Another awesome year for Decibel Festival, but man am I glad it's over. Decibel Festival fatigue is a real thing. Here are some observations from Friday through Sunday, made before my anti-sociality and agoraphobia overwhelmed my love for outstanding electronic music.
Matthew Dear will be your snooty electro-funk sommelier this evening.
Ghosts on Tape played a lively house set at the Boiler Room party Friday at the Substatial loft (Broadway & Pine, overlooking Cal Anderson park)--peaking with a mix of DJ Sprinkles' "Deep Into the Bowels of House" cut with the "yeah!" from "It Takes Two." Combined with Eprom's following set of bass and trap music, and the two previous days' evidence--digging Robag Wruhme and XXXY; not feeling Orbital--it made me think that maybe I ONLY like house music now.
The Motor City Masters showcase at Neumos quickly disabused me of that notion, though. Turns out I like BOTH kinds of music: Chicago house and Detroit techno. (That trap stuff--which was ALL OVER Decibel this year--is garbage, though.)
Detroit-born sometimes-local Jerry Abstract warmed up the imported prototype soundsystem that was easily the best, most powerful and bassy of the festival (as well as the best looking). Detroit duo Octave One pushed the tempo with a live PA of jacking techno, their heads snapping and hands pumping in locked perfect time (a sharp contrast from Orbital's often off-ryhthm arm flailing the night before). Finally, Carl Craig tore it down with a DJ set of all-time classics--his own "Throw" under the Paperclip People alias, Jeff Mills' "Strings of Life" and "The Bells"--it was the sort of greatest hits set that only Craig can get away with, and he delivered it with relentless energy and aplomb, only pausing to get on the mic in "his DJ voice" and big-up his lunch date with drum machine god Roger Linn or to intro a track by his brother/mentor Derrick May.
At some point there, cut down to the Baltic Room for a minute of Brookyln "hipser house" duo Teengirl Fantasy. I was all ready to be snarky about leaving a showcase of legendary Detroit dudes to see a couple skinny dudes from Brookyln, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much genuine house kick Teengirl Fantasy's gauzy house had live. One thing about Baltic Room, though: they had the most regular Nu Belltown"weekender" crowd of anywhere I went during Decibel Festival, possibly because that night's showcase didn't have high enough of a price point to deter random Friday nighters; by contrast, I saw the $30 door at Neumos ward off at least one group of guys and girls who'd wandered out of the long line for whatever was going on in Barboza that night (I'm gonna guess trap).
This year, the Do-Over at SCCC's lawn replaced Decibel in the Park at Volunteer Park as the weekend's free outdoor affair, but I'm not really sure about its whole "Occupy Decibel" vibe--more grotty than Volunteer Park's idyllic--unless, like, Underground Resistance is gonna play.
At Q that night, Dave Aju played a tragically early and under-attended live set of skeletal house laced through with his own soulful, looped vocals.
Down at the Ghostly showcase at Showbox, Matthew Dear and band were dressed sharp--Dear in a bespoke black suit, his band in dress shirts (white for the drummer, burgundy for the guitarist and bassist), all of them looking like they were about to serve me small plates in a restaurant I couldn't afford. Their set was a similarly sleek and snooty vision of dark, sexy electro-acoustic funk, the live rhythm section adding some nice heft to Dear's deep crooning. At times, there was even a sort of Talking Heads vibe to their funk--deadpan and aloof and maybe a little hollow. As talented as Dear is with this stuff--"real music with real instruments" or whatever--sometimes I just wish he'd go back to cranking out Audion techno bangers.
I've never actually been to any of Decibel's ambient A/V Optical showcases over the years, and I really thought I'd get down to see Kranky artists Windy & Carl at the Triple Door on Sunday, but I got sidetracked by the Dropping Gems/Hush Hush patio party at Captain Blacks. It was just so sunny, it was hard to fathom going inside while Kid Smpl was playing aqueous jams or Shlomo was playing chopped-and-screwed trap versions of Backstreet Boys, Mariah Carey, and Destiny's Child.
By the time of the Decibel Finale at Neumos Sunday night, I was ready to be alone with John Talabot, not watching him as part of a tightly packed crowd. There was a guy with light-gloves that I would have killed for his candy raver amateur hour shit if I could have gotten away with it. I needed my space. Pezzner opened with a typically tight opening set of streamlined tech-house. Public Lover--the live duo of ex-Seattlite Bruno Pronsanto and a very pregnant Ninca Leese--played a rather meandering set of listless, electronic piano-padded, hotel lobby-vibed vocal house (a friend compared it to Everything But the Girl; I'd say it was more like The Girl But Nothing Else).
But then finally John Talabot and Pional came on--the Barcelona duo standing side by side, both singing and both playing pads with drum sticks, so that it was hard to know who was whom--and they played one of the finest sets of the entire festival. Their dark, moody, and slow-grooving house was just the thing to cool down from the weekend while still keeping it going for one more hour. Highlights included vocal-heavy ƒin cuts "So Will Be Now..." and "Destiny," their soulful vocals slipping into echo and murk, the scream-laced spook track "Oro y Sangre," and their encore performance of breakout single "Sunshine." It was a fine finale for one of Seattle's best weekends of the year.