The two events aren't as incongruous as they seem. In both cases, my mind kept traveling back to Seattle in the 1980s and '90s.
That's par for the course when it comes to Nirvana, Sub Pop, etc., but there was more to it than that. Robert Roth, for instance, played at the Reed tribute with a lineup that included bassist Hiro Yamamoto, which didn't just remind me of Truly, but of Soundgarden, too, since I'll always associate him with that band, even if Hiro left 23 years ago. Roth's appearance also reminded me that he brought some Storybook Krooks cassettes to sell on consignment at Cellophane Square around 1989 or so. I thought he had a good voice then—and I was pleased to hear that he still does. But the Cellophane connections don't end there...
Las Vegas is a pretty crazy place. Aside from the fact that the city siphons a large part of the Colorado River each year to keep up with its consumption demands, uses a disproportionate amount of resources (though their sustainability efforts are supposedly improving), and didn't seem to much care about recycling: the drink prices are super high! Really, everything is more. Drinks cost as much as entrées, entrées are buffets, and when you order coffee, they bring a whole pot.
Luckily, away from the pricey hotels/casinos, we found a place with $2 well drinks at happy hour, and the day was completely saved (if only the Colorado River could quench its thirst at happy hour)! Next, we discovered that in an area of town called Old Vegas, things were cheaper, (black jack) dealers were friendlier, and there was a band playing Black Sabbath on electric cellos in the middle of the street. I would recommend Old Vegas.
It was back in New Vegas, though, that we saw Le Rêve (The Dream). It was an amazing play at the ridiculously balling Wynn hotel that made use of a circular pool-stage in the middle of the arena. The actors performed Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics, and magic tricks, on fantastically ornamented props like artificial trees, floating tables, giant bells, and tiered platforms—all of which emerged from the water throughout the play. Athletic feats like handstands and flips, and bravery like high-dives into small areas, and a 90-foot drop from the rafters into the pool would have been enough to impress me, but the acting was also quite good.
Without words, the actors worked through a plot that follows a young woman after being presented a flower by a prospective lover. She then falls asleep, and her dreams are played out on the aquatic stage. There are demons, good guys, and some goofy suited dudes in swimming caps. In the end, she accepts the flower, and they retreat to a white bed which was lifted through a hole in the ceiling. Intercourse was heavily inferred.
Sometimes revelations come on a Tuesday night at Barboza—Seattle quartet Newaxeyes, for instance. These young white dudes were playing their first proper club show, but they stunned the small crowd with 30 minutes of dense, penetrating unconventionality. After the set was over, one joker waved his hands over a monitor, as if it were smoking. Many a valid concept is portrayed in jest.
From jump, one could sense that Newaxeyes ain’t your typical Seattle band. They immediately filled Barboza’s royal-blue-hued room with extreme frequencies and rugged, off-kilter beats. Think UK noise-drone titans Fuck Buttons jamming with innovative, cult hiphop unit Dälek and you’re getting close to imagining the artful aural violence happening here.
Newaxeyes’ music is dark without being hackneyed, abrasive yet nuanced, psychedelic in non-obvious ways. Everything’s distorted, all of the time. All of their tracks fluidly segued without pause, like a well-wrought DJ set. At times their bass tones powered through your quality earplugs, vibrating the hell out of your cochlea, and rippled your internal organs. The third song found vicious, slithering beats encrusted in ill debris draped in astringent clangor, until everything dropped out save for a beautifully pensive guitar solo. Nobody saw that coming, but when it did it was breathtaking. The last piece sounded like Roy Budd’s “Get Carter” theme being sucked backward into a huge vacuum.
Based on this show and to a lesser extent on their Soundcloud output, Newaxeyes are Seattle’s most exciting new band. Follow them closely.
"Every day is the same," our cab driver said about living in Las Vegas, as he drove my wife and I from the airport to the hotel. I jotted down the information. Maybe I wouldn't have to change my underwear after all! As we arrived, the driver also informed us that our hotel was "the best place in town to cheat on your spouse." We thanked him for the valuable tip. It was pure class, right out of the gate! Shout out to that guy.
