Archive: Decibel Festival 2012 coverage for KEXP

Back when I was still blogging at least somewhat regularly, for whatever reason, I never posted about the 2012 Decibel Festival showcases that I reviewed for KEXP, so I just want to get them linked here for posterity:

Decibel Festival 2012: Beat Prodigies showcase @ Barboza & dB in Dub showcase @ Neumos includes bvdub, Cyanwave, Dabrye, Katie Kate, Keyboard Kid, Kid Simpl, and Samo Sound Boy. Photos by Victoria Holt. This is still one of my favorite Katie Kate performances too, because of her cleverness in running with a mistake in the dBFest promo materials that listed her as coming from France.

Decibel Festival 2012: Shpongle Presents: The Masquerade @ Neptune Theatre includes Phutureprimitive and Shprongle. Photos by Morgen Schuler. This set sadly did not live up to my hopes of matching the amazing Amon Tobin ISAM show of the previous year, but was still pretty good.

Although I did attend several other showcases through the festival, those were the only write-ups I managed to complete for KEXP. However, here are my notes for  the others.

More Thursday night, "Pop Fusion" showcase at the Crocodile: Port-Royal, Houses

(Following the Shrpongle showcase at the Neptune, I headed downtown to the Crocodile for the Pop Fusion showcase, and then to Melrose Market for even more music.)

Port-royal—Dark, moody, and dreamy when I walked in. That finished shortly after, next was upbeat and dancey still with a dreampop swirlyness. Kind of nice to see straight film footage after the video mixing at Barboza and Neptune. Sort of Eno-esque wordless-choral music with driving beats brought in and out. Film includes interstitial narrative; see, the 3D thing could totally support an actual film with plot, someone do that. Interstitial text being typed live? They put up text "our last song / night in Kiev" before starting it. Definitely hear appeal to goth/shoegaze crowd, which happens to include me. "daram sala India, a vision that could be little less hippie"—text introducing b&w footage of people making mud bricks. Two guys onstage both appear to be working the music, so the live-seeming text may be recorded. No, one of them must've been typing on laptop. I think the DB sched suggested Beat Connection, that and CFCF, maybe darker Tycho. Good set, could've cut out on Shpongle earlier for more of this.

Houses—Male-female duo doing live vocals as well as the music. Dreamy, trippy, breezy like Tycho but feels more wistful. Shorter songs, definitely getting the "pop fusion" vibe. Hey, it's those guys!—song lyric "So soak it up." Wasn't expecting to recognize anything, but this definitely got KEXP airplay. Like the way he's visibly playing percussion by tapping fingers on some kind of pad. Physical movement like that helps make a connection to the performers. On the other hand, I could see the girl singing but could never pick her vocals out of the mix, only a vague idea she must've been doing wordless backing vocals. Short set! Only half an hour, could've heard more.

STILL Thursday night, at Melrose Market Studio: Demdike Stare, Andy Stott

Demdike Stare—Hard to imagine a more literal contrast to the Masquerade. A crowd of people standing all but motionless in front of someone sitting at a table, hidden by the crowd, playing dark ambient minimal electronic, in a small space practically lit only by the video projection behind him (looking to be nudity-and-horror type film clips) and a lengthy wall projection of stark white vector geometric shapes and patterns. Found it highly amusing somehow, seems very cliche perhaps even though no more so than earlier show. Surprisingly loud buzz of conversation. For all that, did like the music, but very much on the listening side not dancing side, even though dance beats drifted in and out. Stylistically like Monolake. DB guide describes them as "occult themed collaboration between Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker", "Demdike Stare create ethereal music that emanates from the unconscious". A little more dark and stormy night than ethereal, but fairly apt. Sixties/Seventies b-movie horror films, didn't notice any really gory bits which is nice, lot more nude female Satanist type images (British/Euro witchcraft/vampires rather than American psycho slashers), but still feel like this is so overdone.

Andy Stott—Started late, at 1:50. Sounded like more of the same, decided not to stay.

