The founder of Seattle's Decibel festival announced today that it will be going on an "extended break" after a decade of operations. Founded in 2003 by Sean Horton, the annual September long-weekend takeover brought cutting-edge international house and techno talent to the Emerald City while providing a showcase for a burgeoning local scene. Originally inspired by Montreal's MUTEK, the festival blossomed from 2,500 to over 25,000 attendees at last year's edition.
The hiatus was prompted by Horton's move last year to Los Angeles in order to become global curator for Red Bull Sound Select, an artist development program across all genres that subsidizes shows in partnership with local tastemakers.
"Considering the new career path and distance from Seattle, it is with a heavy heart that I am announcing that after 11 straight annual editions, Decibel will be taking an extended break," Horton said in a statement posted on the festival's website. "Know that Decibel as an organization will continue and this is a temporary and much needed break."
The announcement comes at an uncertain time for independent city-based festivals. Communikey in Boulder, Colorado announced that last year was its eighth and final edition as a festival, while Vancouver's New Forms went "on hiatus" in 2015. The format of such festivals typically utilizes clubs and venues like museums and theatres rather than stadiums or fairgrounds.
Decibel and MUTEK were founding members of the International Cities of Advanced Sound, a network of non-commercial urban festivals that weave together electronic music and new media art. Also a member of ICAS is Berlin's CTM/Transmediale, which has anchored the German capital's festival scene since 1999, thanks to financial support from government cultural agencies. While their counterparts in Europe benefit from public funding that can account for up to half of an annual budget, revenue streams beyond ticket sales are much less reliable on this side of the Atlantic.
On the other hand, ICAS affiliates like Via, a Pittsburgh-based arts collective, routinely curates festivals under the same name in its hometown and in Chicago, and Kraków's Unsound landed in Toronto for its second straight year last month. Meanwhile, the east coast is flourishing with independent city-based events set in the core of a local scene like Together Boston, DC's Forward Festival and the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival. (Though none of these are ICAS affiliates.)
Horton, however, remains bullish. "I do see an opportunity for North American festivals to expand out to post-EDM audiences that are looking for something more intimate and authentic," he told THUMP, citing West Coast festivals like Lightning in a Bottle, Desert Hearts, Symbiosis, and What the Festival, as well as Detroit's Movement. "Overall I feel that the North American underground electronic community is in a good place and much of that can be measured by the success of festivals like these."