We didn't end up soliciting any fondles from strangers, but we did make it to the Justin Timberlake show. It was at the MGM Grand, which is a big green slice of hell on the south end of the strip. We weaved our way around a couple zillion smokey card tables and crowded slot machines to get to the Garden Arena, which is at the heart of the beast. We packed into a bottleneck with the rest of the herd and waited for the doors to open. I spotted a Piña Colada stand on one side of the hall, and we surrendered ourselves to its faux-tropical temptations. The next thing we knew, we were in the upper rows readying ourselves for "the 20/20 experience"...
"Shiiiiit! I almost completely missed "Duck Tails" because it took so long to get searched. This song is SO CRAZY! Aaaah! I think I love it... I do, I LOVE IT."
"He kinda puts his hands on his hips like Mick Jagger."
"Aren't those guys HOT in winter hats and jackets?"
"Did he really just rhyme "sperm" with "tape worm"? Nuh-uh!"
Fortunately, Turner and drummer Kishore Ryan had a great rapport, and the capacity crowd was appreciative (on Turner's new album, Don't Tell the Driver, the drum duties are shared by Ryan, Ian Wadley, and Jeff Wegener of the Laughing Clowns). I wasn't sure how the audience would react, since an instrumentalist opening for a vocal performer can make some concertgoers a little impatient. Plus, they were in a feisty mood. Throughout Callahan's fine set, punters kept yelling out various exhortations like "Bill, Bill!" (in case he forgot his name) and "Play 'Diamond Dancer'" (he didn't).
Most might already know that I'm a diehard Slayer fan. **I LOVE THEM** Forever. And ever! No. Matter. What. Even Tom Araya's admission of a belief in G-O-D (thanks, Trent Moorman!) doesn't really surprise me all that much.
This banner at their WaMu Theater show last Friday seemed a little weird though. I mean, wasn't there a evil-cool (with upside down crosses!) portrait of Jeff Hanneman they could have dedicated to him? He died of liver failure. And maybe I've been living in this land of the PC Police too long, but putting his name inside a beer bottle label seems a little "OUCH?" Yes? No? Let's have a vote! Also, more photos from the show, after the jump...
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Reignwolf was the filthiest thing in New Orleans Friday night.
Local (to New Orleans) blues rock band Baby Bee opened for them, and I almost feel sorry for the drum and guitar brother duo now. They played some fine Charlie Musselwhite/Chuck Berry inspired tunes while a local fanbase cheered them on through a decent effort of about 45 minutes worth of original material. It's in these moments, though, that one gains greater appreciation for the musical life of a city like Seattle, where on any given night the music is a cut above the rest. I cheered Baby Bee on, but secretly hoped Reingwolf would come out and burn House of Blues New Orleans to the ground.
It was by complete coincidence that I ran into frontman Jordan Cook and the rest of his trio during their load-out just a couple of hours before the show. A short conversation later, kismet acknowledged, he handed me two tickets to his show for which I’m now eternally grateful. The band spoke a bit about their new material and they seemed as shocked as I was that they had just spent the day recording at Ani DiFranco's house. Cook proceeded to let me know he’s played his guitars so hard in the last year that the heads just plain fell off of two of them in the last month. He then showed me a positively ancient Guild semi-hollow body he’d just borrowed from Ani’s husband, whose only request was that he not damage the head. We both laughed anxiously at that one.
People aggressively ignored the strict “no cameras” policy (N'awlins encourages obnoxiousness—smoking indoors, cat-calling, and generally acting afool will not warrant a reprimand here) to capture Reignwolf's old tricks from the very start. As you may know, he plays bass drum and guitar at once, and in some cases plays an entire drumset with one hand and hammer-on guitar riffs with the other, but Cook’s voice is so much stronger now than it was a year and a half ago when I last saw him in Seattle. It's grown into a crosscut saw of raspy wail and sexy, dare I say wolf-like howling that matches the strength of his guitar chops. The band came on well after midnight, but thanks to those old tricks they had the small crowd in a trance just a few songs into the show. It was about halfway through when Cook said “I think this is going better than I thought it would.” Boy was he right.