Friday at the Paramount: The Starship Connection, The Cannabinoids featuring Erykah Badu

Starship Connection—Missed most of set! :-( Live band of three synth players plus bass guitar. Song I heard sounded good, regret missing them.

Cannabinoids / Erykah Badu—Audience looking surprisingly dressy, is it cause of the artist, the venue, or just getting fancy for Friday night? There is a large brain onstage that I suspect may be a theremin. As I feared, pot stench as soon as band took stage; definitely not staying on floor any longer than to get a few photos. Big band, eight people—and weird long preprogrammed introduction of everyone; really could've taken the stage earlier to do this. Funk/soul. Laptops visible all over the stage, as well as keys/synths, but the electronic element is definitely subordinate to the live band. There is no doubt the audience is here to see Erykah Badu, regardless of the band. And there's no doubt she's a great singer/musician. But still, this feels like it has less to do with Decibel/electronic music than most shows I've seen them do. Electronics are pervasive in modern music, so it's still worth casting a wider net; but this may get a bigger general audience to the one show for dBFest, it won't really bring a bigger audience to electronic music. Badu mostly sang but also saw her working some kind of drumpad. For the show itself: groovy, sometimes slinky/sultry, often just about feeling relaxed and good (groovy); nothing really interesting me though. Didn't stay to find out whether the brain was an instrument.

Friday at Neumos: Jerry Abstract, Octave One, Carl Craig / Friday at Q: Ripperton, Dixon

(With Neumos and Q back to back on the same block, I attempted to do my typical dBFest move of bouncing back and forth between two venues to catch all the artists. It sort of worked.)

Jerry Abstract—Sound at Neumos is so well-balanced/managed, with customized setup/additional speakers, that the room is full of pulsing bass but earplugs don't feel necessary, feels like outdoor space (perhaps dangerous). Early-90s techno perhaps, smoother like house but still on the (muted) bleepy techno side. Very minimal: thumping bass beat with occasional treble perc accents, and just one or two melody lines above that, sometime swirly/drifty, sometimes more staccato with the beats. Dark sounds for a dark club, but quick-moving for dancing, unlike last night at Melrose. 

Ripperton—House. Q is niiiice, very fancy/modern feel. How much does the club ambiance itself color impressions of the music? Neumos was barely lit and the techno seemed dark to match, Q has lots of flashing/whirling lights and the music seems accordingly brighter/lighter, even though it still has similar thumping bass beats. But the tenor of the other elements feel lighter, like piano riffs, high-pitched swirly keys, diva vocals. DB bio mentions passion for soul music, not really hearing that here except perhaps for diva sample, maybe syncopated piano. Solid dance music.

Octave One—Dropping funkier bass lines, more toward house than techno. Not as minimal, more elements/busier elements, like a conga line, and vocals. Actually Katie Kate's "Copenhagen" would fit in here. Varies more, more often than earlier techno.

Carl Craig—Back to the darker ominous techno, though not old-school bleepy. The difference between just outside the speaker box and within is noticeable. Bass beats are now physical assault when they kick in, even in middle of room—not My Bloody Valentine level, but definitely a couple steps above the norm. Really more inclined to say this is deep/hard house rather than techno, which addresses earlier wondering about whether/how much these old-school guys develop/evolve sound/style over time; would Craig still be one of the greats today if he were still just playing the same old stuff? That said, this isn't innovative but it doesn't need to be, it works and it's good, as testified by packed club. Even within this first half hour, style gradually lightened and got more expansive while keeping the crazy bass beat, and now he's looping disco-funk strings & bass over it. 

Dixon—Q was cleared due to a fire alarm when I went back, didn't wait for it to reopen.

Friday at Melrose Market Studios: Kangding Raye, Byetone

Stopped by the Baltic Room to check out Nosaj Thing—Just enough room to squeeze in or out, but floor utterly packed, didn't stay.

Kangding Raye—Venue same as last night: dark with abstract shape videos, this time on both screens. Music harder, more driving, equally dark but more dancey. Brought it back to finish with synth swirls, dropping the hard beats while keeping it moving, and a distinctive fluttering line that I can't place but reminds me of that "Kissherface" remix [by The Curtain Society] even though that's not it at all.

