There are all kinds of reasons people go to shows. Sometimes you go because you want to party, dance, and chase some particular kind of release. Sometimes to support your friends who are playing or promoting the event, even though you’re dog-tired and filled with anxiety. And often, ideally, you go for the music. MOTOR is the Seattle electronic event series that keeps its base coming back for, above all else, the music.
Since its foundation in 2012, MOTOR has been a Thursday-night event, loosely bimonthly, for live analog synth and hardware-based performances. That means the music comes from a box full of electronic circuits that generate sounds, not audio recordings on a laptop. MOTOR has built a reputation for innovative sound and whip-smart, hard-earned bookings—probably the only way they’ve been able to make Thursday nights stick.
It’s not easy to get people to come out on a Thursday here, and even crazier to book artists of international caliber. MOTOR is essentially rolling the dice every time it brings names like Silent Servant, Patricia, SHXCXCHCXSH, or Container to Seattle on a Thursday. And this summer they presented three of their biggest bookings ever—essentially back-to-back—in the most ambitious series of shows anyone’s had the taste or courage to book since Decibel Festival.
On July 14, MOTOR brought the dark, wiry, coal-chamber Berlin techno savant Ancient Methods to Seattle for what was not only its Seattle debut, but its U.S. debut. Then on July 28 they brought the heady, dance-driven techno artist White Visitation from Mexico City. Despite its relative geographic proximity, too many Seattle promoters have been passing over Mexican performers to book Northern European acts, and White Visitation showed everyone what they’ve been missing.
And on Thursday, August 11, MOTOR is finishing their summer series with their biggest show yet, hosting the Diagonal Records crew: Powell, Not Waving, and Russell Haswell. All-live sets, all from the UK. Any one of the three could have headlined a MOTOR show on their own—similar to MOTOR’s outstanding Decibel 2015 showcase, which featured Shifted, Pharmakon, and Container. It’s going to be a noisy, grinding, aggressive Thursday night in Seattle.
“It may be ambitious,” says MOTOR’s event coordinator Rachel Glasgow, “but this is what makes MOTOR, and founder Sam Melancon, stand out as a pillar in Seattle’s live experimental and techno community. It’s important for us to challenge other promoters—and really music lovers alike. These bookings definitely have a message that we hope you are listening to, and we want others to match our enthusiasm.”
MOTOR was born from Melancon’s Seattle-based label Debacle Records, which releases experimental, psychedelic, and noise records from artists who are tough to pin down. Beyond its Thursday parties, MOTOR is also a record-label imprint of Debacle, featuring mostly local experimental hardware artists and winning serious praise from the likes of the international tastemaking online publication Resident Advisor.
“Debacle is super-diverse, almost too much so,” says Melancon. “When I started thinking about MOTOR, it became obvious I could have a more focused corner of Debacle.” MOTOR is what happened when noisers and rockers got into dance music, and the space they’ve carved out has defined beat-driven, live, analog techno for Seattle.
One reason MOTOR has been so successful is its collaborative relationship with other local crews. They’ve presented shows with secondnature and Elevator, two avant Seattle collectives founded by young transplants from Tacoma, and they’ve had a member of the female and non-binary collective TUF on each of their past four shows. “We are grateful to have a talented pool of local artists to feature in rotation,” says Glasgow, naming TUF DJs Biome and T. Wan, who played the Ancient Methods and White Visitation events. “MOTOR is truly a community effort from when the idea is hatched until we leave the club for much-needed rest,” she says.
Melancon says he values his role as a promoter “not just for bringing in cool headliners, but as a way to create a maintainable scene and encourage new growing artists along the way … Going into most shows, I am about 50 percent excited for the headliners and 50 percent excited to see what some little-known local is going to do with the opportunity to open for them.”
MOTOR has also partnered with visual projection artists Coldbrew Collective since the very beginning. “Their approach melds well with MOTOR,” says Melancon. “It’s live, improvisatory, process-based, and exploratory.” Coldbrew Collective got their start doing visuals at MOTOR, and have gone on to show work in the Seattle Art Museum, in SIFFX, and at the Henry Art Gallery and win Seattle Weekly’s Best Visual Artist category in the 2015 Best of Seattle reader poll.
“It was important to engage them as our primary visual artists to give MOTOR an identifiable aesthetic,” says Melancon. “Same reason all our records are mastered by Phil Petrocelli: so that we have a standard vibe, and we grow as he grows in that role. You can point to these local creators and say ‘These folks are helping define what MOTOR is.’ It is larger than just Sam or Rachel or Nathaniel Young [MOTOR’s New York-based PR director], or any single artist.”
A critical aspect of how MOTOR grows the Seattle music community is its label. “The thing I am most stoked about is the label side of MOTOR, which maybe gets less attention [than the shows],” says Melancon. “Being able to document all these badass artists we have working in Seattle/PNW has been amazing, from debuting Madi Levine’s IVVY project to showing off Archivist’s goofy, ravey side.”
MOTOR has buoyed the talents of Seattle artists and elevated the opportunities of the whole city with its lofty, peculiar ambitions. Thursday’s show will be no different—Glasgow calls Powell “a mastermind of erratic sound.”
“Be prepared for the unexpected,” she says; “he’s going to take us into the wormhole.”