Kyle Hall, Mount Kimbie, Monolake, and More in XLR8R's Decibel Festival Recap, Part Two
If you missed the first part of our Decibel coverage, you can find it here.
My first two days at Seattle's seventh annual Decibel Festival were perfectly streamlined in regards to catching all of the artists I hoped to see—that is, compared to the following three days of the festival. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were all littered with DJs and producers I'd long hoped for a chance to watch perform live, many of which played minutes and miles from each other.
Friday night was a tug-of-war between Neumos and the Baltic Room. At Neumos, Shlohmo started out my night with an early set of his fuzzy, speaker-rattling beat compositions. The crowd was a bit sparse at first, and producer Henry Laufer seemed to be dissatisfied with their lack of enthusiasm. Those in attendance were dancing a bit and swaying about, but when Laufer cut his tunes to incite calls from the dancefloor, little was heard. He'd eventually stop the music entirely and shout for a response from the slowly growing audience. It was an understandably frustrating position being the opener, but his tweaked-out rap remixes and punchdrunk bass beats worked the floor far better than his irritated venting.
Eventually, the room filled out more, and Brainfeeder newbie Teebs took the stage. With no introduction or fanfare of any kind, Teebs' sun-soaked hip-hop rhythms and shimmering melodies took over the soundsystem. The 23-year-old producer delivered parts of his forthcoming debut album, Ardour, and a load of tracks I was unfamiliar with with little more than a single sampler. Teebs was hunched over the machine for not much longer than a half hour, playing beat after soulful beat, and within that time, managed to hype up Neumos' nearly full house to levels largely unexpected at 10:30 p.m. His performance was the highlight of my night. When it was through, I had to rush out the door to catch what I could of the Planet Mu label showcase at the Baltic Room.
The crowd during Ikonika
As I closed in on the Baltic Room, I noticed something completely different from the last time I had been there: It was absolutely packed. FaltyDL was finishing up his set with a classic soul tune by the time I made it inside, but was followed soon after by Ikonika. Philly street-bass honcho Starkey was announcing the DJs, garnering loads of cheers for the UK mixtress before she started her set. Ikonika kicked things off slow and steady with a moody mid-tempo number, and took her time building the energy of the music; though, the crowd's enthusiasm seemed near peak levels all the while. When I left to make the start of Mount Kimbie at Neumos, the DJ was well into some thick, skittering post-garage-house-step cuts. Later, I'd hear from many that Ikonika's was their favorite set of Decibel.
Mount Kimbie would finish my Friday night, and it turned out to be a rich, surprising, and very live performance. The two artists, Dominic Maker and Kai Campos, manned Ableton controls, electronic drum pads, a guitar, a drum kit, a few effects pedals, a microphone, and other machines throughout their hour on stage. Renditions of "Would Know," "Carbonated," "Mayor," and the guitar-driven "Field" were all memorable standouts, but the set as a whole was impressive and captivating. At one point, Maker took the mic and sang some soulful verse. It was then that I fully realized Maker and Campos aren't just a production duo, they're a band. I took that with me as I walked to my hotel, listening to Crooks and Lovers.
The weekend of Decibel had more of a 'festival' feel to it, and mostly because there were shows outside and during the day. Additionally, I found reason to travel to a handful of the other venues hosting performances, and caught a wide variety of sights and sounds on Saturday and Sunday. Underneath Seattle's iconic Space Needle, dB In the Park—a daytime, all-ages stage set outside—was held. LA's Nosaj Thing was dressed in a tasteful sheen not unlike his own tunes, and danced some smooth moves his entire time on stage. The folks on the grass below followed suit—their gyrations growing in tenacity as Nosaj Thing's pristine bass frequencies and cavernous beats swelled in the quality speakers. It was a warm, sunny Saturday outside, and the music coming from the park bolstered its appeal even more so.
Oneohtrix Point Never
That night, I experienced the most engrossing performance of my time at Decibel, an audio/visual set by Oneohtrix Point Never featuring KillingFrenzy. Brooklynite Daniel Lopatin walked into the pitch-black room of the Nordstrom Recital Hall after a set change following Fennesz's beautiful performance. He wore a head lamp that gave him the look of an anglerfish or a spelunker, and immediately got to work on his electronics—creating the floating synth timbres and dense, spacey soundscapes of Oneohtrix records Rifts and the recent Returnal. On screen, visual artist KillingFrenzy matched the sounds with amorphous colors and shapes made of tiny points that were constantly in motion. Sometimes decipherable images would appear, but mostly, the screen held pictures as formless and inspired by sci-fi as Oneohtrix's accompanying music. When Lopatin finished, he stood out from behind his gear and bowed like an orchestra conductor or classical pianist. It was appropriate, as the performance had felt like a futuristic symphony, too.
