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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Decibel Festival v.05, Night 2

posted by on September 27 at 14:41 PM

Stark contrasts marked Friday’s slate of Decibel events.

The afternoon panel discussion on the future of music journalism (titled “Wasted Words?”—upbeat!) in which I participated, touched on Lester Bangs, the difference between blog writing and writing for print publications, the dearth of good editing these days, Lester Bangs, Luigi Nono, adjective depletion syndrome, critics as shills for labels, Lester Bangs, press sheet flaws, artist responses to criticism, shrinking editorial space, dwindling attention spans, approaches to writing reviews, and Lester Bangs.

Following that event, I somehow fended off suicidal tendencies and made it to Northwest Film Forum’s Optical 1 Audio/Visual showcase to catch the last five minutes of Jeff Greinke’s set. He was finessing out elegant wafts of heart-rending, Eno-esque tone breeze and sonic dust motes. You could hear a pen click (that was mine; sorry!).

William Basinski—an artist who commands utmost respect from me—took the stage next. He solemnly handled half-inch strips of tape as if they were sacred eels and examined them under a small lamp. Then he either put them in a beaker or threaded them around some implements whose function I couldn’t discern. It was very ritualistic and baffling.

Decayed, murky drones gradually emerged from his arcane setup, which also included a PowerBook plopped between two ancient tape decks, I think. Gently wavering waves of seashell roar—first tidal and tranquil, then amplified and intensified—filled the small theater. It sounded like an orchestra from a half-mile away slowly sinking into the sea. On the screen behind Basinski were reeds in a pond, placidly rippling. The performance was fairly static, and after 35 minutes, I’d gotten the gist. It wasn’t The Disintegration Loops, but it was delicately entrancing enough.

At Neumos, by contrast, the Dirty Dancing showcase was packing in the well-heeled condo dwellers, who seemingly were rolling on their monthly Ecstasy binge and absolutely mad for it. They were rushin’ and largely Russian. Eastern-bloc immigrants, represent.

Luca Bacchetti at the controls. Photo by Kelly O.

Luca Bacchetti had his share of haters among the Decibel hardcore, but he had me thinking Italians do it better. His tracks were psychedelic, sexy, and clattering—and, yes, repetitive. Hello? Techno is pretty much by definition repetitive. To diss it for that is like bitching about fire being hot. It’s what you do with those samples and loops that separates good techno from meh techno. And when you bring in pitch-shifted woodblock hits, you fucking own, as pitch-shifted woodblock hits are currently the best sound in the universe. Bacchetti’s main-room business set my notebook on fire. So I’m going to have to wing it from here on out. Wee!

Over at Sole Repair, Derek Plaslaiko was playing ballistic, acidic techno—will-to-power, Motor City motherfucker stuff, bassically [sic]. However, points off for using CDs. Former Seattle/now Berlin jet-setting superstar DJ Jeff Samuel muted the shuddering-teshno assault a notch with his patented true-head cuts, subtly pummeling and expertly contoured with state-of-the-art percussion touches. Any time one can hear Matthew Herbert on a fine sound system is a treasurable moment. Believe the Jeff Samuel hype.

Derek Plaslaiko after going ballistic. Photo by Kelly O.

Speaking of which, I had to see if Deadmau5 deserved his share of it. Nearing 1 am, he had the packed Neumos crowd raising arms and “woo”ing on cue. The body heat generated by this nouveau-riche rave was impressive. I also saw Donte Parks front and center getting his groove on. Consider that a feather in Deadmau5’s cartoon-mouse head thingy.

This rodent-masked Toronto producer perfectly calibrates his tracks for predictable build-ups and breakdowns (we humans are eternal suckers for tension and release). But for mainstream hanz in da air tranz and progressive houz, this is about as good as it gets. Hundreds of weekend E warriors may not be quite right, but they sure boosted Decibel’s coffers last night. And only a terminal curmudgeon would begrudge that.

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I found myself bringing up Bangs a few years back at an EMP Pop Con during a Q&A and sincerely wished someone would have killed me right there. Just stomped the living shit out of me.

Still wish I'd been there Friday -- especially regarding critics shilling for record companies. "Paul Nelson" is an interesting name to argue for such a thing (otherwise, no incredible fucking writing from the guy who oversaw the New York Dolls being signed to Mercury and a half dozen other really good critics being encouraged and fed by the sale of lame swag out of the closet of his office); and about a thousand A&R hacks in the fabled "post-grunge" years whose fetal fanzines are filling various storage lockers of mine.

Posted by Chris Estey | September 27, 2008 5:26 PM

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