Decibel Festival has spent the last 11 years building a movement. This is no run of the mill, mindless EDM party. Instead, Decibel is a unique multi venue music, arts, and lecture series that brings some of the best, brightest, and most interesting to the Emerald City. And night one at Showbox at the Market was no exception, with a full house in attendance for a DJ set by New York based Chilean producer Nicolas Jaar.
The showcase started early, with opening act Stimmhalt playing to a fairly empty room when the proverbial needle dropped at 8:30. As the Georgian-born (that's the former Soviet Republic, not the southern state) DJ made his way through a deep house and disco set, the dancefloor started to fill in. Sure, the room still felt pretty wide open, but those who were dancing did so with abandon and energy. This alone is a fun semi-rarity among sometimes stodgy Seattle crowds. Stimmhalt wove in dreamy synths, R&B vocals, and a steady, throbbing beat. The set had a lush, dubbed out, downtempo quality at times, but it was also quite dance-able. Stimmhalt helped keep up the energy by dancing along throughout most of his songs. He was a little rough on some of his transitions, but the crowd didn't seem to overly mind. The set ended promptly at 9:15, and he quickly cleared the stage.
Next up was Seattle's IG88 (the DJ, not Star Ward character), who changed up the sounds of the evening with a more broken beat, hip hop influenced set. It kicked off with a dreamy start, but quickly included lots of faster, clicky high hat hits. Bass notes were even deeper and throbbing-er than the previous set. He appeared to be playing much of his beats live, using a variety of beat pads and touch screens. Darker, purple tones pervaded, as he layered in live vocal samples and perhaps even a bit of beat boxing (though it was hard to make out exactly what he was doing on mic. The set included remixes of some hip hop, including Young Thug's and Birdman's "Constantly Hating." IG88 was the most dynamic performer of the evening, going portable with a beat pad and moving around the stage, kneeling as he pressed buttons and kept a slower, grimy, danceable beat. The Showbox was filling in now as the night progressed. He brought out a series of guest vocalists throughout the set, which along with the live beat creation gave it much more of a concert feel as opposed to a seamless DJ set.
The first singer was a pretty decent crooner, and said his first song was improvised. However, it was hard to catch the lyrics. This brought the music more into an indie electronica realm, and brought sounds away from hip hop/trip hop and more into the world of unbroken beats. Unfortunately, the DJ did not introduce any of the guest vocalists, two of whom sang and then left the stage with little more than a wave. The second singer was a woman who brought a sort of high, ethereal vibe a bit reminiscent of Grimes. Finally, Seattle's Shaprece took a turn on the mic. She had big, dynamic stage presence, and immediately began working the crowd (and actually bothered to introduce herself!). In many way, Shaprece stole the show with powerful singing, and a confident, engaging performance. She got big, and well deserved cheers. Finally, IG88 announced his final song, and took his pad mobile again, playing live in the center of the crowd. It was just about a 45 minute set, but was a fun, dynamic, danceable show.
80s funk played over the house systems the stage was set up for Nicolas Jaar's set. This 2-hour show started at 10:30, and began with high pitched, distorted mechanical sounds. Dark, dangerous bass began to fill in the mix, along with click, fidgety sounds. A male British vocal sample seemed to be running a high dollar auction, starting at 77 million dollars and steadily increasing. The set started ethereal and dark (literally, stage lights remained mostly off for the extended auction intro). The venue was full now, appearing to be a sold out show. People crushed forward towards the stage. A big sea of fog enveloped Jaar, who was bathed in red light as 80s synths pierced the mix. Jaar is a Chilean born, New York based producer who has explored many sounds over the years. Decibel's format seems to allow artists to stretch out, be a little more weird, and not worry about keeping the crowd dancing. So it was about ten full minutes of sound scapes before it finally resolved into a dubby beat. Yet the set was cohesive throughout, and mostly built steadily.
Jaar wove through different tempos and sounds, bringing the mix into the realm of a sort of disco house. Somewhere along the way, almost imperceptibly, the crowd energy got big, and the EDM bro-less crowd got down to funkily dancing in earnest. Jaar did not allow photography during his set, but it hardly mattered, because he was all but invisible behind a wall of fog most of the time. He did more by doing less, carefully controlling the mix, and not beating the audience over the head with over the top bass. He seemed to be in complete control. As a performer, he did little to draw any attention at all, letting the music speak for itself instead. The disco funk included some favorites like People's Choice "Do It Any Way You Wanna" (covered by Dillinger and later Escort as "Cocaine Blues"), which kept the set fun and light. Jaar brought in thoughtful ebbs and flows, seeming well aware of the energy of the room. Later, he moved on from the disco to huge, modern bass a bit reminiscent of Jamie XX's latest efforts. The mixed-age crowd kept up throughout, and the excellent, varied set finally resolved back into the auction house sample that kicked it all off. Smiles pervaded the room as the crowd filtered in to the night, seeking Decibel's late night offerings.
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