Ever since I first attended Decibel Festival in 2009, one of my favorite things about the festival has been the opportunity to bounce between different clubs during the evenings, sampling a variety of artists and styles. As Decibel Festival has grown and expanded across Seattle, that’s become increasingly difficult to do. This year, my best opportunity to do some bouncing was on Wednesday night, thanks to showcases happening at both Neumos and its new sibling downstairs club, Barboza. My primary assignment was the Beat Prodigies showcase presented by LFTF at Barboza, but I took some time to run upstairs to the dB in Dub showcase at Neumos.
The evening had a quiet, introspective beginning downstairs in Barboza with Kid Simpl, featuring airy washes of music over deep bass drum lines accentuated with percussion. His backing video featured extensive use of a black-and-white silent film about hypnosis, an apt choice for his moody music. It was pleasant, not grabby, very much in the background as the bar filled in. Still, he didn’t go unappreciated, as shown by the resounding applause when he finished.
Next up in the Beat Prodigies, Keyboard Kid teamed up with DJ Darwin for a midtempo set with more of a hiphop rhythm and feel to it. Their music was more brash than Kid Simpl’s, with rap samples and air raid sirens, but they used similar breezy sweeps of sound behind it. Occasionally they’d build the sound, with the feeling that they were about to pick up the beat, but they never did. That perhaps is why they left me feeling antsy, waiting for something to happen, and eventually I decided it was time to check in on the happenings upstairs.
Upstairs at Neumos, Cyanwave were leading off the dB in Dub showcase with a sparse but upbeat sound that felt open and flowing, well-suited to the larger space. The music felt more organic than what Keyboard Kid was doing, but also appropriate for a Matrix-like science-fiction soundtrack. (I laughed later when I noticed a bit of Morpheus-sounding dialogue in the background, though I couldn’t say for sure that’s what it was.) I was really enjoying their music and felt like dancing, but duty called me back down to Barboza for more Beat Prodigies.
Downstairs, Samo Sound Boy was playing faster, more aggressive beats—perhaps not quite as fast as drum and bass, but that sort of heavily percussive line. But he made some interesting choices to mix in, such as looping the opening spoken-word lines to Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie”, or later subtly mixing in hints of what could have been “Pump up the Volume.” This set felt more mechanical than Cyanwave, but not in a bad way; indeed, I thought it was a good match. After a little more than a half-hour, I took a short break upstairs to check out bvdub, and came back to find Samo Sound Boy had moved into fairly hardcore house. As his set neared its close, he slowly packed up some of his gear while keeping the music going, which I thought was neat.
The drawback to bouncing between showcases, even when they’re merely a floor apart, is that inevitably some sets are shortchanged, some musicians are missed entirely. Between giving Samo Sound Boy a good half-hour or more, and wanting to be sure I was back downstairs for Katie Kate, I ended up only catching about ten minutes of bvdub‘s set. What I heard were dreamy (pre-recorded) vocals and sleepy piano amidst a sonic wash, supported by slow dance beats. I thought of it as music for tall women in long dresses to slowly swirl about, something I’m all in favor of. Just as he picked up the beat, it was time to head back downstairs, and I never made it up again for Monolake‘s set, a disappointment as I’d really enjoyed seeing him in 2010 at Decibel Festival.
Downstairs again in Barboza, Katie Kate perhaps best embodied the showcase title, “Beat Prodigies.” Already growing a name for herself in the Seattle hiphop scene, she explained her presence in the lineup bluntly: “If anyone’s wondering why I’m playing Decibel Festival, it’s because I made all these fucking beats.” That might sound like someone with a chip on her shoulder, but though she conveyed attitude and even anger in some songs, she was also full of energy, enthusiasm, and good humor.
The set opened on a funny note with backing musicians DJ Terry Radjaw and drummer Trent Moorman coming out dressed in stereotypical French outfits to the strains of French accordion music, followed by Katie Kate herself in a kind of French femme fatale outfit. Kate later explained, “If you look at the Decibel Festival poster, it tells you where everyone is from… and apparently I’m French.” That kind of clever wiseass wit was apparent in raps such as “Thickstacks” (about seeking the monetary rewards of fame) and “Totebag” (about the cultural pressure of consumerism as the path to happiness). But Kate is very versatile, with a singing voice as good as her hard rap, and of course the beat-making skills to back up her vocal ones. Whether in the whiplash change in both words and music from wide-eyed hope to raging ambition in “Aspirations,” or in the slinky flute and sultry vocals of “Bad Amazon,” or in the quite sincere and credible cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” Katie Kate demonstrated both the talents and skills to carry her past the prodigy stage into a long career.
Closing out the Beat Prodigies in Barboza, Dabrye opened his set by mixing the music-tone dialogue from Close Encounters of the Third Kind over a thumping beat, morphing it into groovy soulful space sounds. He carried on with a strong ’70s vibe to his musical choices, keeping things fairly laid back overall. However, he occasionally layered some rap into the mix, and I found his choices were a a little too hard-sounding for the mellow mood; when he dropped it in, I felt ready to head out. Still, I stayed through the end and felt it was well worthwhile.