Autumn, how wonderful you are. Leaves are falling; fog is forming. It’s a wonderful time for reflection, don’t you think? In the spirit of fall, I present to you this recap of Decibel Festival 2015. But rather that splurge on all of the awesome things that have already been reported on, I thought I’d share a few thoughts with y’all about some of the NW artists that played, who are some of the most fantastic and underappreciated performers and producers around. From there, the recap will compare up-and-coming international artists with the established behemoths of the techno world, complete with complaints about trite DJ tricks!

Natasha Kmeto

Firstly, the locals destroyed most of the national acts this year. Others might disagree as this is a matter of taste, But Thursday’s DISCWOMAN showcase was Natasha Kmeto’s party. While I certainly dug aspects of the previous performers Bardo:Basho (who was actually pretty great) and Experimental Housewife (whose musics seemed better suited to headphones than the shit sound at Rebar), Kmeto brought a sense of professionalism to the stage that was instantly recognizable. This is a producer who is reaching the top of her game in the best way, as evidenced by the fact that I had seen her play in Portland just a week prior and the two sets were completely different. There were two new unreleased tracks which were awesome, and she remixed a large portion of the jams from her newly released album, Inevitable, into a seamless flow that moved from ballads to bangers at all the right moments. And then there was the voice which was particularly amazing that evening. Definitely one of the most moving and generally rad sets of the entire festival.

 

P L L

Most people I’ve talked to about the Motor Showcase were quite clear about the fact that Seattle’s Chris Davis aka P L L owned the early portion of that evening and Portland’s Sean Pierce wasn’t far behind. “Hardware” and “modular” techno are terms that are beginning to sound as stale as any other genre title in 2015, in part because so much of the actual music those phrases describe feels like fetishized greyscale blips on a grid. But as with anything, when done right, the results can be revelatory. Admittedly, I missed most of Pierce’s set — but the bit I did catch was awesome. Peak-time industrial techno with subtle but apparent movement. I had clearly walked in on the high point of the journey, and it was as smooth as any DJ set I would see that weekend, but brutal and present as only a live rig of real-time oscillations can deliver. Though it was quite similar in terms of stylistic parameters, P L L’s set was something else altogether. Yes, there was a pulsing kick on the one and a fluttery hat every 16th note, but the focus of the dude’s set was a non-linear four-dimensional drone that was more Éliane Radigue than Robert Hood. Changes were sparse, and the vibe expansive. A few people danced, but most of us just stood and stared, locked in a trance. Before hopping onstage, Davis had expressed that he was pretty nervous about his set because he didn’t have anything specific planned, the place was packed, the other artists were awesome, etc. All those years of improvised jamming with his even more criminally underrated kosmiche band Brain Fruit had prepared him to crush this evening though, and crush he did.

 

Autechre

And now on to the non-local stuff that was wonderful and a few things that were not (so as to highlight the things that were). After Motor was Autechre and I don’t think I really need to add to the noise about this — and besides, Dave Segal already captured my thoughts on the matter in his write-up about the festival for the Stranger. Suffice it to say that their “set” was incredible.

 

Function

Once I picked my brains and guts up off the floor of the Showbox, I headed over to the XLR8R after party at Q Nightclub to catch Function for the second time that day (he had played a short set at the Crocodile earlier), Marcel Dettman and Vril. After an epic wait in line — wherein I successfully fought the urge to consume a Seattle dog — we entered the club, its white walls and cement floor awash with pulsating kicks and throbbing bodies. Function was behind the decks, and I’ll be honest; it was pretty boring. As with his first set earlier in the day, the track selection was incredible, but this time around, he was way too fidgety with the effects and kept using the same white noise and high pass filter on the kick move every thirty two or so bars for transitions, dramatic effect, etc., which was just distracting. For me, the appeal of techno is the trance states and subtle textures, not the exaggerated bass drops and other DJ gimmicks. The guy clearly knows what he’s doing; he just should have let things ride a bit more, especially given that he was playing a two-to-three-hour long set.

 

Marcel Dettman

Eventually, Function handed the reigns over to Dettman, and if the former had gone way too big, the latter went too far in the opposite direction. He basically played a DJ tool for three fucking hours with nary a change in kick tone or hat tempo or anything recognizable as movement. At this point, I started to think that some of the old guard in the techno scene were beginning to ossify a bit. A few years ago, this music had been so exciting to me, and here now I was watching it merge with EDM trickery on the one hand and cartoonish minimalism on the other. Dettman’s approach might have been acceptable in headphones but not in the club setting. Where was the guy spinning in that amazing Boiler Room video?

 

Vril

I was ready to leave at around 4:30am, but friends convinced me to stay. Just wait for Vril, they all said; this is what you came to see. And thus, I relented. And then Vril came on, and it was fucking amazing. For one thing, he largely played his own material, and anything that wasn’t his was twisted until it might as well have been. Secondly, there wasn’t one drop that I heard, and certainly no white noise sweeps. And finally, it was really strange. The prior acts had given us plenty of muscular, straight-forward techno, so it was a huge relief to hear some non-linear jams that were moving but spacious and always engaging. As I said in my Decibel Fest preview, Vril’s approach to dub techno synthesis is one-of-a-kind and instantly recognizable. It is at once airy and aggressive with echoes of harsh noise fraying the edges of beautiful sequences and arpeggiations that are bent into clouds of paradoxical rhythms and harmonic counterpoints until they disintegrate into a hazy deconstructed vestige of their prior articulation. And he’s no slouch with the rhythms, either. By my approximation, the few of us left by the time he went on at 5:30am danced harder than at any prior point in the party. So yes, it was totally worth staying for. Vril was by far one of the best things I saw at dB this year. A huge thanks to everyone who made that happen.

 

Tim Hecker, Dasha Rush

After that kind of Friday, Saturday was mostly a blur. There was breakfast and afternoon drinks, and then there was Tim Hecker, who was predictably incredible. A high point of the show was the moment he finished and stepped aside from his shrouded table to reveal his neon green socks and shoes. It was a wonderfully silly exclamation point to his deeply serious and moving set. Always nice to know that somebody capable of generating so much profound beauty also has a sense of humor. But I feel like I’d be doing this night at the Triple Door a disservice if I didn’t mention Dasha Rush, an artist that I was vaguely familiar with before hand but who almost stole the whole show. Her music revolves around a slightly more downtempo and ambient take on the Basic Channel vibe, with occasional touches of Eno-ish sound design and John Hassel-ish rhythmic dreamery and short moments of deeply effected spoken word passages. I imagine she played for about an hour, but I was so completely wrapped up in her aural void that it might as well have been ten minutes or ten days. Point is, all of you go check this lady out right now. She has a new album out called Sleepstep, and it is an awesome thing.

 

And thus concluded my Decibel experience and therefore this recap. A huge thank you to everyone who had anything to do with this. Decibel Festival is a huge source of inspiration to me every year, this one more than any other given the incredible performances by my friends and acquaintances. I’ve heard rumblings of this being the last year and while I imagine that organizing this thing is an absolutely mind-bending and bank-breaking feat, I hope that Sean Horton and co. continue on in some capacity or other as theirs is one of the finest festivals in the states these days. With all of the artists and music and shows and everything out there, it’s impossible to express how appreciative I am that there is such a reliably well-curated event that promotes real talent, regardless of the number of heads they bring out or the guarantees they demand.

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