Sunday, September 14, 2014

Decibel Festival of Electronic Music: Sept 24 - 28

The end of Summer rolls around once again as Seattle plays host to the second-largest electronic music festival in the United States! Last year's 10th Anniversary was a spectacular summation of the festival's decade of existence, drawing on their years of genre-diverse programming to assemble a lineup that encompassed their past highlights and sonic future to come. That diversity seen again as Decibel presents not only bigger names, larger venues and sold out dancefloor spectacles, but a return of the fringe, adventurous and unclassifiable in the form of 6 Optical mutimedia showcases in seated theater performance theaters. From the expanse of the five day program here is a selection from the multitudinous artists and showcases on offer by day. WEDNESDAY This year's Opening Gala takes place in the melting fiberglass and metal forms of Frank Gerhy's Experience Music Project with a minimalist melodic techno lineup including Ghostly's Lusine, Natasha Kimeko and Sabota. As well as the first of two performances by the ascending Max Cooper, this one billed as his 'Emergence' set in the OPTICAL 1: Kinesthesia audio-visual showcase. If his "Human & Inhuman" of this past year are any indication, expect this to be one of multiple festival highlights from Cooper. A showcase that would alone make for a strong opening salvo from Decibel considering that the bill is fleshed out Ghostly's The Sight Below and Young Turk's Arca & Jesse Kanda. Concurrently upstairs at the EMP, the always excellent Resident Advisor has assembled their own showcase of including Warp Record's Lunice and XL's Kaytranada. Across town at the ReBar, darker and denser forms of sonic matter have been assembled into the aptly titled Pitch Black showcase including New York's Black Asteroid, the techno dread sounds of Blackest Ever Black and Hospital Records maven, Vatican Shadow, and Sandwell District's Rrose. Warp Records is further represented up the hill at Neumos, The BassDrop showcase hosting Guillermo Scott Herren's groundbreaking hip-hop electronica fusion project Prefuse73, alongside urban beats from San Francisco's Ana Sia and Seattle's own WD4D. 

THURSDAY From strength to strength, the second day of Decibel arrives with two audio-visual showcases, the first at the acoustically primed Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya, OPTICAL 2: Huminary features the second, explicitly ambient set from Max Cooper after the previous night's Emergence set, along with Bathetic's Survive and 4AD songstress, Alice Boman. Across town at the EMP, OPTICAL 3: Playful Discord sees Decibel playing host to multiple highlight's from previous year's programming, with another dose of the deranged synthesis of Daniel Lopatin's Oneohtrix Point Never, the return of Uwe Schmidt's AtomTM future-1980's vision 'HD/AV' and the hardware meets digital fusions of dynamic electronica and heady melodicism from Raster-Noton's Kangding Ray. From evidence supplied in Decibel 2012, the Modern Love label and it's roster mainstays, Andy Stott and Demdike Stare, are delivering some of the strongest, deepest and darkest post-techno being made on the planet. It's no hyperbole to say these guys are at the vanguard. The body-impacting nature of their beats have hit a perfect equilibrium with some of the densest subterranean atmospheres being created in contemporary electronic music. These complimenting/contrasting poles are explored even more explicitly in their collaborative Millie & Andrea project via their take on traditions drawing from UK bass music and jungle. Over at the Crocodile, the decades-running Ninja Tune label brings their contemporary take on urban sounds and beats, equally influenced by hip-hop, dancehall, tech-house and dubstep, their showcase feature's the forerunner of contemporary dubstep-fuion, Martijn Deijkers's Martyn project, PlanetMU's FaltyDL and the UK's Letherette. Fittingly, in the deepest, darkest hours of the night, Dubscured plumbs the depths of low end atmosphere pushing through until sunrise. An all-star cast from the deeper end of the bass, beats and delay culture of minimal techno informed by the techniques of dub, both Canada's Tomas Jirku and Chain Reaction label artist Fluxion, were there at the genre's inception. For those who never sleep, Hot Flush label's Recondite proceeds Uwe Schmidt's stylistic lexicon on even further display, as AtomTM delivers a decidedly different set from his previous Optical performance. 

