Sunday, September 13, 2015

Decibel Festival of Electronic Music: Sept 23 - 27 | Autechre and Laurel Halo at The Showbox: Sept 25 | Godflesh and Prurient US Tour: Sept 11 - Oct 3

The end of Summer rolls around once again as Seattle plays host to the second-largest electronic music festival in the United States! While 2013's 10th Anniversary was a expansive summation of the festival's decade of existence, the ensuing years since have had a tighter focus, both in large scale event shows and attention to subgenre niches. This bipolar character to the programming is 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 three 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 event takes place in more humble environs than previous years, ReBar being a mainstay of Seattle clublife for decades they'll be hosting a Optical: Kick-Off Party featuring the kinesthetic sensory barrage of Richard Devine's modular audio-visual arsenal, including his Disturbances live patch, custom built for to the end of immediacy and on-the-fly improvisation and composition. Joining Devine will be Seattle's Further Records headmistress, Chloe Harris and her cavernous minimal techno project Raica and Hush-Hush Records' purveyor of the "night bus" sound, Kid Smpl. Across town at the Crocodile Cafe, another of Seattle's defining new labels and nights about town, Secondnature show their goods with a showcase including visiting Ostgut Ton deep-techno artists Tin Man and Cassegrain. Back again at ReBar Germany's Cocoon and Trapez labels meet Barcelona's Octopus and the hypnotic techno of label-founder Sian's dancefloor melodicism. Techno continues to dominate the night over at The Showbox with the soulful minimalism of Darkside's solo operator Nicolas Jaar and the ruminative, emotional lower BPM fluidity of his "blue wave" tech-house. THURSDAY Decibel's second night is already graced with the second appearance of Raica in an all-female led showcase of Discwomen headlined by the Planet Mu label's Jlin, a noted player in Chicago's Footwork scene. The sound's all-angles geometry of high BPM beats and frenetic sample cut-up will make an interesting contrast following the vocal soul house of Portland's Natasha Kmeto. Concurrently, the larger capacity and substantial soundsystem on offer at Neumos will be broadcasting Adam Freeland's newest collaborative guitar, drone, vocal and rhythm pulsing project with Steve Nalepa and Ry Cuming, The Acid. Sharing the Liminality bill will be the Domino label's Bob Moses and the high altitude streamlined techno of Seattle's own Jeff McIlwain, aka Lusine. A harder conceptual edge suffuses the appropriately titled Subversion showcase at The Showbox, as world rhythm and noise stalwarts Filastine with Indonesian rapper Nova, share a stage with the analog synthesis and orchestral strings of Dan Deacon. The shredded melodies, masticated beats and shuddering electro-acoustic textures of Warp Record's Chris Clark occupying a curious programming and stylistic space between the two.

If the previous nights weren't sufficiently representative, Friday looks to convince even the cynics. MOTOR kicks off the evening with cross-section of the best of the bleeding edge programming we've seen them deliver on a monthly basis in Seattle. Pulling from labels like Spectrum Spools, Giegling and Sacred Bones, they've assembled three years of sonic adventurers like the ur-industrial noise of Pharmakon's Margaret Chardiet, Container's all-hardware collision of loop and distortion and Shifted's spare textural techno. The evening continues to push the boundaries across town at Neumos, with the first of the sets from Raster-Noton's Dasha Rush, this one a DJ set in unabashed techno mode. The Lucid Dream continues with Jon Charnis' set on the darker side of the Innervision label's brand of house, seguing into the dusky atmospheres of Recondite's sleek dancefloor austerity. What will be the first of the unquantifiable nights in this year's festival hits it's peak with the Resident Advisor sponsored showcase on the sufficiently pummeling soundsystem of The Showbox theater. Beginning the set with Cygnus' analog synthesizer workout and a DJ set by Skam label maven Rob Hall, things then get serious with the chaotic rhythm counterpoint and moody ambiance of Hyperdub's Laurel Halo. The cryptic gap in Autechre's tour schedule announced in May, fell unambiguously right in the center of Decibel weekend, leading myself and others to thrill at the prospect of seeing Booth & Brown in the festival setting. It's been some years since their sprawling, stylistically encompassing statement of 2013, "Exai" which saw them looking as forward as it did back, so it's anyone's guess as to what mode we'll find the duo in come next week. Here's hoping for another glimpse into the white-hot torrent of frenetic rhythm play and skyscrapers of wrung metallic, wooden and ringing glass timbres we heard on previous tours this decade. If human endurance allows, dB Afterhours 2 features Function's thread in the interwoven tapestry of Sandwell District and more recently the Ostgut Ton imprint which he shares with the ragged techno of label-mate Marcel Dettmann.