The remainder of Saturday night was spent watching Untold, Scuba, and Sepalcure at the Hotflush label showcase. Aside from some serious sound issues at the tail end of the night, each set was brilliant. Untold worked the crowd with a mixture of his own obtuse bass tunes and selections from his more easily digestible peers. It was entertaining to see the club-goers who seemed to have no clue who was performing try to get into Untold's left-of-center dance music, but fans of the DJ/producer/label head were there in droves, making up for the others' quizzical looks. Hotflush boss Scuba (a.k.a Paul Rose) followed with my favorite DJ set of the night. The straight-faced Scuba delivered a slick and seamless mix of airy techno soundscapes and pulsing deep grooves that had the whole room moving. I had read on Twitter earlier that day that Rose was feeling severely jetlagged after touching down in Seattle, but his on-point performance didn't seem to suffer the least bit because of it. The final set at the Baltic Room was from Hotflush newbies Sepalcure. The duo of Praveen Sharma and Travis Stewart (a.k.a. Machinedrum) did a live set with two laptop/MIDI interfaces that took a bit of dialing into the soundsystem to get working right. However, after the set-up was complete, the Baltic Room's speakers were unable to handle the sound. All of Sepalcure's performance was done with no subs and a heavy dose of piercing high frequencies. Still, the duo soldiered on, playing live versions of cuts from their Love Pressure EP and beyond, but the sound never recovered. It was a major letdown to not experience one of my favorite new acts with a full range of quality audio.
My last day of Decibel was bittersweet, to say the least. While I certainly had no desire for the festival and its festivities to end, after five days spent in a hotel room and traipsing about the hills of Seattle 'til all hours of the night, I was ready to get back home. The enthusiasm I had earlier in the week waned because of it, but each producer and DJ remained top notch. The illustrious Marry Anne Hobbs was my first set of Sunday, and she certainly lived up to her reputation as an entertaining DJ. Hobbs played a lengthy mix of wobbling dubstep, 2-step, and post-genre dance tunes, which was made more lively by her interactions with the hyperactive crowd. There was a lot of jumping, a lot of shouting on the mic, and a whole lot of rewinds. The audience couldn't get enough, but the bombastic tunes were a bit much for my mid-afternoon. On the way out, I heard the distorted basslines resonate throughout all of Seattle Center, and thought about how this would likely never be heard again for another year.
Mary Anne Hobbs
After a much-needed rest, I headed out for my final night in Seattle, which started with an intimate audio/visual performance from San Francisco's Tycho (a.k.a. Scott Hansen). The hosting venue, Triple Door, was by far the nicest I'd seen at the festival. There was mostly table seating with a small amount of standing room in the back, and a large stage with high-quality sound and lighting. The show wasn't open to anyone with a festival pass—an extra ticket had to be purchased, as it was sort of a final gala for those who made the whole week possible. The Ghostly-signed Tycho performed a selection of his sunny, Balearic-leaning beat compositions both solo and with a couple live musicians. Hansen's visual work was also on display behind him, alternating between floating designs and layered video pieces. The bright colors correlated ideally with the producer's music, and created a serenely vibrant mood in the room—quite the opposite of the final two acts I saw on Sunday night.
The award for the best sound of Decibel goes to Monolake, hands down. Veteran producer Robert Henke utilized the brilliant soundsystem inside of Neumos to create an all-encompassing 360 degrees of audio for his live show. Glitched-out techno beats and moody ambience filled the room to the brim with crisp, hyper-real sonics, and twitchy, geometric images shifted about behind him. Much of the crowd seemed in awe of the experience, standing in place and taking it all in, while the rest couldn't help but dance incessantly to the darkly pristine music. Monolake's set ranks high on my list of Decibel favorites.
Kyle Hall was the last performer I'd get to hear on my trip. I'd known going into the festival that I would make sure to catch his DJ set, but the comments I heard from people who had seen him the night before in San Francisco made my anticipation that much greater. It was a bit disappointing that Hall was scheduled on the last day of the festival, since my energy was considerably lower then, but was nonetheless the perfect cap off. Hall was absolutely busting with energy while he delivered track after bouncing track of Chicago- and Detroit-informed house inside of Sole Repair. It was rare that the DJ/producer would stay in one position for long, but if he was standing over the turntables prepping his next slab of vinyl, his whole body would frantically bob up and down, nearly in double-time to the music. I'd never seen such enthusiasm from a well-regarded, burgeoning artist before, and it showed in his set, too. Deep grooves would shift into jacking beats, which would give way to funky soul rhythms and slick filter house. Like Hall, the room never stopped moving. It pained me to think of the night ending, but his upbeat mix was the perfect send off. I'd finally been to a real electronic music festival, and walking back to spend my last night in the hotel, I wondered what could possibly top the experience.
Kyle Hall overlooking the dancefloor at Sole Repair
top image: Mount Kimbie onstage at Neumos