Knowing that Ryan would be covering the scene at Neumos on Thursday and Friday (as he did for Wednesday), I chose to skip those showcases entirely in order to spend more time seeing the other artists. On Thursday I bounced between the Room40 Label 10-Year Anniversary Showcase at Pravda Studios, the Simply Shameless Showcase at Chop Suey, and the Made Like A Tree Showcase at Sole Repair.
I started out at Pravda, catching fifteen minutes or so of Lawrence English’s minimalist ambient music. The studio was dark and had chairs set up for the audience, though quite a number of people were lying on the floor zoning out. In a way the low voices of people in the back of the room enhanced the ambient aspect of the music. Although it’s easy to think of Decibel Festival as all about hard-driving dance music, there’s more to electronic music than that and it was good to hear different styles covered here. I felt it was almost too bad they couldn’t have a chillout room like this at each venue, or at least have one venue each night featuring such styles.
Over at Chop Suey, DJ Ctrl_Alt_Dlt was getting the night off to a great start by spinning solid grooves that were excellent for dancing, though I could still hear some connection to the ambient music at Pravda, which was interesting. Ctrl_Alt_Dlt had a way of bringing the heavy bass beats up front without being too loud or harsh, then fading them back to support various audio samples. Yesterday’s first act at Neumos made me regret not having earplugs; today I’d come prepared, but found it nice that I didn’t yet feel they were necessary. I wanted to stay and dance through the full set, but had other acts to hear.
Back at Pravda, the minimalism continued with Grouper, a solo musician sampling her own vocals and very gentle electric guitar playing, looping and layering it. The music was very hushed and pretty. I felt I had to stay at the back of the room to take notes because I felt I was a distraction even just standing quietly on the side at the front of the room. It was so quiet I could hear the faint keyboard clicks my iPhone made as I typed notes. There was no visual element as the schedule suggested there would be, but really the low light was just enough to set the mood.
I stayed put at Pravda for Ben Frost, whose set had been recommended to me. Also playing electric guitar, he added some electronics and laptops to his setup. He started out with a stronger sound than Grouper, ambient in what I thought of as a Fripp-and-Eno style. I thought it was funny that we still call this kind of music “experimental” as though people were still trying it out to see if it works, when people have been doing it for 35+ years. Frost gradually built up to heavy slow epic guitar noise over a shimmering jangle, making me imagine the typical backing video filmed while flying over vast landscapes, notably absent here. Suddenly! All the sound cut out, replaced by fierce animalistic breathing noises, whether sampled or crafted by guitar or electronics was unclear. That was the point when I realized I couldn’t leave early to check out the scene at Sole Repair, because whatever they were doing, it wouldn’t be this compelling and original. The host for this showcase had asked the audience to stand for Frost’s set and that now seemed exactly right, this was an event to witness. Ironically, about halfway through I just had to sit down, close my eyes, and absorb the sounds, because of the intensity. Frost ended his set with a series of massive bass strikes as the music died away into stillness, and the release of tension in the room as it fell quiet was palpable. And then it was time to get up and move, so off I went.
At Chop Suey, Deepchild’s DJ skills were obviously appreciated: there was room at the bar and lounge area because everyone was on the dance floor. I thought I was ready for dancing too and liked the deep house sounds, but quickly realized I really needed some food and stepped out to get some. After fueling up on a great pizza slice at Big Mario’s, I went over to Sole Repair for a while to chill out to the sweet disco of Disco Nihilist, and then went back to Chop Suey.
By this time Chop Suey was completely packed with hot and sweaty dancers. I entered to hear the question “Can you dance to my beat?”, and for several minutes my answer was no, I was struck blind: my glasses fogged immediately and it was way too dark and blurry to see without them, so I couldn’t even move. Once my glasses cleared, though, I was more than ready for the heavy drum ‘n bass Dan Bell offered. When the night officially ended, local DJ crew Sweatbox — which includes the night’s opener Ctrl_Alt_Dlt — kept me dancing to their beat in a semi-secret afterhours party that made me feel Decibel Festival was now truly on.