For a New Orleans debut, with probably 30 (max 50) people in the entire venue, the band went completely batshit crazy. With an amazing sound system at their disposal, and a decent lighting setup, the House of Blues became a vision quest, a right of passage, if not just one of those positively miraculous musical experiences for everyone in attendance. At one point the girls in front were dancing directly under Cook, showering in Reignwolf sweat. Another woman looked on agog, with that lips parted, eyes wide expression that says “what the...?” One young woman spread her arms wide and appeared to float through the chords, another covered her face as if to shield it from the heat, still another closed her eyes, held her chin up and and faced the sound, as if bathing in it. Drunk bros looked to one another, jaws slack, eyebrows raised. Heads bobbed, chins jutted, lips snarled. One guy said to another, about Cook's constant onslaught of guitar, “Yeah, I think this kid's gonna make it.”
A brief survey of the small crowd revealed people had only previously seen Reignwolf on Youtube, but a few already had favorite songs; “Electric Love” and "Are You Satisfied” put the dance into the dancehall. Guitarist David "Stitch" Rapaport (Mother's Anger) later told me he credited the videos for those songs from KEXP and Jet City Stream with launching the non-stop year and a half tour the band has been on. At one point during “Are You Satisfied” a young woman next to me let out a giddy laugh like a schoolgirl in love. Even I broke into a fit of laughter at the audacity of one of Cook’s relentless, driven solos. In the power trio formation (two six-string electrics, and drums) Reignwolf has become bigger than the sum of its parts—no longer the Jordan Cook show, the noise, the feeling, was so big it reached above and past the stage and infected the crowd.
I was most impressed with the new material, like some unclassified genus of grunge that Reignwolf cultivates; Seattle in spirit, but the future of the sound. He’s done that with his blues playing as well: It’s pentatonic, but polyrhytmic. It's personal, weird, transformative blues. He contorts his body around the guitar and plays a possessed, disembodied blues that kicks the gospel out and puts Satan right back in the middle of the blues conversation. On the electric mandolin, his chord structure, backed with six string rhythm, sounded like the chorus of heaven’s angels, those scribes who penned revelations must have envisioned. The sound of Reignwolf is a crushing collection of painful wails, sexy licks, and drum hits; an ocean of noise that forces your senses into fight or flight. By the end of the show Cook was a whirling dervish of blues, pushing his borrowed Guild guitar to the brink—I winced with fear for his guitar as the House of Blues stage (and the fretboard, the entire musical scale, the Earth, etc.) became too small for him and he wobbled and weaved, drunk on his own music, into the wing, out to the edge of the stage... The tension of watching a man go completely insane was palpable—the air filled with the scent of blood, the crowd demanded an encore, for which he brought out his own guitar and beat it until the low E string broke.
After the show I asked Rapaport whether the new material would be on an album soon, he said simply, “Yeah, I think it’s about time”.
Marooned on a lonely sea of his adoring fans, the biggest rock star in the world perched atop a stage piece—a triangular ice floe—jabbing at the pads of his Akai MPC. Even with the studded Maison Martin Margiela facemask (the second of four he'd wear this evening) obscuring his features, he seemed pissed. He had the opening piano chords of "Runaway"—but the overdriven vocal snatches (taken from a live Rick James recording) didn't seem to be loaded into the MPC's soundbanks before it was placed onstage. As he began what would be one of the emotional high points of his set, on the very first stop of the Yeezus tour, Kanye Omari West snapped that "EVERYBODY FIRED."
