I began Saturday by heading to Seattle Center for dB in the Park. Unfortunately I missed most of Nosaj Thing‘s set; what I heard was pretty killer and I wish I’d caught the whole thing as I’d intended. However, I was immediately intrigued to see Bluetech Presents Satori Social setting up with traditional instruments: sax and trumpet and flute, congas and chimes, even live vocals… granted the keyboard and the violin were electric — and, amusingly, the violinist’s laptop had a sticker declaring “live music is better” — but overall it looked to be very minimal on the electronic side. Still, it made sense there’d be some artists re-integrating the electronic with the acoustic. Satori Social played groovy worldbeat-style music often rooted in dub. I liked their sound and stayed for about a half-hour before running off to see what I could of the Optical 2: Tactile Immersion Showcase.
I arrived at Benaroya Hall in time to catch only the final five minutes of Noveller’s set. Noveller, a solo musician, was exploring the rock side of electronic music, using an electric guitar and loop/effect pedals to create soundscapes. I had the idea that the Optical Showcases were meant to feature the visual side of audio/visual, but I wasn’t sure how connected the two were meant to be; when I came in, the backing visual was a black-and-white video of kids on a carousel, was the looping guitar meant interpretively? The music did end with tinkling notes that seemed appropriate. Whatever the connection, I did like the music and regretted not hearing more.
The following act made the connection between sound and vision more overt. While musician Fennesz created rhythmless music out of sweeping, resounding guitar played over electronic sounds and effects, visual artist Lillevan crafted abstract swirls, liquid splashes, and other visual patterns onscreen. The visuals shifted over time to include other elements such as fire overlaid on video of people, and changed as the guitar dropped out while a didgeridoo sound became stronger, changing the mood. The performance definitely rewarded time and attention, and being hungry and having other places to be, sadly I had neither. However, I did conclude that next year I should make a point to attend at least one full Optical Showcase.
After a break at home for dinner, I was back on Capitol Hill by 10 for the evening’s events. I started off at Sole Repair for the Fwd Thinking Organisms Showcase, where DJs Sappho and The Perfect Cyn were taking turns spinning some great house music. I briefly checked in later during Tim Green’s set, and finished the evening there with Tanner Ross’s set, and each time I felt that I would’ve been happy to spend the night at this showcase. However, I knew I couldn’t miss out on the D25 Showcase at Neumos, and spent most of my time there. (I also did drop by the Baltic Room intending to check out some of the Hotflush Label Showcase, only to discover an estimated hour’s wait time to get in, and promptly wrote it off for the night.)
Over at Neumos, Kevin Saunderson was schooling the crowd with a hot set of straight-up Detroit techno. For a lot of people, still, “electronic dance music” means techno, and “techno” means just this style of computer bleeps and blips over thumping bass, with good reason: Saunderson helped found this genre 25 years ago, and it still sounds great today. I thought it was interesting how the techno sound was defined very much by the instruments it was played on: the analog synthesizers and early drum machines of the time had a limited set of sounds they could produce, like more traditional instruments. Although Mac laptops were prominently in use tonight (as with most of the other musicians this weekend), they were reproducing the sounds of the old machines, because that’s what techno sounds like.
In a weekend when I saw some neat visual productions, I have to say I found the light display by AudioPixel for the D25 Showcase to be the most exciting visual feature. The display featured a two-layer set of metal panels with LEDs creating patterns in a full rainbow of colors, flanked by a video screen on each side. Plus, strands of lights were strung along the ceiling above the main room floor, giving Neumos a real dance-club feeling. It was pretty cool.
Saunderson stayed on well after Carl Craig‘s scheduled start at midnight, with the two of them apparently spinning together for about twenty minutes or so. Saunderson finally brought it all down to bow out, then it was all Craig. Appropriately enough as one of the most prominent second-generation Detroit techno producers, he basically carried on the great dance groove that Saunderson started with.
I left Craig’s set at Neumos early in order to catch the last half-hour of Tanner Ross in Sole Repair, and then headed down to Motor for the second dB Afterhours event, “Late Night Soul Kitchen”. This proved to be the one unsatisfactory event at Decibel Festival. Motor had some kind of organizational difficulty, and even though I arrived 10 minutes before doors were scheduled to open, I ended up getting inside 45 minutes after. Pezzner was already well into his set, and though he ended 15 minutes later than scheduled, he still couldn’t have had the full hour to play that he was scheduled for. The next set by Soul Clap was all right, but the final artist, Theo Parrish, simply lost me: his whole technique seemed to be dropping the sound levels down to nothing and then bringing them back up with overly cranked bass, and the unpredictability of when and how long the beats dropped out made it not so fun for dancing. After about 20 minutes, I decided it was time to call it a night.