What follows is no one's idea of a definitive guide to the Decibel Festival, which takes place this weekend across several Capitol Hill venues. It's not even a definitive guide to the works of the artists I've chosen to represent it. As suits such a venture—where techno and experimental electronica of various stripes are arrayed for the dancing and nodding (not necessarily in that order, in some cases) enjoyment of the portions of the city that like to get down to something a little less flagrant than house's screaming divas or trance's heart-rush buildups—this is a bit more idiosyncratic. Well, maybe not structurally: I simply grabbed 10 tracks I like by artists playing the event; it totals just under an hour altogether. There's lots of other good stuff going on at Decibel that isn't covered here, of course, so think of this as a quickie primer—one I'll enjoy playing while looking forward to moving to these folks' work on a floor other than my own.
1. Her Space Holiday, "The Young Machines" (The Young Machines, Mush, 2003) 4:25. Marc Bianchi's group alias has always exuded a deliberate modesty, often for good reason—see the negligible (and lousily titled) new The Past Presents the Future (Wichita), for instance. But when he hits it right, it's lovely indeed, as on the lead cut to his previous album, with lonesome bells chiming out the tune before warm string pads and scurrying breaks give it a lift.Chop Suey, 11:15 p.m. Sat., Sept. 24; $12.
2. Isolée, "Beau Mot Plage" (Rest, Playhouse, 1999) 6:46. Easily the biggest "hit" in this mix, and for good reason: When Isolée, aka Rajko Müller, issued this at the end of the last decade, he foreshadowed a whole lot of the beat-driven aural shadow play that, over the past half-decade, has taken the fancy of ex-ravers who want dance music that enchants like early rave without being quite so excitable, the better to suit our elderly needs. Six years on, the phased, clipped guitar chords and clicking beats of "Beau Mot Plage" still sound like wriggling manna from a subtler kind of disco heaven.Neumo's, 12:30 a.m. Sun., Sept. 25; $15.
3. Caro, "Citta Alla Notte" (12-inch, Orac, 2005) 5:11. The Return of Caro is easily one of the year's best electronic CDs, full stop (much less "local"), but it's just as instructive to hear what came before. In this case, we get a semi-sleazy-sounding dude muttering Italian into a lounge-lizard echo chamber while bell-like hi-hats, electro hand claps, a zinging keyboard bass, and black-puddle synth blats firm up the theme. When a cowbell decenters the groove midway through, you might as well just double the sitter's fee and give in. "The Relationship Between Technology and Art" Panel, Broadway Performance Hall, noon Sun., Sept. 25; $5.
4. Thomas Fehlmann, "Making It Whistle" (Total 4, Kompakt, 2002) 6:07. The Zurich-born Fehlmann has been active in music longer than most of the folks who will be attending Decibel have been alive. He's worked with everyone from the Orb to Juan Atkins to Robert Fripp, and has made everything from art-rock to ambient to hard techno. Much of his best recent work has come out on Cologne, Germany's Kompakt label, such as this gorgeous track, which combines a glassy bell- shaking backdrop, blipping, phased, pumping synth patterns, and a clean, sweeping hi-hat-and-kick pattern into something that would fit a whole lot of DJs' playlists without fitting too neatly into any. Neumo's, 11:30 p.m. Sun., Sept. 25; $15.
5. Akufen, "The Unexpected Guest" (Superlongevity 2, Perlon, 2001) 6:23. Montreal's Marc Leclair is best known for the cut-and-snipped glitch-house of 2002's superb My Way. But as astute and timely an idea as merging the autumnal grace of prime Kompakt with the sample-sputters of god-loving New Jersey garage producer Todd Edwards may have been, it's not all Leclair's done under the Akufen moniker. Take this tales-from-the-dark-side cut from the second compilation from Cologne's Perlon (easily the most consistent dance label of the '00s so far): Writhing spook-house atmosphere darts around an undulating piano figure and cathedral door-slam afternoise. It's playful and unsettling in equal measure, not unlike the Akufen catalog in toto.Neumo's, midnight Sat., Sept. 24; $15.
6. Bruno Pronsato, "Wuorinen" (12-inch, Orac, 2005) 7:44. Seattle producer Steven Ford's ear for subtle hyperactivity thrives on the A-side of his recently issued 12-inch. (That's also him singing on the Caro track, by the way.) Isolate most of the aspects in the mix and you'll hear a lot of truncated sounds that might not hold your interest any longer than it takes them to play out. Arranged this way, every element jumps out sideways and claims the attention of a different limb—a stray elbow twitch, an unexpected lower leg convulsion, an involuntary head bob. Neumo's, 10 p.m. Sat., Sept. 24; $15.
7. L'Usine, "Breed" (Autonomous Addicts, The Designed Disorder, 2005) 4:58. To apostrophe or not to apostrophe? That's one of the questions local producer Jeff McIlwane wrestles with as—take your pick—Lusine or L'Usine. That's about the only indecisive thing about his records, though, which glow with an assured mastery that's matched by his fervent live laptop workouts—his set at the Capitol Hill Block Party was an easy highlight. This terrific track from an uneven recent compilation highlights his strengths as well as anything from his full CDs, with whirring microsnare rolls and diagonally pointed synth glides paving the way for the elusive yet oh-so-right motif at the track's center. He'll be shelving the beats for this ambient performance, though. Broadway Performance Hall, 7:15 p.m. Sun., Sept. 25; $15.
8. Tipper, "Tweak Sauce" (Autonomous Addicts, The Designed Disorder, 2005) 5:44. From the same comp as "Breed," this goes the opposite direction, approachwise. The young Tipper (first name: Dave) sputters his Doppler-pattern synths all over the room, but he's disciplined enough to keep it approachable instead of simply willful—a kind of cross between electro's rigid calisthenics and the whippoorwillful boom-and-zoom of Goa trance. (And yes, I do mean that as a compliment.) Neumo's, 10:30 p.m. Sun., Sept. 25; $15.
9. Deadbeat, "Pocket Dwellers" (Montreal Smoked Meat, Force Inc., 2001) 6:06. One of the leading talents of Montreal's techno wave, Deadbeat issued a terrific album in 2003 with Stephen Beaupre, It's a Crackhaus Thing. This solo track from a scene- establishing comp is moodier—the dubby rhythm bumps and rolls instead of pulsing and pushing, and the occasional disruptions of the crawl-and-hiss synth ambience by clackety percussive patterns and fork-hitting-glass pings soon divine a pattern that gives the whole thing focus. Neumo's, 11 p.m. Sat., Sept. 24; $15.
10. Fennesz, "Menthol" (Clicks & Cuts 2, Mille Plateaux, 2001) 3:50. Austrian laptop composer/producer Christian Fennesz is one of the most beloved musicians working in the post-rave experimental realm, and for good reason—even at his most inchoate, there's a playfulness and a pop sense at work in his music. That's true even of this dense sound whirl, which builds from disruptive glitches into beguiling tone bursts—ambient music that refuses to settle. Broadway Performance Hall, 9 p.m. Sat., Sept. 24; $15.
For show-by-show information about Decibel Festival, see Seven Nights, p. 57, or go to www.dbfestival.com. Full access passes: $50; evening passes: $35.