The titanic maiden voyage of the Yeezus Tour didn't exactly hit an iceberg—but it sure as hell brought one with them. On this jagged glacial mount, dancers cavorted, West shouted down the heavens, and Jesus Christ himself did Jesus Christ poses (just not as many as West). The set looked every bit as stark and epic-minimal (to borrow from the homie) as Yeezus sounded. Things just didn't seem to be running smoothly from jump, as a late soundcheck (still happening 30 minutes before twice-pushed-back doors) led to a late start (leading to a union overtime-deep closing time of 1:30am or so); once the show started, there were blown cues, off-mark spotlights, stumbling dancers, and an occasionally irate Yeezy—"HELP ME, TONY," he spat out during one song, presumably at his cousin and constant collaborator, singer Tony Williams.
The sound was the kind we put up with in arenas, which is to say, not good, especially on the vocals; not helping was the fact that West—either forgetting his lines or testing his fans' love—frequently let the crowd say his verses instead of him. Some lines sounded muffled, mumbled, perhaps momentarily forgotten—not exactly uncommon for Yeezy—but the next he'd suddenly spit authoritatively, clear as day. Perhaps he was emphasizing some lines, but it was at the cost of de-emphasizing others. Sadly, the "dress rehearsal" standard persisted all night.
Fortunately, Gardner and his group played the kind of tight, well received set that's sure to lead to larger venues in the future—though I'd rather see most any band at Barboza when possible. Early on in the evening, I heard one audience member say to another that he's big in the Netherlands, but I don't know whether that's true or not. In the States, he's associated with the small, but mighty Chicago label, Trouble in Mind (Limiñanas, Night Beats, etc.), and his releases have been generating positive notices, but I haven't heard any airplay on KEXP, and that can make the difference between a half-empty room and a full one.
Portland purveryors of honky tonk and western swing Copper & Coal put on a show last night at The Little Red Hen, but then again so did the audience. At points it became hard to tell who was entertaining who, with singers Carra Stasney and Leslie Beia taking leave of the stage to two step with the audience on the dancefloor. “We don’t get dancing like this in Portland” Leslie said “we’ve been wanting to play here a long time because of this."
Walking into The Little Red Hen was a bit like taking a trip back to my southwestern raisin’. One second you’re on the streets of Greenlake, then you go over that threshold and un-ironically worn cowboy hats and boots abound. It’s not all for show either (or maybe it is) because these folks were chomping at the bit, hand in hand, impatient at the gate for that first peal of the pedal steel, and from the first note of “Long Story Short” they scooted around the dancefloor and the dancing did not cease. Between songs, people could be seen with a beer in one hand and a whiskey in the other, but not a single misstep could be detected. There was twirling, and dipping, and when the band played “Dreamin Ain’t Waltzin,” they waltzed.
As soon as someone would sit they’d be asked again to dance—ten minutes into the show, an octogenarian in shorts and dress shoes (and black ankle socks, you already know) challenged my manhood for not dancing. Since I’ve spent more time standing in cowshit in the hot southwestern sun than most people have spent listening to country, I politely explained I wasn’t the dancing kind of cowboy. He then let me know that my date would rather I was. Aside from the mild harassment, I must say many it was great fun watching all the people put in a good three hours of dancing last night from the sidelines.
Oh, and then there was the band, who played nearly every song on their album over two sets for their CD-release party between covering the greats. I heard Johnny Rodriguez, Kitty Wells, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Buck Owens, and Sam Cooke (apparently "Cupid" cues a swirlirng dancefloor step that involves curtsys and bows, who knew?). Stasney and Beia are pitch perfect band leaders working with outstanding players. I hadn’t noticed much on initial listens to the album, but the fiddle player’s presence and invaluable contribution is obvious live. He put in a riotous set without resorting to any sort of dazzling array or speedy showmanship. I thought maybe credit was due to the glass of whiskey neat I saw the bartender comp him, but on subsequent listens to the album his work is readily apparent. Notably absent was the studio Accordion playing of Cajun great Jesse Lege on their more Cajun numbers, but the band had plenty to love.