Byetone—Throbbing white lights (projected), for throbbing bass beats. Gradual buildup of ominous synth music. Suddenly cutting to techno rhythm and sounds. This sounds more old-school techno than Craig did. Ominous gave way to warmer and inviting. Wish this had started earlier, only getting about 15 min before I have to leave for bus.

Saturday at (Seattle Community College) Broadway Hall: CFCF

CFCF—Live-looped acoustic guitar, playing keys live plus laptop/samples. Epic snowy mountainscapes. Short songs, not continuous music. One thing unclear to me, how close is the collaboration? Imagery chosen to fit the music? Music to fit the imagery? Besides this starting way later than it was supposed to, something down front is playing music through tinny scratchy speaker (sounds like it's picking up a radio broadcast), which clearly shouldn't be happening during the performance, not clear where it's coming from or what's causing it; fortunately it's mostly drowned out during performance but still a nuisance in quiet parts. Close-ups of flowers, close-ups of buildings morphing form one to next. He sings too. Nice music, seemed different than the album I have. Too bad it all started so late, description of Chauteau is interesting but can't stay for it.

Saturday at Showbox SoDo: EPROM, Bonobo, DJ Shadow

EPROM—Anime clips/images—same person who was at Barboza Weds, changed to that webcam girl briefly; somewhat different set, using the anime a lot more, but still seems rather repetitive after a short time; hopefully someone else will do Bonobo & Shadow. Dance music for giant cartoon robots. Heavy, slow beats, very gloppy synths. Actually mixing it up a fair amount, already moved on to more bloopy spaced-out sounds. Also, up close can see he's bouncing around a lot and gesturing toward the crowd, very lively performance. He's not bad at all, but not finding myself much interested.

Bonobo—Yes, does have his own visuals. Got a big cheer as he dropped in a track, is this one of his own? Sounded vaguely familiar. Visuals were just abstract shapes in a pattern but still somehow preferable to the other stuff; however, went away after about first 15 min, did they break? Full floor, not really room for dancing though looked like people were bopping and grooving. Upbeat, fairly smooth mix, nothing like super-heavy pounding bass or blaring treble lines. Occasional stand-out bits, like some Latin horn, or Bjork-like vocals. Fairly varied in style. Dancing and danceability have a huge effect on my experience; I thought this was fairly okay but didn't really get into it until I started dancing; and part of my apathy to EPROM was that he played in that slow range I call lurch music—too fast for graceful slow dancing, too slow to move. 

DJ Shadow—Explained to the audience that he was just going to play what he felt like, what he's currently grooving on, not necessarily what's popular or hits, like he used to do. "By the way, you'll notice—no laptop." Started out slow and heavy, and promised lots of bass. "Who recognizes this track right here?" (cheers; not me) "This is my shit for those who don't know it." As with EPROM, not really finding this danceable, not getting into it. But is the crowd pleased? The crowd is pleased. That's what matters. Video shows he's playing samples tied in to a drum pad, which is a neat way to get the staccato effect with dropping samples. But to me it makes the "no laptop" disingenuous; you're still using samples, and it's not like anyone with his level of skill that uses a laptop is just pressing play. Okay, the slow remix of the Simpsons theme is cool and amusing. "Okay Seattle, as we continue to move up in tempo… this music is meant to be moved to"—just typical DJ banter, or is the crowd up front not really dancing? Question whether the pad's tied in to samples as such or to actual turntables; how many is he spinning at once? In any case certainly do not mean to downplay his hands-on skill. Dropped one of his own from Endtroducing, that got people excited; that basically ended the main set, though he didn't actually leave the stage before an encore. However, that's when I had to leave for the bus.

Sunday at the Triple Door: (Optical 5 Showcase) Loscil, Christina Vantzou & Arial Lakes Ensemble, Windy & Carl

Loscil—Acoustic grand piano plus electronics. Sparse, elegiac, and dark. Couldn't see the visuals well from my seat, but appeared to be equally ambient: fast-swirling clouds, abstract light patterns, as spacious and atmospheric as the music. The sort of music to accompany planetary probes. 

