My intention for Wednesday’s opening night showcases at Decibel Festival 2011 was to bounce among a few venues throughout the evening, as I’d done in the past two years. However, I also knew I wanted to see two of the artists at the Opening Party showcase at Re-bar: 214, whom I’d seen at this year’s Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival, and Atom™, whom I vaguely knew of through one of his other musical projects, Señor Coconut. Ultimately, I wound up spending most of my time there at Re-bar, catching Jon McMillion and Zomby as well.
I started out at Re-bar, where 214 had the unenviable midweek early opening spot. Despite that timing, he had a good-sized crowd, and though not a lot of people were actually dancing, most were definitely grooving to his beats. I’d really enjoyed his set of cool deep house music at Bumbershoot, and was happy to get more of the same.
Next up was Jon McMillion. Being unfamiliar with him, I thought this would be a good time for me to run up Capitol Hill to check in at the other venues, and still get back for Atom™’s set in the following hour. But I lingered just long enough to hear the opening of McMillion’s set, which had a smoother funky groove to it. It sounded good and I didn’t want to leave, but I was determined to try checking out other stuff, so off I went.
I stopped in at the Baltic Room, where Demo was still finishing his set; I loved the drum ‘n’ bass sound, but again felt obliged to check out the other spots. Up the hill to Neumos, where a long line of people waited to get inside. From outside it sounded great, but at this point I realized how foolish I was: in trying to see a little of everything, I wasn’t seeing anything. So I started back, walking past the HG Lodge, which I’d completely forgotten about, and the music coming out of there sounded great, too! So much great music I was missing, because I couldn’t be in four venues at once! Stopping only to grab a slice of pizza at Hot Mama’s, I continued on my way, poking my head in again at the Baltic Room (where KEXP’s own Kid Hops was now spinning) before finally returning to Re-bar and catching the last ten minutes of Jon McMillion‘s set.
And those ten minutes confirmed my first instinct: I should’ve just stayed to enjoy the whole thing, because it was as good as anything else I briefly heard in my futile running around. (It’s worth noting that the whole Jon McMillion set is available as a podcast from Made Like A Tree.)
Fortunately for me, Atom™ turned out to be well worth the decision to return to Re-bar for his set. The very serious-looking musician played a set of songs in a variety of styles—uptempo/downbeat, smooth/glitch, dance/trance/old-school techno—but all rooted in the sounds of mid-1980s computer synthesizers. Unlike most of the sets throughout Decibel Festival, which tend to be nonstop music, Atom™ played distinct songs with clear beginnings and ends, making this much more like a traditional concert performance. Furthermore, for every other song, he would actually load a complete song into the sequencer, start it, and stand back stoically while it played on its own. Throughout his set, one video screen showed his sequencer settings in real time as he added, modified, and removed various tracks. The other screen began with appropriately old-school green-on-black ASCII-character art images, changing for later songs to films including footage of Atom™ apparently lounging at home. I found this performance to be the most inventive, interesting, and enjoyable of the evening, and was very glad I’d decided I should catch it.
Thinking I’d learned my lesson, I stayed put for Zomby, another act I’d heard of recently but wasn’t familiar with. He tossed about a variety of genres—2-step garage, heavy dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass, and more—with abandon, frequently punctuated by that air-horn noise that I associate with ’90s house music but can’t pin down to a more specific subgenre. It wasn’t a bad mix, but it was more on the hard and heavy side than I usually care for. When Zomby started smoking onstage, with the fan blowing the smoke right into the audience, it spoiled my mood and I decided it was time to go catch the bus. In retrospect, I wish I’d cut out sooner and gone back to the Baltic Room to catch the end of the DB Drum & Bass showcase. Still, it’d been a good night overall and a good start to this year’s Decibel Festival.