Manhattan rapper Le1f brought his Treehouse Party to Chop Suey Sunday night and instigated the surprise best dance party of the year so far.
Fellow New Yorker and Greedhead label mate Lakutis took the stage first in front of a small crowd by himself, sans shirt, spat on the ground, and played beats from an iPad which he rapped over. What struck me, and everyone else I’m sure, was his nonchalant-weirdo style: breaking frequently to roll his eyes back in his head, give speak-in-tongues-style spoken word, joke with the gathering crowd, and shout YOLO over and over is a risky way to entertain people, but his freakishness was well received by the clientele, and the whole thing came off as performance art/solo rap show oddity that broke the ice for the evening. All this before I mention that Lakutis’ rhyme mechanics are predicated on making deft choices, from hooks and phrases, down to each and every word, like puzzle pieces that come together to form surrealist rap murals too ill for your laws.
Given that the weirdest possible thing that could happen just did, people were more than happy to dance –if awkwardly at first—to the juke/house beats of DJ Mess Kid for the next hour. The beats per minute picked up as the drinks went down and soon queer cuties were sharing the dance floor with straight couples and transgender beauties in dance utopia. Even Lakutis, Le1f, and Antwon came out to dance, the boys bounced while the girls did the butterfly and the twerk, and if the night had ended then, it would’ve been enough, but the party was just getting started.
Antwon came on next, and in keeping with his dark-core style immediately refused to perform until the soundman dimmed the lights. The Byron to Lakutis’s Baudelaire, Antwon emotes from darker, coldly synthesized territory, and takes a hardcore approach to his rap. Tangled in the microphone cord, clad in all black (a Depeche Mode T-shirt, natch) Antwon had the men dancing and the women blushing, serving sex rhymes over hazy Lalo Schifrin score meets early-'80s punk-inspired beats. He performed several tracks from his Dark Denim, Fantasy Beds and End Of Earth mixtapes, took time between songs to chat with the crowd, and sip whiskey. The overall convivial vibe continued with plenty of call-and-response participation, including an Lakutis and Antwon-led rendition of “I Want It That Way,” to which everyone in the place sang along; highlights that were actual Antwon songs were "Living Every Dream," "Hidden Rooms," and "Helicopter."
Le1f wasted none of the energy that had been built, taking the stage shortly after Antwon’s departure and immediately breaking into cuts from his Dark York and Treehouse mixtapes. Everything about Le1f is distinct, from Tumblr fashion sense, to his selection of beats. A lithe dancer and a limber wordsmith, he rapped with a vocal fry and hiss about the importance of our senses. From the opening song "Plush," Le1f’s happy raps exuded appreciation of himself and all things corporeal, and that translated to a concert experience so sensual that by the time he got to "Spa Day," the room was steamy. Le1f and DJ Mess Kid shared tequila shots with the crowd, Le1f busted dance routines, and rapped with accuracy and intricacy, some people crowded the stage to dance, some couples made out in the back.
I got the chance to talk to him before the show (he said touring with Antwon and Lakutis had been “super cute” thus far), and I was surprised by his opinion that both Dark York (which is good enough to be a debut album) and Treehouse are just indications of what is in store—that and the softness of his hands.
The first annual Macefield Music Festival took place in Ballard Saturday night. It was well curated, sparsely attended and overall a nice time. Enamored with the bill of hiphop meets electronic, I spent most of my time at the Sunset—here’s some of what I observed:
The organically grown ambience of Kid Smpl was a fitting digestif to the dinner of porkbelly and cornbread I had at Bitteroot. He performed a patient set of electronica next to an assistant who produced visuals on a screen behind them. With vocal samples slowed and throwed, and bass that oozed like cold molasses, his set settled like comfort food for a few people at the Sunset. I’d previously only heard him on Soundcloud, and I realized how captivating a live performance could be when his 45 minute set came to a close what seemed like hours after it began.