SATURDAY The first of the official Optical audio-visual events kicks off Saturday night early with a showcase of Dark Overtones from the fearless co-mingling of genres found on London's Blackest Ever Black label. More than just a aesthetic statement, the label's character has grown in just a few years to become one of the premier imprints releasing all things darkly cinematic, electronic, issuing tech apocrypha of the cyber-occult. Alexander Lewis returns under his own name for a more boundary pushing set, further removed from the dancefloor objectives of his work as Shifted. Another return artist in  this year's lineup, Russian born artist Dasha Rush delivers her second set of material as heard on last year's collision of Raster-Noton's own brand of severe tech minimalism, neo-romatic synthesizer play and the strains of early electronic modernism. As the closing act, the one-man Canadian electronic and guitar hurricane that is Tim Hecker's large discography of processed acoustic and electric sounds on the Kranky label fits the label's descriptors perfectly. It's no exaggeration of fact to call Cologne's Kompakt the seminal German techno label of the 21st Century. Label heads Michael Mayer and Wolfgang Voigt were the vanguard of minimal tech and house at the millennial cusp and have continued to push their sound and curation forward in the decades since as represented by the twofold aspects of the label heard on their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations. Long running dancefloor producer John Tejada shares the the bill with artists on the Poker Flat and Ghostly International labels, Dauwd and Agoria bridging the respective scenes and sounds found between Detroit Techno, Chicago House and indie Electronica. The latter figures almost exclusively across town at The Showbox in a showcase of Sublime downtempo beats and melodicism from the UK's Ninja Tune label and Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder imprint. By turns urban, beat oriented and suggestively jazzy, Bonobo's output makes for fine accompaniment to Taylor McFerrin's subliminal soul, nods to instrumental hip-hop and virtuoso piano playing.

SUNDAY After the wild highs of Friday and Saturday, Decibel's final night on Sunday looks to be a more quiet affair by contrast. Smartly bringing back the traditional sunlit afternoon in the open expanses that comprise Volunteer Park, this year's Decibel in the Park returns to the outdoor ampitheater-on-the-green with DJ sets by J.Philip and longtime west coast mainstay, Michael Manahan. Though a more subdued program than the previous weekend nights, it's not to say that there aren't some outstanding performances to be had, as the opening Optical 2: Viscerality showcase establishes. Under his Eskmo alias, Brendan Angelides has been exploring the intersection between chamber music, field recordings and electronic processing as an extension of his Los Angeles-based Echo Society project showcasing international artists performing original works that incorporate electronics and traditional orchestration. Angelides is joined by Northwest artists Briana Marela and the fruits of her recent songwriting venture in Iceland working with Sigur Rós associate and producer Alex Somers. After a flurry of activity in the early 2000s on labels like Kranky and Further Records, Paul Dickow's Strategy has returned with his cut-up assemblages of acoustic and electric instruments, field recordings, and distinctly dub modus operandi. Running concurrently at ReBar and The Crocodile, the urban, world and hip-hop sounds of Mad Decent and the TeamSupreme labels and by contrast, Seattle's Flammable night presenting Roman Flügel's strain of techno released on the German Klang and Dial labels. His sound speaking to his inspiration born of early formative experiences of the Warp Records and Underground Resistance nights at Sven Väth’s renowned Omen club in the 1990s. On the opposite end of the spectrum from the lower-key nature of Decibel's final night, Hospital Productions label head Dominick Fernow is performing outside the festival setting at El Corazon from his newest critically lauded collection of noise drenched Darkwave electro, "Frozen Niagara Falls". Tellingly released on the progressive Doom and Black Metal label Profound Lore, Purient's North American tour pairs Fernow with one of the all-time defining Metal acts of the 1980's-90's. This will be the second west coast appearance of Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green's Godflesh since their reformation in 2010. Those who caught last year's shows with Cut Hands, Pharmakon and  House of Low Culture were witness to some of the most punishing, loud, assaulting music ever created by man and machine. We're almost assured a similar tectonic slab of sonic extremity as the cap on a week of cultural, social, auditory adventuring. By this point in the five day marathon 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 the course of nearly a week. 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 aspiration, risk and 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.