Over the past five days the 11th annual Decibel Festival drew thousands of people for programming ranging from educational panels, to experimental musical showcases, to afternoon boat cruises on Lake Union.
Though electronic music festivals have never been more popular or ubiquitous, everything from the production to the crowd it draws makes Decibel truly unique. The festivities kicked off with dB Conference, a series of educational workshops and panels that comprise one of the tenets of Decibel — technology-based education.
“One of the things that sets Decibel apart from other festivals out there is the fact that there is such an emphasis on education,” Decibel founder Sean Horton told GeekWire in an interview. “The thing that’s been great is we’ve seen a lot of the people that have learned how to produce and experiment with music and visual art through Decibel go on to become their own composers and producers that play at Decibel. We really are attempting to build the next generation of DJs and visual artists and producers through the education that we offer.”
Despite big attendance numbers, the fact that Decibel was spread out over several venues throughout the city created an atmosphere of intimacy at most events. DB Conference and several of the musical acts took place at EMP’s venues and the rest of the showcases were held at locations across Seattle, including Q Nightclub, Re-Bar, The Crocodile, and Benaroya Hall.
The Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya hosted some of the most visually compelling acts, including Huminary, an optical showcase. Visual artists Benjamin Van Citters and The Pendleton House partnered with musician Max Cooper to produce a truly one of a kind act. The showcase paired Cooper’s electronica and techno with live modern dancers in front of a backdrop of LED visuals.
“I personally find the optical events to be the most inspiring and generally the most well-received, largely because the visual art and the music are synchronized to such a degree that the visual art is almost as important as the music itself,” said Horton.
Decibel’s hometown also sets it aside from other festivals. Being positioned in Seattle creates a unique blend of electronic music appreciators, combining what Horton calls “post-rave” 90s fans and Seattleites whose music tastes have been largely informed by the technology industry.
“If you’re a programmer, or a coder, or a designer you’re probably technically-minded and in many ways more apt to appreciate electronic music,” he said. “I’d say that Seattle has a pretty interesting balance between a very earthy, almost bordering on luddite type of tribal community and then you have this whole other aspect that’s very technically driven and it makes for a really interesting combination. One thing about Decibel is we try to embrace all of that with what we do in terms of the programming.”
EMP served as a home base for the festival, hosting both educational and musical programming. The Sky Church’s enormous screen, paired with the debut of Microsoft’s “Cube” created impressive visuals and showed the versatility of the venue. Upstairs at EMP’s Level 3, Patrick Topping, Shadow Child, and Lee Foss feat. Anabel Englund, delivered the memorable Hot Creations showcase blending house, techno, and melodic vocals.
Following Hot Creations and techno legend Richie Hawtin’s showcase, also at EMP, many pass holders headed over to Q Nightclub for KiNK’s after-hours event. KiNK’s performance was one of the most impressive of the entire festival. A far cry from the usual guy behind a laptop image, KiNK used a small set up of equipment to produce live, real-time music often with audience participation. The speed and quality of his live productions created a palpably enthusiastic energy throughout the venue.
“There’s a great amount of scrutiny and integrity that goes into the program every year,” Horton said. “Everything we do is curated by myself and really developed and designed to be an optimized experience for the attendees. Everything from who’s playing what order, to the artists that are playing that bill, to the time of day they’re playing” — and that attention to detail made Decibel an electronic festival unlike any other.