Decibel Festival: An Insider’s Guide

Local beatmakers give us their picks for the city's pre-eminent electronic-music showcase.

To the unschooled outside observer, the lineup of Decibel Festival—Seattle’s premiere celebration of electronic music and art—might initially look like an endless parade of anonymous DJs, each more bald, pale, and bespectacled than the last, until you eventually arrive at Moby himself. But entertaining as that stereotype is, it simply hasn’t been true of Decibel Festival for years—nor does it begin to hint at the genuinely unstuffy, burning-down-the-house party vibe of the five-day fest at its nightly peaks. Now in its eighth year, Decibel 2011 offers an impressive variety of world-class electronic talent, from the hyper-dexterous hip-hop productions of AraabMuzik to the new wave–indebted synth pop of Ladytron, and everything in between.

Seattle Weekly has solicited picks from several of this year’s local participants: indie electronica duo Beat Connection (performing Friday, 10:30–11:30 p.m., Crocodile); bass head Ill Cosby (Sat., 2–2:45 p.m., Volunteer Park); genre-hopping KEXP DJ Kid Hops (Wed., 10:45–11:30 p.m., Re-bar; Fri., 10–11:30 p.m., Baltic Room; Sun., 10:30 p.m–midnight, Baltic Room); eccentric techno producer Jon McMillion (Wed., 10:30–11:30 p.m., Re–bar); soulful house collective Sun Tzu Sound (Fri., 9–10 p.m., Baltic Room); analog rockers Truckasauras (Thurs., 10–11 p.m., Crocodile); and Fourthcity hip-hop beat-maker WD4D (Sat., 9–10:30 p.m., Crocodile; Sun., 9–10:30 p.m., Baltic Room). Here are their suggestions for maximizing the audio, visual, and visceral pleasures of Decibel 2011:


The Skinny Opening night’s juggling act pits reclusive UK producer Zomby (whose latest, Dedication, softens and sweetens his previous ’92 ‘ardkore rave sound to great effect) and madly prolific polymath Atom™ against AraabMuzik, Dipset’s ridiculously dexterous MPC percussionist and sample flipper. Good luck.

PICK: AraabMuzik, 11 p.m.–midnight, Neumos “I’ve been a fan since his production work on Cam’ron’s ‘Get It in Ohio.’ His new album, Electronic Dream, is both poppy and incredibly hard-edged—one of the albums I listened to most this year.” ILL COSBY

PICK: Atom™, 11:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m., Re-bar “For me, it’s all about seeing Uwe Schmidt [Atom™] perform. This man is literally the reason why I make computer-based music. I’ve been following his career for the last 15 years. To me he is one of the most important figures in electronic music. He’s a hero, an inspiration, and I’m very honored to be a part of the showcase he’s performing in. It’s a must-see for people who want to see the cutting edge of computer-based music. For me he is the best of the best.” JON MCMILLION


The Skinny Tonight you’ve got the much-hyped audio-visual spectacle of Amon Tobin’s ISAM project; icy-cool electro-clash survivors Ladytron; the long-delayed U.S. showcase of British bass-music label Night Slugs; and a night of lo-fi electronics and epic, rocking instrumental jams with Toronto’s Holy Fuck, locals Truckasauras, and Audiodregs founder E*Rock.

PICK: Amon Tobin’s ISAM, 10:45 p.m.–midnight, Paramount “Everyone’s talking about how his new live show is taking things to the ‘next level.’ If the YouTube clips are even a fraction of how badass this is, then they’ll be right. If you could only go to one set, it would be this.” SUNTZU

PICK: Night Slugs Showcase: Bok Bok, Girl Unit, Kingdom, 9 p.m.–1:30 a.m., Baltic Room “I have been digging on their releases for a while now, and I am super-into Girl Unit’s distinctly British take on Dirty South trap-muzik-style beats.” BEAT CONNECTION

PICK: E*Rock, 11 p.m.–midnight, Crocodile “Even though this is kinda bigging-up the showcase we’re playing, I would be in the audience during E*Rock’s set anyway. Expect another fresh A/V set from this guy.” TRUCKASAURAS


The Skinny Here’s where Decibel gets truly impossible. Friday’s conflicting highlights include the Optical 1 A/V spectacle with Ulrich Schnauss; the slow-mo VHS haze of oOoOO; the soulful house of feel-good local night TRUST; the unpredictable deep-bass explorations of Martyn; and a headlining show at the Paramount from the great white rave hope himself, Moby.

