review by Noah Sanders
photos by Nathan Howard
Before I start, a brief disclaimer: I’ve never been a huge fan of strictly electronic music. Yes, I’ve grown used to the more hipster-oriented, ear-friendly brand of electronica that has become prevalent in the ten years, but when it comes down to the real hardcore, 180 beats-per-minute club-shakers, I could honestly care less. The last time I ventured out in the world of live-electronica was an ecstasy-fueled rave in Boise warehouse that left me shell-shocked, ears-ringing, half passed out in a Denny’s, head reeling with aftershocks of pulsing bass and strobe lights. If anything I can’t say I’ve ever really felt myself drawn towards the music.
When I was asked then whether I felt covering the finale of last week’s “internationally renowned” Seattle electronic bonanza, Decibel Festival, my interest was sort of morbidly peaked. The long standing stereotypes I’d held of electronic music dated back to high school, and I thought challenging those as a pseudo-adult might make for an entertaining read. Two of my more electronica-happy friends agreed to help me take a second swing at the live electronic incarnation, and I was, tepidly, on my way.
I guess the idea of attending a festival’s “finale” always raises my expectations, but I was thinking the end-of-the-world rave from the second Matrix film. Sweaty bodies slammed together, futuristic clothing, and maybe, if I was lucky, a block-rocking light show punctuated by massive strobes (there was strobes but they would come later). Instead the main room of Neumo’s seemed like a throwaway scene from a bad Hype William’s video — a weak layer of dirty looking smoke hanging off the clothing of a handful of very normal seeming concert goers, all illuminated by oddly oblong light tubes.
Due to a whirlwind tutorial on the various, seemingly minute differences of the electronica sub-genres in the car outside, by the time we’d stepped in, Flying Lotus was already well in to his set. I’ll say this: if any of the other acts had taken the stage first, it probably would’ve been a pretty early evening for me, but Lotus was impressively engaging. He ran, shook, and hollered his way through a blistering forty-five minute set that ran the gamut from typical beat mashing, to the more chopped up hip-hop samples I’d expected from him. The fact that the crowd and scene were on the far edges of “popping” didn’t seem to bother Lotus, as every moment on stage seemed to be the greatest of his life. I’ll admit that I grew bored during the more electronic moments in his set, but the combination of his fervent energy, the abundance of hip hop beats, and the pulsating visuals emanating from the massive screen above his head kept me riveted. One down, and, shockingly, I was sort of enjoying myself.
This sense of good will towards the music and the scene continued even as the crowd noticeably swelled for up-and-coming, recent KEXP Song of the Day podcast artist The Bug. I’d heard the word “dub-step” bandied about in terms of The Bug’s description, so when the tinny strains of a muted reggae sample starting bleeding through the speakers, I wasn’t surprised… until the bass hit and I literally felt my hair lift off my head. For the first twenty minutes of this intense set, I was completely entranced by the huge, at times ear-splitting bass and the absolute barrage of strobe light. It was a total sensory assault, and I couldn’t get enough. The only problem I could find was The Bug’s tendency to build the music to the point of climax and then painfully slap the programmed rewind button on his turntable, as if he was trying to force his preferred genre in to the more song-based structure of generic pop music.
The Bug grew tiresome after a good half an hour, and I completely lost interest when his special guest Warrior Queen took the stage. WQ’s the kind of emcee who isn’t there to move with the music; she just wants to spit and spit and spit and spit, regardless of beat or volume or how much the crowd’s feeling it. After two or three songs of her machine gun flow, I couldn’t handle it and stepped outside to the refreshing night air. I was ready to call it a night. However, I did stick my head in to see Supermayer but just didn’t get where all the hype was coming from. All I could make out were two effeminate DJs blandly twiddling knobs to create a sort of low key, pretty electronic sound. It wasn’t exciting; it certainly didn’t make me want to dance; it just sort of existed.
And this is I think was my problem with the whole night: the music, for all three artists never sounded terrible (aside from the final Warrior Queen-plagued tracks from The Bug), but it just didn’t sound very interesting either. I couldn’t grasp why people would want to listen to such a repetitive music when what was being repeated wasn’t all that exciting. As each DJ stepped on stage, I felt the rush of experiencing a new artist, but after a few songs I faded out.
Blame it on my lack of exposure, or an inexperienced ear, but you know what? I just don’t care. I can’t commit to electronica — it just doesn’t do enough for me. Give me five, ten years though and another electronica festival, and maybe I’ll give it another chance.