Decibel Fest is different than any other major festival in Seattle. It’s an isolated festival, limited mostly to Capitol Hill clubs. With attendance at the five-day festival expected to be around 20,000, compared to 30,000 people at the Capitol Hill Block Party and nearly 150,000 people at Bumbershoot this year, it’s a festival that’s had to work to keep coming back every year. In a city where most festivals focus on indie rock with a dispersal of local hip-hop, most people aren’t familiar with dubstep, glitch, or IDM. I’ve been in a number of conversations with strangers when the question comes up of what the weekend has in store for me. When I mention I’m seeing a dubstep show, I am always greeted with a blank stare and a “What?” As bass-oriented music is garnering more attention, Decibel hopes to expand beyond the small-club scene to encompass downtown Seattle and Bumbershoot. Even if it has a niche crowd in Seattle, Decibel is considered in the international sphere as one of the biggest and best electronic festivals in the world.
The only downside to Decibel is that there are sometimes up to seven showcases, each with at least five artists usually, all happening at the same time each night. Yes, Decibel does a great job of grouping showcases by label or similar electronic genres, but there are so many amazing lineups that you regret you can’t be everywhere at once. A good problem to have. It’s also great to have very little lag time between artists. The transitions were incredibly seamless, sometimes to the point that the audience didn’t realize the next artist had started and weren’t merely finishing a sound check. Ah the perks of electronic music: everything is mostly set-up before the set and doesn’t need to be tuned.
Wednesday night brought the Ghostly International opening showcase at Neumo’s in Capitol Hill. Ghostly International is an independent American record label of electronic music in Michigan. Brooklyn’s Mux Mool, the UK’s Gold Panda, and Seattle’s Lusine were featured.
Mux Mool had the feel of an adventure down the dirty streets of some exotic country. Like you were walking in a dark alleyway between the booming bass of adjacent nightclubs with an overwhelming sense of bad-ass purpose. Mux Mool is instrumental hip-hop, heavy bass, grime, dub, and you can tell he values a lot of influences.
Many electronic artists tend to not interact with the crowd much. For much of the showcase, artists would start playing and not say hi until later, and then announce their last song without saying anything else the whole set. Mux Mool shared his fun with the audience; he wanted the audience to know he was working hard and having fun. Neumo’s was packed and the audience felt the energy. Despite the audience’s clear excitement, the crowd was unnecessarily noisy. Maybe it was since Mux Mool opened or due to the layout of the venue with an overlooking bar balcony, but it seemed like too many people were there to hang out and not to dance and enjoy the music.
Next up was Essex, UK’s Gold Panda, who is very much electronic chill wave. He uses a lot of Japanese and vaguely Indian sounding instruments in his samples and loops, which is fitting once you learn that Gold Panda once lived and studied in Japan. You hear sounds of a marimba, sounds similar to a bow, plus techno drum hits that have the bouncy vibe of techno. Gold Panda’s set was bright but bittersweet at the same time, and the peak of tonight’s showcase. I expect Gold Panda to get a lot more attention in the States in the future with his new EP out and a history of doing remixes of Simian Mobile Disco, HEALTH, Telepath, and Bloc Party. It looks as if this was his first set in Seattle, but he has upcoming tour dates in Brazil and Japan.
I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Lusine. He’s been opening for people in the area for the past few years and he’s been releasing albums since 1999. I was least impressed with Lusine, but it was still a solid performance that maintained the energy of the night. It was very danceable and veered to trance music. The set wasn’t as bass-heavy as Mux Mool and it was a little mellow for my taste. Nothing amazingly special about his set, but the VJing by visual artist Zachariah Walker was fantastic for his set, as it was for the entire showcase (as you can see in the pictures).
Wednesday’s pictures are courtesy of photographer Adam Mario. We won’t be covering Decibel Fest Thursday night, but check back with us Saturday through Monday for reviews of Friday’s shows and beyond! Again, tickets are still available for a number of shows here. If you’re looking for the least expensive option to check out electronic music, I would recommend dB in the Park on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are only $8 in advance and $10 at the gate.