PICK: Warm Oscillations: Star Slinger, Mux Mool, oOoOO, 9 p.m.–1:30 a.m., Crocodile “I’ve been listening to Mux Mool since high school, and have always found his productions extremely intriguing. I’ve tried to see Star Slinger multiple times, but for some reason or another it hasn’t worked out, so I’m finally going to be able to dance around to his super-upbeat jams.” BEAT CONNECTION

PICK: Blondes, 9–10 p.m., Showbox SoDo “Since I first heard Blondes earlier this year, I wondered what a live set from them would be like. This year I get my chance. [I’m] really into their psychedelic take on dance music. Very fresh stuff. Can’t wait.” JON MCMILLION

PICK: Martyn, 12:30–1:30 a.m., Neumos “His new album on Brainfeeder is gonna turn heads . . . again!” KID HOPS

PICK: TRUST: Kyle Hall, Hanssen, 11:30 p.m.–1:30 a.m., Baltic Room “Honored to have Hanssen’s debut live set as part of our showcase. Kyle Hall was my favorite performer last year—I knew nothing about him and he blew me away. He’s probably still not 21, but I’m excited to share the DJ booth with him. I just have to remember to not step on his stocking feet—dude DJs like he’s at home in his bedroom. Love it!” SUNTZU


The Skinny Still standing? Today, Decibel offers a bevy of blessedly mellow and/or outdoorsy options: Enjoy Decibel in the park or via a boat cruise, take a seat at the Optical 2 show, or get your slow groove on with Deep Foundations at Neumos—a solid show even though prodigious German producer Motor City Drum Ensemble cancelled (as dB’s Sean Horton puts it: “mo visas, mo problems”), replaced by ever-dependable party starter Derek Plaslaiko.

PICK: dB in the Park/ Frite Nite Showcase, noon–6:30 p.m., Volunteer Park “Super-excited for dB in the Park w/the Frite Nite showcase (Eprom, Salva, Comma, Danny Corn + locals Ill Cosby, Sonny Cheeba, etc.). The Frite Nite lineup is full of artists who truly push the sound of bass music, dubstep, glitch, what have you. Always steering clear of cliché sounds/styles. These are all names to watch for in the months to come.” WD4D

PICK: Machinedrum, 11:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m., Crocodile “His latest album, Room(s), is one of the first albums to incorporate Chicago’s juke-music scene into contemporary electronic music without sounding like a gimmick.” ILL COSBY

PICK: Chateau Flight and I:Cube, midnight–2 a.m., Neumos “These Parisian producers have been a mainstay in my record crates since the late ’90s. I never thought I’d get to hear either of them play—let alone both in one night. Neumos is definitely the place to be on Saturday night.” SUNTZU


The Skinny For its finale, Decibel goes back to the warm womb of dub with no less an innovator of the form than the UK’s Mad Professor. Down at Re-bar, Seattle’s longest-running house night, Flammable, gets a long-overdue nod from the fest, with guests DOP. October, you rest.

PICK: DoP, 12:45–2 a.m., Re-bar “Been wanting to see DOP play live for a long time. I’ve heard a lot of great things about their crazy live sets, so I’m pretty pumped to finally see them do their thing. Crazy guys from France who make some pretty wicked music. Plus we used to be label-mates on Orac.” JON MCMILLION

PICK: dBridge, midnight–2 a.m., Baltic Room “A late, largely unheralded addition to the dB Fest lineup, and quite possibly my favorite of this year’s offerings. dBridge is a master of his craft, and I am thrilled he’s visiting Seattle. He effortlessly shifts from futuristic drum and bass to half-time skeletal rhythms—all awash in multilayered atmospheres. Expect cinematic bass music of the highest order, all night long.” KID HOPS