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Decibel / Seattle / September 24-27, 2009

Decibel is an international electronic music and digital arts festival that takes place in Seattle, Washington every year. Celebrating its sixth year, Decibel expanded their programming with genre themed showcases; the only dilemma was deciding what to see.

The opening gala took place in the Seattle Art Museum featuring artists from the Detroit-based label, Ghostly. In the theatre, The Sight Below delivered a warm subtle ambient set full of moody percussion patterns, delicately balanced with fuzzy black and white film renderings; together the music and visuals created a haunting performance. San Francisco artist Tycho, aka Scott Hansen, delivered a marvelous nostalgic sun-warped set and shared the stage with Dusty Brown for some new renditions. Scott Hansen is also known for his design work as ISO50. His saturated visuals with warm sentimental glimpses of dreamscape imagery from our childhood made for one of many highlight performances at this year's festival.

the sight below


In the main entrance hall of the gallery, Lusine started the dance party with fresh releases from his new album, A Certain Distance. His smooth house tracks and well-crafted minimal dance compositions made for a small enthusiastic dance floor party, against the backdrop of Cai Guo-Qiang’s piece Stage One.

Up on Capitol Hill, Echospace was rumored to go on early, which unfortunately meant sacrificing the closure of Lusine’s superb set. Capitol Hill is one of Seattle’s trendiest neighbourhoods. I was delighted to find Neumos and Sole Repair, two Decibel venues across the street from one another, which enabled festival-goers to jump back and forth between the two showcases. At Neumos, Echospace delivered a beautiful grooving ambient dub set, that sat somewhere between dancefloor euphoria and deep immersion. Across the street, Mikael Stravöstand played live on the balcony deck to a packed house below. His delicious set was full of deep glitchy pulses layered over driven 4/4 beats. The street between the venues became a social vortex of communication. I had the pleasure of talking to Echospace outside for most of the night and was delighted to hear about their creative process. Connecting with other festival-goers and sharing knowledge about new music discoveries became half the experience.

deepchord presents echospace

Friday, I was back at the Seattle Art Museum for a panel discussion involving festival directors and various city promoters regarding whether or not there’s a place for electronic music in North America, as the majority of artists end up moving to Europe to further their careers. They also spoke about a newly formed network called I.C.A.S. (International Cities of Advanced Sound), a global network of independent non-profit organizations dedicated to advancing sound cultures, music and related arts, uniting promoters to collaborate and share costs when bringing in foreign artists. This is a critical new development in the continuation of helping digital artists have a platform for exposure.

The next highlight was Optical 1: Immersion, with Christopher Willits and Raster Noton pioneer, Frank Bretschneider. The scheduling was shuffled around, but it didn’t change the quality of this event. Frank Bretschneider went on first and received the loudest applause out of all the audio/visual theatre experiences. His mathematical deep bass structures, crisp precise clicks and dramatic frequencies become organic through pattern and melody. Mirrored against morphing black and white spiraling shapes, made for a standout striking performance. Christopher Willits presented a warm melodic set layered with live guitar patterns and tonal soundscapes. His set was performed against a backdrop of bright urban landscapes that focused on plant life emerging from cement cracks.

frank bretschneider

christopher willits

Friday night, I spent all my time at the Dirty Dancing International Showcase, taking place at Neumos. I sacrificed going across the street to Sole Repair for Bruno Pronsato, knowing I would catch him later at the Church of Bass afterhours. Upon arrival, Detroit techno pioneer, Rob Hood, instantly pulled me into his trance-inducing minimalism, subtle rhythmic shifts and restrained funky groove. Spain's Alex Under was scheduled to go on next, but unfortunately "due to unforeseen issues with Homeland Security" was unable to make it. Frank Bretschneider went on instead and sadly couldn’t keep the crowd happy with his Raster Noton minimal rhythm aesthetics. Alex Under would have been a perfect fit but throwing Frank Bretschneider into this showcase seemed unfair, especially after witnessing Bretschneider’s prior success in the Optical theatre only a few hours earlier. The Wighnomy Brothers (Gabor Schablitzki and Sören Bodner) were next. They have been together since 2001, and are recognized for their brewing smart, late night dancefloor tracks. Just recently they announced they would no longer perform together after this year, making Decibel’s performance a historical one on many levels.

rob hood

wighnomy brothers

The last highlight of the day was Seattle producer and German resident Bruno Pronsato at the Church of Bass afterhours. Bruno Pronsato has a unique voice within the minimal tech-house scene and delivered a dynamic percussive funk set full of swirling unexpected rhythmic patterns.

bruno pronsato

Despite some scheduling delays and set changes all hiccups disappeared from our thoughts with the euphoric and flawless closing ceremonies.

Goldmund, Benoit Pioulard and Mountains performed at the Triple Door, an amazing 1920’s dinner theatre. The theatre is beautiful and historically preserved creating the perfect ambiance for Goldmund’s warm and intimate solo piano compositions. Also known for his Helios moniker, Goldmund’s passionate modern classical arrangements are delicately restrained and incredibly moving making nothing short of a magical experience. Benoit Pioulard (aka Thomas Meluch) sat on the floor of the stage and delivered some fuzzy warm psych-folk songs created with guitar, looping pedals, accordion and microphones. Brooklyn’s Apestaartje label owners, Mountains (aka Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg) delivered an astonishing Americana modern classical set with live guitar, electronic distortions and looping samples of found objects. The whole experience left the audience buzzing from their shimmering nuances and densely driven soundscapes.


benoit pioulard


And if the Triple Door concert wasn’t satisfying enough, it was time to unleash ourselves to Reagenz (aka Move D and Jonah Sharp) and Alter Ego at the Finale. Despite their hiatus since their first release in 1994, Reagenz proved they're meant to be together with their stunning live set. Together they skillfully delivered a deep delicious tech-house set full of seamless funky live baselines and deep ambient fluidity. Legendary producers, Alter Ego (aka Roman Fluegel and Joern Elling Wuttke) closed the festival down with an epic set full of bass driven dancefloor stompers that had everyone dancing and smiling.


alter ego

Overall, the festival was a great success with many standout performances and experiences. Decibel managed to successfully attract more people through their genre-themed showcases, making this year their most well attended festival to date.

For more Decibel photos and videos click here!

A shorter edited version of this article was published in Musicworks Magazine. Issue 107, July.
Due to publishing delays, I was unable to post this review until now.

For information on this year's festival check out