I have to remind myself every single year, every time I look at the lineup, every time I hit a single event and walk into work dog tired the next day - Seattle is so lucky to play home to the visionaries that put on Decibel Festival year after year. There are so many electronic music festivals in this country, most of them of course geared towards the massive scale rise in electronic dance music and its surrounding culture. But I dare you to find one other festival that challenges its attendants to discover music the way that Decibel Festival does. Decibel is a city-wide festival that happens over the course of five days. There is no central booth where you can score free branded garbage. There are no PSAs or corporations to make another dollar off an increasingly hostile music industry. No, Decibel Festival is truly about the art and its exposure. Every single night, at whatever event you attend, you will get some familiar names and some unfamiliar names, but every single one of them has been hand picked to blow your mind. At Decibel, there is no sense of "undercard" - every show is a showcase of a cohesive sonic idea, even if there are pieces of it you don't understand. It is truly the gold standard for how a music festival should present its art.
All of the above being said, this year's Decibel Festival is no exception. The team has assembled a massive program of excellent events at venues of all sizes and speeds around the city. Below, we have assembled a short list of some of our favorites that you won't want to miss. But really, we dare you to take a look for yourself, pore through it, and find something you want to discover for yourself. Decibel is designed for it.Wednesday
Nicolas Jaar is one of the best producers in the game lately. For starters, the Santiago native works at an impossible speed, both in his production and his dealings with the Other People label, which later this year will re-release classic Lydia Lunch and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. This year alone, he dropped his free album Pomegranates and the Other People mixtape Imaginary Feast. He also recently released a concert DVD of his work with Dave Harrington in Darkside. This is, as far as I know, the first time he is DJing in Seattle for a long, long time. He played a live set solo at Decibel a couple years ago and played with Darkside at Neumos early last year. Accompanying his is the local production wonder IG88, who we will see this week both here and with Shaprece on Sunday.
Second Nature is a gem that you need to know about. This collective of Northwest artists is hellbent on showcasing the incredible opportunity of reconciling the beauty of our region with expansive electronic music. Archivist and Joseph Gaard both give us a taste of true Second Nature flavor, blending ambient, acid, and techno sounds together with organic delivery to give you a pretty spot on sample platter of the project's merits. Accompanying them are two forefathers that I'm positive they draw inspiration from. The hypnotic Chicago acid of Tin Man will make the night pass in an instant, and the ambient German techno of Cassegrain will add darkness and texturing where needed. The two have worked together much in the last year, and I wouldn't be surprised if we got the opportunity to see a team up here this evening.
This may be one of the most stacked lineups of the weekend. KEXP's love for Dan Deacon knows no bounds. We loved having him in studio. We loved his new album. We loved him when he played Neumos. He's just a bundle of brilliant, ecstatic lightning that you can't really bottle. No wonder he toured the world with Arcade Fire as their one-man opener for stadiums across the globe. Booked alongside Deacon is Clark, perhaps the inversion of Deacon on every level. Clark is cool control, and mystery to the point of impersonalization in his cold, thumping electronic landscapes. Live, his stuff only further takes a transmorphic form, bending your brain to its every liking. The two will be wonderful to see back to back. Supporting are local electronic god Vox Mod (who we also love to death and have had in studio) and Filastine.
Discwoman is one of the most important platforms going right now. There recent feature in Forbes is absolutely no surprise. The Boston syndicate is bringing to light the incredibly talented women of the electronic scene who are making waves in their own lane like nobody else. As electronic dance music continues to bludgeon us with hyper-sexualized imagery and archaic gender politics, Discwoman needs only the music of its auteurs to prove that they can hold a platform all to themselves. Their assembly here tonight is stacked to the gills. KEXP fans will know Natasha Kmeto already, as the Portland producer is bringing a fresh approach to songwriting and production in the northwest. Young Ejecta (members of Neon Indian and Ford & Loptain) toured with Lower Dens last year and now bring their elegant soundscapes to Seattle. Indiana producer Jlin is a pioneer in the footwork scene, bringing a really fresh mixture of other hip-hop textures that distances her technique from the Chicago strains of the genre. The list goes on - this showcase is one for the books. With five excellent acts packed into Re-Bar, you will absolutely get your money's worth.
The Acid - where do you even start with these guys? The Australian quartet led by the unmatched alien vocal prowess of Ry X and textured by British DJ Adam Freeland. While their record was incredible, live, the band works sparseness and harmony together like nothing you've ever heard. The band is appropriately supported by the ghostly ambient house texturing of Seattle's own Lusine, alongside the Vancouver experimental pop group Bob Moses and eclectic sonic explorations of Photay. All of these acts are seen best in high contrast: dark vs. light, big vs. small, loud vs. soft, etc. Together here tonight at Neumos, you'll get to see all of it in an intimate and incredible way.
Autechre's return to North America feels like it's been a while in the making. In 2013, the band released its 11th full length record, a full two hours long and incomprehensibly lush at every turn. Across the board, the record was lauded as some of the best material the band has put out since the late 90s. And really, that's saying something - Autechre have pioneered the ambient and techno genres for two and a half decades. Autechre continue to resonate with the next generation of electronic producers for their rhythms and their use of space and sparseness. Just this year, UK producer Actress mixed "Pen Expers" into his DJ Kicks. Accompanied by their touring support Rob Hall and Cygnus, this will already be a top notch event. But together paired with Berlin producer Laurel Halo, this one you just can't miss. Laurel Halo alone would be worth a full ticket price. She creates some of the most out there, descriptive, intimate electronic music available. This is one of this week's big ones.
