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Earlier | Later

This review was meant for the KEXP Blog. Disappointingly, the KEXP volunteer photographer found the Crocodile to be too dark to shoot; he got a few admittedly poor quality shots of Dauwd, and then apparently just gave up trying. Whether or not he could've been able to get something worthwhile, the first half of the show was certainly much too dark for my iPhone to get any photos that would've been worth using (though I tried). And then, because I'd moved further back in the club during Lusine's set and because the lighting was still pretty sparse, I didn't bother taking any photos of Lusine at all (which I regret). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get photos from anyone else within the first couple weeks after Decibel Festival, and by that point it was old news and no longer wanted for the KEXP Blog. However, I happen to be rather pleased with my writing on this review, and as Ghostly has been such an important part of Decibel over the past decade, I would hate to let that showcase go unacknowledged. So I'm now posting it here in full, with regrets for the lack of photos and failure to have it up on the KEXP Blog.

If any one label might represent the heart of Decibel Festival, it could be Ghostly International, which has had a showcase featured at all ten festivals to date. So it was an honor to be attending the Ghostly International showcase on Friday September 27th at the Crocodile. Seattle's own Lusine—whom I first saw at the opening gala for the 2009 festival, and who like Ghostly has participated all ten years—was at the heart of the lineup, with Dauwd and Beacon opening and Shigeto closing out the evening.

Dauwd's set had a bit of a troubled start as he was rudely interrupted by a fire alarm, apparently caused by too much smoke pouring out of the smoke machines. The screeching alarm might fit in with some kinds of electronic music, but not this. Fortunately it was just a couple-minute break, and then he was able to resume his dreamy trancey dance music. He started out sounding something like label mate Tycho's breezy summery music, but worked in more of a backbeat, more like night urban highway driving. The trippy lightness never dropped out entirely, but he definitely developed a harder/solid base—neon lights reflected on asphalt. Indeed, by the second half of his set, which was a touch heavier and darker still, the background video finally changed to images of city streets at night. Despite that early alarm trouble, it was a good solid hour that set the tone for the evening.

Beacon played shorter, distinct songs, as opposed to the mostly continuous mix of Dauwd. The duo each had their own bank of synth gear, with one singing live and the other occasionally drumming on an electronic pad. Their music had touches of chill R&B, with feminine-sounding breathy vocals (was he singing in falsetto or using a filter? it was unclear): music for low-light romance. Things changed up a bit with their penultimate song, which surprisingly went into oscillating unstructured noise before segueing into a bit stronger slinky/sexy finish. Let's just say in this imaginary evening of romance, that's where things got down to business. And then they made a slow slide into a strong dance beat on the last one, as though the evening—or movie, if this were a soundtrack—ended at a dance club instead of starting there. It was totally a closing credits song; they even brought it back in for a reprise after saying good night, while their gear was broken down to set up the next act.

I thought of Lusine as sort of the "math rock" musician in this lineup: his style is viscerally cerebral*, meaning there's a lot of interesting detail to capture your mind, but it still moves your body. It's warm and living, not cold and artificial. Or maybe it's like seeing the windmills along I-90, with hawks soaring nearby—machineries of life, artificial or natural. (As I belabor the imagery here, I want to mention that I liked the variety of background videos I'd been seeing at the showcases. Last year I felt like I kept seeing the same one or two sets and they weren't that engaging; this year, the visuals seemed different for each artist, not just each showcase, and were always interesting.) I haven't yet heard much of his latest album, The Waiting Room, so I had no idea how much of his set is from that. Past experience suggested to me that Lusine doesn't play his songs straight up in concert; more like the albums capture themes he then uses for variations. That said, a friend with me did say he recognized several of the songs from the new album, and I picked out at least one myself, the single "Another Tomorrow". If the early tracks in the set suggested the open wilderness, in the end Lusine brought it around to the urban beat of humanity (again with appropriate video footage of people bustling about the big city).

*I feel compelled to mention that I wrote that phrase in my notes at the show; now that I've been looking at the Ghostly website, I see the same words were used to describe his new album. So, we're all on the same wavelength, here.

Shigeto's closing set was the least like "the Ghostly sound" as expressed by the earlier artists, yet totally in keeping with them. He played a sort of jazz fusion drum and bass, beginning just on electronic gear, but he had a full acoustic drum kit too. So he would set up the electronics to play on their own and then switch to lengthy sessions on the drums. Whereas in rock, the drum parts are usually the bed supporting the rest of the music, here it was rather the reverse. For all the electronic noodling that goes on, the beat is the fundament of dance music, making the drum the fundamental instrument, which this set highlighted. Starting from a fairly laid-back tempo, Shigeto soon picked up the pace with complex rhythms, building to a furious climax showing off his formidable drumming skills. I never came up with an overarching imagery to describe the set, but I never really needed to: this was the most present, it was music for the here and now, for the people in the club dancing and having a great time.

And indeed, the audience had a great time throughout the evening with all four acts, as did I. Ghostly International amply demonstrated why they've been invited throughout the past decade of Decibel Festival, and left us all looking forward to the next decade.

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