Vox Mod's set was the opposite of the electronic spectrum—solo, sans visuals. He thrashed about above his sampler, layering chords one on top of another until they toppled in a heap of beats. His version of electronic music plays like a time lapse film of growth and decay—seedling bleeps sprout, flourish into lush harmonic frequencies, then decay into black nutritious soul and eventually stardust before your ears, to stunning effect. My date noted perhaps the most intriguing point of the composers work saying “It’s clear he’s not using his music to work through dark issues, his energy is all positive.” I get the feeling watching him that the crowd could be three or 30,000 and he’d play with the same verve. His own movement, plus his set from Syn-aesthetic, and recently released remix of Gems' "Earl Over Ocracoke" got a few other people moving.
In keeping with the best and the brightest theme, based luminary Keyboard Kid showed and pulled a set from a laptop and drum machine—it dropped 16-bit samples mixed with cult movie clips like rain. His now legendary #Based production presented in a live setting immediately inspired people to do the cooking dance, shake hands, hug, and talk.
As the crowd thickened, I took a break from my music watching marathon down at MiroTea for a pot of oolong, and stayed a bit too long as I missed Key Nyata’s short set.
It was with the sophisticated strategy of a battlefield general that Moor Gang man Jarv Dee showed up about the time that people began feeling the effects of bar hopping all afternoon. Jackin Jarv’s work has all the appeal of West Coast G-funk, inextricably tangled in golden era East Coast lyricism (not to mention his helium high voice is so distinct). Taking the stage with Moor Gang/Cloud Nice associate Jerm and a laptop, Jarv Dee worked through most of his Dopamine album and most definitely broke the dance floor loose with jams like "Klingon," "Dopamine," and "I Just Wanna."
ILLFIGHTYOU took the stage one member short and suffered equipment issues that kept the beat cutting out through their set, but the setbacks only really contributed to my image of them as perhaps Seattle’s best new punk band. Irreverent in speech but sanctified in beats, KHRIS P plays the perfect producer and partner rapper to UGLYFRANK’s hijinx. Wild in his eyes when sober, UGLYFRANK was clearly on, well, something as he frequently left the stage to walk in the crowd, stood on the stacks to rap, beat the mirror ball on the ceiling like a punching bag, rant at the crowd (and his own manager) and generally go SIDVICIOUS on the scene. But let it be noted (if only for his own edification), drunk as he was he never missed a beat. While raw in form, the band is clearly, as it was put it to me, “full of raw talent.” Sometimes live music endears, heals, attracts, or gives feels, and sometimes it wakes you up by scaring the shit out of you —that’s ILLFIGHTYOU.
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?
No disrespect to Mr. Juan Atkins, but after witnessing Rrose take techno to heretofore practically unheard infernal heights, the Detroit techno god’s DJ set sounded a bit trad and earthbound. (From my vantage point, I couldn’t tell what Atkins was actually doing, either. I saw no vinyl, CDs, or laptop. Did he download the set from his brain to a little black box? Or was it… an iPad DJ set???) Whatever the case, Atkins’ punchy techno and house tunes were uptempo and upful, and the crowd dug ’em hard.
The Orb—old bald white guys Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann—made some of the dubbiest, w33diest techno you’ve ever smelled last night. It was like a best-of medley of their ’90s material, a fragrant reward for the die-hard, hardcore fans who remember a time when Paterson wasn’t a dead ringer for post-hair Brian Eno. We got “Perpetual Dawn,” “Slug Dub,” “Close Encounters,” “Majestic,” “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld,” “Little Fluffy Clouds,” and I think more cuts off Orbus Terrarum—but with their DNA subtly rearranged and track times truncated. (If anyone knows what that song with the funky quacks were, please let me know. I’ve spaced.) The Orb far surpassed my expectations. Granted, it wasn’t 1995 Orbicularity, but it was as riveting as anyone could expect from them in 2013.