FRIDAY Again in the acoustically primed setting of the Nordstrom Recital Hall, a single OPTICAL 4: Static Memory opens the weekend's proceedings with Nine Inch Nail's Alessandro Cortini debuting a suite of 9 analogue synth pieces originating from a musical language outside that of the pop culture knowns of his band with Trent Reznor. Cortini's adventurous analog atmospherics are complimented by Deru & Effixx' 1979 project and Tri-Angle label's meeting of Haxan Cloak's production and Altar Of Plagues frontman, James Kelly's take on doom-electronica as Wife. An evening largely launched by dancefloor and bigger club events, the Hardware showcase at EMP hits a nice balance between atmosphere and the physicality of bodily compulsion. Epitomized by Simian Mobile Disco and their all-live hardware performance of their newest album, "Whorl", this is a more challenging, performative tangent of their sound. Another vanguard of the minimal techno and electronica explosion of the late-90's, Robert Babicz has moved from his granular synthesis work on Mille Plateaux to a distinct tech-house sound of recent years, current live sets bridging both the dancefloor and experimentation of decades past. The Ostgut Ton label showcase bridging similar territory, the label's Marcel Dettmann is equally at home on the dancefloor as enveloped in tapestries of timbral percussive nuance. Seattle's own rising star, the Hush Hush label expresses it's curator, Alex Ruder's founding concept to a 'T'; music for late-night headphone-nodding urban ambulation, what Ruder himself has coined the "Night Bus" sound. A fittingly self-descriptive genre, the label's roster of urban, hi-hop informed atmospheres has seen a year of excellent press and strong releases, particularly from Kid SMPL and Edward Haller's Slow Year project. 

SATURDAY Launching right in with Polish composer Michal Jacaszek's elegiac, haunting neoclassical compositions, I can think of no better way to begin a Fall Saturday afternoon than the OPTICAL 5: Ghostly International showcase at the Triple Door. A through-and-through solid bill filled out by the dub-influenced minimalism of Canada's Loscil and California's composer of guitar miniatures, Christopher Willits. Ghostly's SMM imprint has assembled some of the world's finest craftsmen (and women) working in this hushed little sonic sequester. The Dance Nostalgic showcase at the Showbox looks to do exactly what the title premise suggests, a night of the contemporary body of Italo-disco and early synth-wave inspired works like Ghostly's Com Truise and Norway's Hans-Peter Lindstrom with his own brand of. Speaking of nostalgia, it's been many, many a year since we've received a new transmission from Detroit-come-Canada's wonderboy, Richie Hawtin. His new live album, "EX", the first in over 11 years sees him rounding off the hard darkly gothic edges of 2003's "Closer", returning to a form more similar to his late-90's work for this soundtrack dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum New York. Here's hoping we get a substantially powerful and transparent soundsystem at the EMP capable of delivering the austere dynamics and spacial qualities of Richie Hawtin & Friends. It's kind of astounding that we've already had a decade of dancehall, dub, ragga and two-step informed urban electronic sounds from Steve Goodman's Hyperdub label, but the advances made by Burial, The Bug, DJ Rashad and Goodman's own Kode9 project are already a half-decade in the past. His recent compilation series, simply titled Hyperdub 10, not only reflects on this decade come and gone, but paths forward for the UK bass sound. Expect to hear representations of both when Goodman himself hosts 10 Years of Hyperdub at The Crocodile. 

SUNDAY After the wild highs of Friday and Saturday, Decibel's final night on Sunday looks to be a relatively subdued affair by contrast. Not to say that there aren't some outstanding performances to be had, as it's opening event OPTICAL 6: Erased Tapes at the Triple Door makes clear. Going on 7 years now the UK's Erased Tapes has been host to the finest in neoclassical, minimalist electronic ambient, abstract folk and songwriting the world over, it's roster including some of the first recordings by Ólafur Arnalds, Peter Broderick and Nils Frahm. Seattle's own Decibel and Substrata festivals have been at the forefront of bringing their music to a wider domestic audience. Last year Decibel itself hosting two nights of collaborative works by Frahm, Broderick and Arnalds at Benaroya Hall. The label returns with a showcase of relatively new faces including the (dubiously-named) collaborative project between German electro-acoustic composer Greg Haines and Portland's Peter Broderick, making more substantial bass and rhythm-based compositions with Martyn Heyne as Greg Gives Peter Space. Representative of the label's new voices, the showcase also hosts the return (after opening for Nils Frahm this past March) of Douglas Dare's orchestral electronic hybrid-songwriting, and Ryan West's analog-sourced abstract dance music project, Rival Consoles. What will act as the closing night party to my ears, the Friends of Friends label showcase at the Crocodile features a 6 artist lineup of urban LA sounds sharing a kinship with things like Flying Lotus and his Brainfeeder imprint. Deru & Effixx return with a collaborative set outside of their 1979 moniker, it'll be particularly revealing to see how their approach to performance and composition differ in each of these distinct contexts. The urban styles, rhymes and rhythms of FoF will likely being the last aural environ I find myself in, at the end of a 5 day odyssey. By this point, I'm sure myself and company will be needing a good lay-down in the park, getting some sun and enjoying a trek out around the city, having seen the inside of performance halls and nightclubs over course of the 5 previous nights. Hopefully having found some surprises, shocks, jolts to the viscera and intellect along the way, Decibel will by then seem like a endless stream of cultural ideal, made real. And as with every year, even for all the exhaustion and wearing effects of too little time and too much music, I'm sure it will seem premature by the time it's conclusion comes. Ushering in the end of Summer here in the Northwest as it has every year for over a decade.