in conjunction with Rollin’s garish images. Where the director seemingly wanted us to cower in fright, we guffawed. La Vampire Nue was reconfigured into an hour for this performance, but we got the gist fairly quickly. Demdike Stare lent the farcical film an ominous gravitas it didn’t really earn—but I’m grateful that they did.
KID SMPL @ BARBOZA
Kid Smpl (young Seattle producer Joey Butler) is an earnest disciple at the Church of Bass. His sumptuous, see-through melodies are like an anvil made out of feathers: They exude a diaphanous heaviness that projects deep reserves of emotion in every waft. I glibly created a reductive equation to describe Kid Smpl’s music, but I think it’s valid: Burial x Cocteau Twins + Robitussin + blissful mourning. His version of “night bus” is a new kind of holy minimalism, a sacred form of bass music. It’s almost too beautiful to live.
CYANWAVE @ NEUMOS
The Seattle duo of Justin Byrnes and Keith Kelley were the best I’ve ever seen them, pushing out fathoms-deep dub techno that harked back to the Chain Reaction label’s glory days (Porter Ricks, Fluxion, Monolake, etc.). Cyanwave were giving Neumos’ specially outfitted subs a serious workout, with the kickdrums sounding like submarines thudding against each other. Heady stuff.
Decibel Festival begins today and... you're already tired of hearing me talking about it. Sorry!
Tonight's agenda looks great, albeit not as overwhelming as some of the fest's other nights (Thursday is going to maim, if not kill, me). Here's what I hope to catch, in case you want to stalk me or hand me your demo. To hit everything I want to hit will require self-cloning and rapid transit of the like hitherto thought impossible. But it's Decibel—one must go to extraordinary lengths to squeeze every last drop of pleasure from its bountiful gifts, or one is losing. Food and sleep can wait.
6P DEMDIKE STARE'S RE-SCORING OF JEAN ROLLIN'S LA VAMPIRE NUE @ BROADWAY PERFORMANCE HALL
825P ROBERT HENKE @ TRIPLE DOOR
9P JIMI JAXON @ CROCODILE
9P KID SMPL @ BARBOZA
11P BVDUB @ NEUMOS
1130P APPLEBLIM @ BALTIC ROOM
12A MONOLAKE @ NEUMOS
1230A CLARK @ CROCODILE
1245A FALTYDL @ BALTIC ROOM
1245A DABRYE @ BARBOZA
Earlier this year, in advance of their triple CD Tryptych, Segal described the British duo (Miles Whittaker of Suum Cuique and Sean Canty of Finders Keepers Records) as "English hauntological-post-techno illuminati," so who better to provide the musical accompaniment for 1970's La Vampire Nue from horror-kink master Jean Rollin? (Demdike made their Seattle debut at May's Psychic Circle Fest.)
Even if Whittaker rejects the term "hauntological," Demdike Stare's music isn't worlds away from the unsettling, cinematic sounds of Julian House's Focus Group or Leyland Kirby's Caretaker (and I couldn't recommend the Focus Group's collaboration with Broadcast, Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, and the Caretaker's An Empty Bliss Beyond This World more highly). Though Kirby was originally scheduled to attend Decibel, as V/Vm, he's no longer part of the bill.
Voluminous will be the volume in Neumos for the 2012 Decibel Festival. As of last night, the additional speakers were loaded in. These shiny black monoliths of low-end splendor now await you at the front of the stage, like afterlives for your ears. There are speakers hanging from the back of the room as well. The system is surround, pristine, and hearty. Sonics will be chiseled and pinpoint, arriving sound waves to your hearing, chest cavities, and aortas from the inside out.
In other words, analog moths will fly though digital flame, but with these additional speakers, the insecta arthropoda will instantly be blotted out by the actual fucking sun, the bass sun. Earplugs may be advised, unless you’re a 500,000 mile wide moth, and you want to land on the sun.
The DB in Dub Showcase is tonight’s presentation. Monolake, Tarik Barri, bvdub, and Cyanwave will be going, and carving.
Are you attending Decibel Festival, which starts today and runs through Sun. Sept. 30? Do you eat? All right, then, Plasmodium’s Kristina Childs (a great DJ and organizer of the notorious KRAKT night—relaunching Oct. 5 at Electric Tea Garden) has provided a guide to some of the restaurants in Decibel’s proximity that may be nice to your palate. [Insert “eat to the beat” non-joke here.] Read all about it at plasmodium.net.
Decibel Festival kicks off today and runs through Sun. Sept. 30th! There's so much action to be had this year, it's easy for artists to get lost in the mental shuffle. Here are three acts you should have penciled firmly into what is already, I'm sure, a packed schedule.
Roman Flügel is a powerhouse in the world of techno. He spearheads staple dance music labels Playhouse, Klang, and Ongaku and has worked with next-level producers like Sven Väth and Daft Punk. His productivity under his own name or various monikers (Acid Jesus, Alter Ego, Eight Miles High, Roman IV etc.) is unparalleled and of the highest quality. Flügel's a DJ's DJ and he sets a gold standard for effortlessly weaving together the best of 20+ years of dance-music. His multiple performances over Decibel weekend promise to affirm the sheer power of techno and its ability to make you completely lose your shit.
Roman Flügel performs at Nuemos, alongside Max Cooper, Matt Tolfrey, and David Martin, Sat Sept. 29, and at Q Nightclub with Nina Kraviz, and Dave Aju. $20 adv./free with Db Pass
Public Lover is the collaborative project of Ninca Leece and hometown hero Bruno Pronsato, who, since his relocation to Berlin several years ago, has risen to the upper echelon of contemporary techno producers. While Pronsato's live sets always veer toward the heady, jacked-up, and bizarre end of the minimal-techno spectrum, Public Lover is like night and day by comparison, the "come-down" music to Pronsato's otherworldly peak-time material. Expect melancholic, organic rhythms that embrace the lofty and jazzier elements of dance music, creating a mature and subtle sound that, when coupled with Leece's vocal work, will be a perfect way to close out the festival.
Public Lover perform at Neumos, Sept 30, alongside John Talabot and Pezzner. $18 adv/free with Db Pass.
Cyanwave is the brainchild of local artists Keith Kelley and Justin Brynes. The two have been producing spaced-out, dub techno since 2008 and have dialed their craft down to a science. Performed using a combination of analog and digital components, their set at Decibel is slated to be one of their most complex and advanced to date, with a grip of new material in store. If you like your dance music washed out in massive walls of reverb and to sound like it was created at the final outpost of some distant galaxy, these are your guys.
Cyanwave perform at Nuemos, Sept 26, alongside Monolake, Tarik Barri, and bvdub. $18 adv./free with Db pass
Full Decibel Festival schedule and pass info at www.dbfestival.com
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