Like any respectable music festival, Decibel neither encourages nor condones drug use. And, like at any respectable music festival, people are going to do drugs anyway. My last couple reports from Decibel have examined some of electronic music's defining myths and true characteristics--the notion that that it isn't real live music (handily debunked by Shigeto, AraabMuzik, and others); its fundamental tension between the body-moving functionalism of "tracks" and audio/visual FX versus more traditionally structured pop songcraft (nicely illustrated by Amon Tobin and Ladytron). But probably no impression of "rave" culture is as widespread as the notion that it's also at its core a drug culture.
Miracles Club: great even if you're straight...yeah
Of course, this is true and it isn't. I've known straight-edge or teetotaling ravers (on both sides of the decks) since I was in high school, and you don't have to be high to enjoy electronic music any more than performing the stuff is just pushing a button. (Decibel and Seattle's homegrown electronic scene can seem especially sober sometimes, more the domain of fastidious off-duty Microsoft programmers than of drug-fueled revelers.)
On the other hand...Like many a scene before it, electronic music has had a long, fruitful, and sometimes tempestuous love affair with mind-altering chemicals. In his pioneering study of 90s rave culture, Energy Flash (Generation Ecstasy in the US), music critic Simon Reynolds observes that Ecstasy has enjoyed an especially synergistic relationship with techno:
"All music sounds better on E--crisper and more distinct, but also engulfing in its immediacy. House and techno sound especially fabulous. [...] [The] Ecstasy-enhancing aspects latent in house and techno were unintended by their original creators and were discovered accidentally by the first people who mixed the music and the drug. But over the years, rave music ahs gradually evolved into a self-conscious science of intensifying MDMA's sensations."
So, you might have missed out on some experiences, or not done your utmost journalistic duty, if (say, like me) you were NOT on drugs at least on night of Decibel Festival.
You might not have fallen madly in love with Portland vocal house collective Miracles Club's live performance--on keys, drum machines, and microphone, abetted by two rad dancers perched atop barrels--at loft space the Woods in the pre-midnight hour on Friday. (Although, Donte Parks is always a reliable control group, and he had a good time.) You might not have dug their outfits--the bearish dude with his Keith Harring black-and-white squiggled sweatpants, the girl (Honey Owens of noise punks Jackie-O-Motherfucker) in stripes, the dancer in white parachute pants and a fez (fezzes are cool). You might not have "come up" and danced your ass off and sweated buckets to their set right through to the encore a friend told me was a Frankie Knuckles cover, complete squealing sequenced saxophone. (The band, after their set: "you're really great dancers! They don't do this in Portland!"). You might not have felt kind of sorry for the Woods' Saturday night regulars--girls in dresses and high heels and bros in caps all looking a little confused at the Paradise Garage that sprung up where they'd expected a hip hop night. Real talk tho: Miracles Club's voguers and sweat and dancing beats 100 Amon Tobin cubes.
You might not have flashed back to two years ago (when Carl Craig and Audion positively burned down Neumos) when Egyptrixx dropped the latter's strafing, dive-bombing synth workout "Kisses" into his already excellent set of dark, blurry techno spiked by hard-riding squeals of feedback. You might not have been more impressed by the ice cool water down the street at the Baltic Room than by Hannsen's fine, lively deep house set (to be fair: WATER IS AWESOME). Your notes might not have gone indecipherable during Martyn's smart, subtly shifting tech house grooves, and you might not have felt antsy during his set's long wind-down and few false stops. You might not have stayed up waaaaay too late dancing to at the after-party, or bagged off the next two days to go misty at a friend's wedding. And of course you should feel ashamed of yourself--but there's always next year!