Where Second Nature brings expansive ambient and oneness with nature to the northwest, Motor does the same for the cold, metallic acid-tinged ambient that makes us feel the weight of industry all around us. While it's Portland-born, it's about to break in Seattle. Just last month, Zola Jesus and Aaron Way (that co-owns Blackbird) started a new Kremwerk night called Kaosu that showcased Motor and Second Nature alongside each other. It's a dark, foreboding, but ultimately incredibly human effort to reconcile dissonance to the organic. PLL and Sean Pierce rep Motor for this event, while Providence techno engineer Container and ambient UK producer Shifted add to the noise. The show could have no better frontrunner than it does. Pharmakon needs no introduction. I still remember when she scared the shit out of the Optical crowd at Triple Door two years ago at her performance with Zola Jesus and JG Thirlwell. More recently, after the release of her second LP Bestial Burden (brilliantly gory stuff therein), she played a sold out show at Kremwerk that was indescribable in scope and measure. She is devastating.
Bonobo is a Decibel veteran at this point. Simon Green finds new ways to boggle our minds with sublime electronic productions, both in his live sets and his DJ work. He is accompanied by Taylor McFerrin of Brainfeeder, the label imprint and collective spawned by Flying Lotus and Thundercat, and he is one of the best up and coming voices in electronic R&B crossover right now. He is also a straight-up god on the keys. Bonobo is echoed in the rest of the support with local eclectic producer Manatee Commune (another we've been lucky enough to have in the studio) and the spacious ambient sounds of Chicago producer Gilligan Moss.
Saturday and Sunday night, the Crocodile is set to go off. Both nights are party-ready lineups with little or no patience for a slow room. Mick Jenkins leads Saturday night. If you want solid cutting edge Chicago hip hop, look no further than this individual. His list of producers heavily includes Decibel favorite Kaytranada and Stefan Ponce (the guy that made Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap sound like magic). Donnie Trumpet (of Chance's Social Experiment) plays with him often. All around, Mick Jenkins is offering the best of his city's young guns, and he will show it all off at this gig tonight. Toronto's STWO takes the party to a completely different region of the country, ripe with different influence but geared towards the same results. Occasionally, he drops frigid trap-influenced beats along the styles known from the 6 (Drake, the Weeknd, Tory Lanez, etc.), then other times, he cools off into experimental mode and transcends the frost. It's all magic. Dylan Stark bends the airwaves a bit spacier, along the lines of Washed Out, but his introduction to the night will get the vibes going without much hesitation. This is a Decibel-style Saturday night if there ever was one.
The Optical series is always one of the best at Db, not only because it hosts an incredible array of both musical and visual artists in the comfy confines of the Triple Door, but also because you get to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Saturday night hosts the first Optical offering of the weekend with an appearance from Montreal ambient god Tim Hecker, alongside bizarre Russian songstress Dasha Rush and beat wizard Alexander Lewis, who breaks the ambient mode of the rest of the evening and goes for something a bit more danceable.
Here we are, final evening, closing out the festival with a doozy: Thievery Corporation. Where to even start with these guys? The D.C. based group has been bending the definition of genre and electronic music for 20 straight years, all bundling it up into a one-of-a-kind mixture of bossa nova, lounge, downtempo, and trip-hop. Since their 2008 masterpiece Radio Retaliation, the band has given us two LPs, Culture of Fear and Suadade, each one reaching to a pole on the spectrum of the band's sound. The beauty of the Thievery Corp. live set is, you get to see it all funneled together right in front of your eyes. For new and old fans alike, this is not a performance to miss. The band's support comes from Seattle goddess of electronic R&B Shaprece, aided with live accompaniment by producer IG88. Seriously, if you live in the legal confines of Seattle and have not dived headlong into Shaprece's music, do so now. Her live in studio at KEXP showcases just how honest and earnest her music translates to the stage. I can't think of a better opener for Thievery Corporation's Decibel contribution.
Night #2 of the Crocodile's party streak hosts some of electronic hip-hops best loved up and coming acts, all courtesy of LA collective Team Supreme. The collective is interesting not only for their production team, but the rappers they are gunning for in terms of collaboration. Team's beats go to some of the deadliest females of LA's rap scene, including Angel Haze and Kehlani. Mr. Carmack rolls with the same general clique as Kaytranada and GANZ (Carmack and GANZ teamed up to remix Cashmere Cat for one of the best tracks of last year). This year, he's jumped on tracks with Kehlani and other rising hip hop acts, bringing his eclectic taste for fills and left field sound to accompany appropriately left field artists. Djemba Djemba operates in similar terrain, recently dropping production for Dej Loaf, and bending perception of what hip-hop can look like for the freshman class. With further help from AWE, Team Supreme is showing off in first class here at Decibel, ending the weekend in style.
Optical's second night hosts a young woman and songwriter that used to belong exclusively to Seattle until she moved to Iceland, got her fantastic record produced by Sigur Ros, and then signed to Jagjaguwar. Now, we are happy to share her as long as she continues to bring back brilliant music and share it with us. Briana Marela is a pitch perfect artist to show off her stuff at Optical. Her use of vocal loops and cold texturing makes her ghostly to watch perform, but her haunting presence gets under your skin and makes for a wonderful evening. Marela is joined by Ninja Tune producer Eskmo, whose new album Sol dropped earlier this year. Eskmo works with equally spacey textures but in a dramatically different emotional vein. Finally, the evening is rounded out by Portland experimental act STRATEGY, who has been confounding our brains since 1999.
See you at Decibel Festival!
Grab your tickets here.
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