Over to Neumos for Kompakt Records’ afterhours party (celebrating 20 years as a label), John Tejada was his usual solid self, a low-key techno master working at his impeccably paced peak. Matias Aguayo, though, is a whole other kind of special. He has more personality and lovable quirks than any dozen other techno artists you can name combined. His staccato singing in Spanish (looped for Lidell-like onomatopoeia) and his piquant woodblock tapping and singing into said woodblock and Latin-tinged rhythms contoured for techno specs all coalesce into super-fun dance music bursting with vivaciousness. He did a fantastic, altered rendition of “Minimal,” which is one of the greatest meta-techno works ever. And any track that samples Liaisons Dangereuses’ “Los Niños Del Parque” is quite all right with me (“Niños”). I’m more of a dark-techno aficionado, really, but Aguayo’s festiveness is so contagious and inventive, it makes sense to lighten the fuck up for it. Demdike Stare will forgive you… just this once.
Ageless wonder Thomas Fehlmann came on around 5 am (well past his bedtime, no?) and right out the box just started unleashing the coolest, subliminally funkiest dub techno. The decent-sized crowd was still moving more than you see at most regular-hour shows, and with a genius like Fehlmann at the controls, it’s no surprise (also:
DRUGS smart drinks). His spare moves—like a man trying to keep his incomparably suave grooves from levitating out of the room with his palms and shoulder shimmies—remain as charming as ever, btw. I only had enough stamina to stay for a third of Fehlmann’s 90-minute set, but I imagine it went on to be a heaven-lowering highlight. We might have to crown the professorial geezer Decibel MVP.
Thursday was a night of disappointments and astonishments.
First, a slight letdown: One of the most hyped Decibel artists, Huerco S., was slated to play live at Chop Suey, according to the official program. Instead, he DJed. Well, at least he spun vinyl. But still, people were jonesin’ to hear tracks off the new Colonial Patterns album, but we got a solid set nonetheless. Huerco started with some medium-level, dub-dusted build-up cuts. Just as I was thinking, “This could be weirder,” it got weirder with an abrupt transition into some kind of Raster-Noton or PAN-style glitchy techno. From then on, the tempo accelerated and the strange tonalities teemed. Just as things were properly saturating my wheelhouse, our party decided to zip over to Crocodile for Actress.
Notorious for missing the last two Decibels due to visa issues (so the official story goes), Actress came on about 30 minutes late and spent another 20 making very quiet rumbles, glitches, burbles that made me think somebody had slipped a Clicks & Cuts CD or an Eno album from the ’00s into his laptop. Some audience members loudly wondered if Actress had actually started. There was something pretty soundcheck-y about the non-committal ambience issuing forth.
Close to 1 am, Actress dropped his first beats and commenced with some Eraserhead techno—very dreary and melancholy atmospheres wafting over 128 bpms. Then came the peak of his set and of Decibel itself: a slow-motion doom-dub piece that recalled Scorn circa Gyral and Techno Animal’s lost 1995 classic, Re-entry. Later a rapacious bass smear, like the sound used to crack terrorist suspects’ wills, entered over slow, skittering beats. One could sense a pervasive uneasiness in the crowd.
After 1 am, the room began to thin the hell out. Most people were not feeling Actress’ techno as space oddity and anomic drift, his dissonant, subaquatic drones and cryptic voice samples, Cut Hands-like tribal techno and jagged, Autechre-esque abstractions. This was the antithesis of pandering (Actress said nothing the whole time and was barely visible behind his gear). A lot of punters left feeling underwhelmed and confused. I may be in the minority here, but after the slow start, I think Actress did a great, unpredictable, and challenging set.
For afterhours, I hit up Electric Tea Garden’s Sweatbox party (not technically part of Decibel) and found Caro (Seattle major dude/synth builder Randy Jones) laying down his patented cracked house tunes, soul-man vox and all. He bust out those old chestnuts from his 2005 album, The Return of Caro, and kept the floor throbbing like a champ.