Christina Vantzou & Arial Lakes Ensemble—Interesting setup: clarinet, violin, viola, two cellos, plus Vantzou on laptop/electronics. Group only met this weekend, first time playing together. Led the audience in recording a sung A, before starting. The electro-choral samples give it a strong Eno feel. Missing out on visual aspect from my seat—I can see there are occasional chapter headings but not what they are; shots of a forest wilderness, '60s-era footage of jets in flight; how much is a story being told versus suggested? Occasionally Vantzou directs the quintet directly, occasionally she holds up some kind of sign/poster to cue them, and then drops it. Wonder how much of this was directly composed/written out versus general directions given for them to improvise on; the musicians do have stands with some kind of sheet music/instructions. There are separate pieces, but I'm not sure people should be applauding in between; feel more like classical movements. The electronic aspect is often subtle; she's working on the laptop but not obvious what she's adding. Music is mostly slow, moody, restless, sometimes ominous. This is perhaps the least "electronic music" set I've ever seen at Decibel. Last movement, no visuals.

Windy & Carl—Dual electric guitars, vocal. Very ethereal to start, with matching video of the sun above cloud cover, airplane-style. Alternating waves crashing on beach with the flowing clouds, often deliberately blurred to transition/merge two. No particular distortions/effects on guitars aside from echo. Sunlight reflecting on watery pool. All very peaceful/soothing after the troubled waters of the prior acts. Second song more uneasy though, with sung lyrics, sounding kind of like Sonic Youth. Announced that they're no longer going to play live. Beautiful gentle guitar work, spacious. Notes like shadowy objects and tiny lights appearing through fog. Haunting finale of ghostly vocals over strong slow chords.

Sunday at the Crocodile: The Great Mundane, Yppah, Emancipator

The Great Mundane—Missed Anomie Belle, walked in near the end of Great Mundane (caught last 4 songs). Smooth sort of triphop house, sampled laid-back rap for a bit. Cool visuals of geometric abstract lines/shapes like computer graphics/interface, digital numbers, Mac screensaver swirl, overlaid on live video of performer, some of the better visuals I've seen this year. Also groovy/soul-influenced. Ended with a remix of an Emancipator song—kind of a DJ Shadow feel to it, or maybe RJD2 (guy who does "Time the Horror"). Really good stuff, think I would've enjoyed the full set.

Yppah—Playing with Anomie Belle, who collaborated on latest album. Anomie doing vocals, guitar (acoustic and electric), keys/synth, violin. Plus Yppah on guitars/laptop, and a live drummer. Same guy on visuals, also doing spacescapes, cloudscapes, overlaid flowing shapes of large colored dots; smooth overlays/transitions, just feels/looks really good. Some songs the vocals are strong and clear, some are more crooning and kind of getting lost in the mix, at least stage-side. Generally anthemic songs in rock vein, like M83 or Explosions in the Sky. Not shoegaze but some of this fits in well with that style and near-style, like Film School and Longwave (and as I'm typing, Belle breaks into a distorted guitar riff, so there you go). Song from second album "(…) fireworks"; violin added to it = nice. Really good set, need to get album. 

Emancipator—Duo, one on electric violin (big plus right there) and laptop, other has laptop/synths/electronics. Triphop/hiphop. Distinct songs, but segueing without pause. Mostly instrumental, a few with recorded raps/vocals. Violin is a primary instrument not just color, and the parts are good; nothing crazy like Owen Pallett, but appropriate to the style. Similar to Lili Hayden, come to think of it, but no cheesy/sappy sentimental stuff. This is why I love festivals like Decibel, discovering things like this I had no idea about. Hmm, this one sounds familiar, is this an Oh These Guys band, or did they do a remix? Dropped a brand new unreleased song near end, featuring sample of Beastie Boys "body moving" (actually I think he said EP, so maybe last two were new). 

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