In Its Ninth Iteration, Debacle Fest Expands ‘Experimental’

Given the silo-centric culture here in Seattle, the notion of uniting the city’s disparate scenes might also be considered “experimental”—an interesting new tack the festival is taking this weekend.

Seattle’s Debacle Records has spent the past 11 years dredging up the region’s weirdest sonic experimentalists, hosting the annual Debacle Festival as a live showcase for some of those hidden musical treasures. Many of the acts dwell in the realm of harsh noise, drone, and fringe electronics.

Given Seattle’s silo-centric culture, the notion of uniting the city’s disparate scenes might also be considered “experimental”—an interesting new tack the festival is taking this weekend under the leadership of its brand-new director, Hallie Sloan, formerly of KEXP DJ Sharlese Metcalf’s dark electronic DJ crew False Prophet.

“There seems to be a large increase in scenes locally right now,” Sloan says. “We want them to converge. We think we can expand the spectrum of our audience by including all these people who wouldn’t normally come out to Debacle but would probably really enjoy it.”

While the noise, drone, and synth-voyager contingent remains strong on the lineup for the ninth Debacle Fest, this year’s bill is notable for its expanding definition of the “experimental” flag the event typically waves. Guitars at Debacle Fest are typically wielded to produce enveloping walls of sound, but “rock” band Newaxeyes employs theirs for, gasp, melodic ends—albeit layered atop dystopian torrents of battered synthetic drums and trashed-out digital samples. Bad Luck, a squalling saxophone and drum duo, push at the edges of the jazz idiom. Most notably, the festival has branched out to the local hip-hop world this year, roping in that booming scene’s own outré stars. Diogenes, the founder of cassette-tape night HISSSSS, is a sampledelic beatsmith who will flip anything from dial-up tones to Turkish folk music into disorienting, head-nodding rhythms. Rapid up-and-comer DoNormaal, who raps about visions she has in her dreams and samples old Mickey Mouse cartoons on her excellent debut album Jump or Die, is one of the biggest standouts—especially considering that the day after her Debacle appearance, she’ll be opening a sold-out show for alt-pop star Santigold at The Neptune. That an act can traverse those two worlds is a testament to the new breadth on display at the festival.

“We’re not as interested in making sure we accommodate to any one genre,” Sloan says, “but more so that we showcase the interesting stuff happening in the Pacific Northwest and being rooted in the community of the Pacific Northwest. You don’t need to be into experimental music, and you don’t have to know who these bands are to find some enjoyment in Debacle Fest—we’re really about celebration and discovery.” Columbia City Theater, 4916 Rainier Ave. S., 722-3009, $30 weekend pass/$20 each night. 21 and over. 7 p.m. Fri., May 13–Sat., May 14.