Then Rrose took over at 3:20 am. Rrose is a stoic man (a powerful catalyst in the Bay Area’s experimental techno scene) in drag who reportedly was feeling ill during his performance. Despite the sickness, Rrose teased out fathoms-deep, un-Shazzamable techno, totally devoid of sentimentality. This was subterranean dance music tunneling into the inmost psychedelic depths of pure/impure sound. “Waterfall” was a particular highlight in a performance full of them. There wasn’t an undilated pupil in the house.
My favorite memory of the night was of the 50something businessman type dancing wildly with dangerous swinging-lasso moves. Gramps was on fire. Unquestionably, Rrose’s was the most mind-altering live techno set I’ve heard since, I don’t know, Plastikman back in 1993? This was some historical shit.
Night one of Decibel Festival was mostly devoted to the Hyperdub Records showcase at Crocodile. I arrived while Seattle DJ/producer/7 Deadly label head Jimi Jaxon was in middle of a dank, rugged set of future bass, grime, and rigorous, malevolent dubstep. The earth-moving low end made the air hemorrhage. Seriously. A nerdy-looking white dude in a SAD BOYS shirt (picture a frowny face in the O) did some frantic footworking throughout the set. It was pretty mind-blowing.
Ikonika followed, and this young British woman stunned me with a torrent of old-school techno bangers straight out of an early-’90s Best of Plus 8 comp, all hard-pistoning rhythms and martial snare fills, with the occasional odd, festive melody. I haven’t heard her latest album, Aerotropolis, but if this set is any indication, I need to. Toward the end of her hour-long performance, the music moved into more ruffneck, experimental realms, but without losing the totally amped feeling. Stellar show.
DJ Spinn, subbing for a reputedly injured in an auto collision DJ Rashad, began his performance by announcing, “We gonna turn this bitch up quick. Where’re all my weedheads at?” He proceeded to let loose the frenetic funk that we now call “footwork,” and the tempos elasticated sporadically and sometimes maddeningly throughout his 75-minute set. Dunno about you, but this seemed too long for this style of hyperkinetic music. Diminishing returns and all that. But it was cool to hear Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine" in the seemingly wrong context of mercurially shattered breakbeats.
By the time Kode9 took the stage at 12:15 am, I was feeling Hyperdub fatigue, but the 25 minutes that I heard of his heavy heavy sound system pressure was a visceral and cerebral thrill. It had the controlled chaos of a riveting sci-fi film.
Closed out the night at Q, where Ben Klock was Germanically filling the club with massive-sounding minimal techno. Q reminds us how great it is to hear ketamined bangers on a killer system. The invasive, throbbing bass frequencies made you feel as if you were in a huge pleasuring machine hurtling into deep space at 138-146 beats per minute.
Bass Drum of Death is a trio whose noise is already so deadly that they dare not bring a bass guitar on stage. Instead they rock two guitarists and a drummer to produce their garage rock sound. I had no idea Seattle and Bass Drum of Death had a relationship, but that became readily apparent when a larger than average crowd showed up to see them play as the opener Saturday night. The crowd could be heard singing along during both band's performances.
Being a Hanni El Khatib fan has payed off in joyful listening through the years, from his initial effort Bullfighters Heart, up through 2011's Will the Guns Come Out, but to be honest I bristled with preemptive criticism when I heard that Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) would be producing his latest Head in the Dirt. My instinctual fear was that Auerbach would do to HEK what he had done to his own band, which was to do away with the wonderfully De Stijl design of drums/guitar/voice and add a whole backing band, which he did. To my surprise, Hanni’s brand of rocking R&B has survived, and even thrived in that structure. His time with a master of pentatonic phrasing like Auerbach (and before that touring with Florence and the Machine) has given teeth to the lead guitar fills between his driving chord structures.
I had to work, and couldn't go. Regretsy! I'm extremely regretsy that I missed this show. How was it?