Photos also by Tim Willis
On the first night of Decibel Festival a volunteer bragged to me that its attendants would be notoriously well-rested and well-fed; they would get discounts at Seattle's W hotel, free bagels at the vegetarian spot on 12th ave, and %10 off brunch just down the street. There would be no mud-covered zombies on bath salts, no lines for the 12 showers allotted to 10,000 sunbaked brats, and certainly no Skrillex. Decibel is an artistically-minded event for responsible young adults, and at the time it sounded like just about the tamest and most civil electronic music festival on the planet. Fun?
The weekend's events are organized into 50 showcases at 11 venues across the city from large to small. If you want to party all night through to the next day, you have to stay on your feet and keep your heart rate up. I downed a cup of coffee to battle jet lag and headed to the Hyperdub show, a name synonymous with Burial's broken beats, and more recently with Rashad's Chicago footwork sound. I figured where better to see the finest footwork dancing than at a festival full of over-educated dudes who spend too much time on the Internet?
Bjorn (left) and DJ Spinn (right)
I did manage to find someone attempting the basic movements of footwork music's corresponding dance. Bjorn is underage, from Seattle and seemed like he might break his legs when Spinn dropped Addison Groove's "Footcrab." When I asked him what he thought about Decibel, he said it was "like a dream come true for a kid that sits in his room listening to Rinse.FM all day." I couldn't get anyone else to admit it, but I bet they'd all agree with Bjorn. As Kode9 finished his set, I noted a collective sigh from the crowd—not one new Burial track played.
You can't be everywhere at once at any festival, no matter how many Adderall capsules you swallow, and so I found myself in a pickle. I wanted to see Huerco S., catch Shabazz Palaces and then run back to catch wunderkind Yeezus producer Evian Christ. I developed a regimented schedule, which collapsed immediately: First I got into an argument with a member of a popular private torrent tracker at Huerco's set, then Shabazz's set got delayed because of what looked like a computer problem. At one point five different people were clustered around a MacBook Pro fiddling with things. I guess Seattle really is a Microsoft city. I ended up seeing Evian Christ play some hardstyle music with a really sad look on his face for about ten minutes. Oh well, better luck tomorrow at the boat party.
Under characteristically grey skies and strong winds, I braved it down to the dock early along and milled about with ten other people. The Islander Cruise Ship is, in the words of the vessel's captain Josh, "an EDM boat" and does about 140 EDM cruises a year. Maybe Decibel and Josh need to get on the same page here. After a thorough pat-down from two security guards I stepped foot on the ship and was welcomed to a palace of mirrors, LEDs and e-cigarettes. A woman carted around weird shots in plastic containers. You could also buy ice cream and food prepared by this man:
Jeff the Chef got a little incensed as I kept flashing him with my camera while he was bringing food up from the ship's hold but he stayed in good spirits while I chatted him up. He told me to try some of the galley's chicken strips or a grinder sandwich. Then he leaned close and whispered into my ear, saying that he'd "hook me up." I'm not exactly sure what he'd hook me up with—food, e-cigarettes or drugs—but I never got hungry enough to brave asking him.
By 2:30PM the boat was about one-third full and we finally left the dock, doing circles in the lake while two people in horse heads and one person in a Boba Fett mask grooved to tunes from Ben UFO and Axel Boman. Only in the last half-hour did the vibe really pick up, but immediately upon pulling into the dock security rushed the booth and cut the speakers—no more boat party. Maybe a typical EDM-centric crowd would've taken things differently, but everyone quickly funneled off the vessel and consumed the nutrition bars and coconut water that was provided to them by corporate sponsors. I hate coconut water, but I decided to see what the fuss was all about.
Disappointed and in need of a cleanse, I raced back downtown to catch classically-trained pianist Nils Frahm play in Seattle's opera house. Squeezing past a number of people old enough to be my grandparents, I took a seat in an empty row only to be scolded by some up-tight asshole that said I'd taken his seat. I relocated, being sure to double-check with him that this new, empty seat was not taken. Frahm himself did not disappoint, manipulating three different pianos, one synthesizer and a glass of red wine. Seeing him pluck keys with emphasis from behind kind of reminded me of being in the Boiler Room, only I wasn't drinking a Red Stripe.
If I was going to find the packed, psychotic light show I was looking for, I'd probably be best to try Showbox SoDo, a 1,500 person venue with plenty of room. I didn't think Mount Kimbie and Nicolas Jaar would be particularly good music for this kind of thing, but sure enough, along the side wall of the venue I found what I was looking for.
Before I even said anything to Andrew, he was curious where I'd be posting my photos. Maybe there's some sort of underground light show photo exchange I don't know about? Once I convinced him I wasn't he told me about an after party a few blocks away with other "great photo opportunities." He said to expect to see him at dB in the Park, a free outdoor event taking place the next day.
After watching Jaar perform a full set with not one, not two, but three encores, I ran up to catch the Hessle Audio (Ben UFO, Pangaea and Pearson Sound) boys hold things down back up on Capitol Hill after hours. I got in the block-long line to get into the venue at 2:30 AM. After standing inline for 30 minutes in the rain, I decided to bail and get some sleep.
The next day I did exactly what my friend Andrew from last night had told me to do: go check out DB in the Park. The rain from last night had only poured harder, the event moved indoors, and my only mud wrestling opportunity was thwarted. I entered hoping to find more cool lights and lasers (I love lights and laser) and found nothing but a plethora of coconut water boxes. Mmm... more coconut water.
Safari Peter (left) and coconut water (right)
Peter was sitting down in a safari hat and told me this was the only Decibel event he'd be at since he "didn't have any money." thought I was pretty strange because I kept photographing him drinking coconut water. "Do you work for a marketing company or something?" he asked. I told him "No, I just like your hat" and moved on. Little did he know.
In need of something to do and needing to take shelter from the rain, I did what any sane person might do: I headed to a Red Bull Music Academy event. I don't know what it is about Red Bull, but their advertising budget seems to be never-ending. I entered the RBMA venue and was promptly offered a mixed drink by a woman in dominatrix leather named Michelle. As I watched RBMA albums Kid Smpl and Octa Octa run through some great sets, I pondered why there weren't more people at this Red Bull event. I decided to ask the bouncer.
Rookie Snow, the bouncer (left) and Kid Smpl at RBMA (right)
The bouncer Rookie Snow didn't have much of an answer for the attendance. He told me that everyone should follow him on Instagram @Rookiesnow. I would also recommend that you Google "Rookie Snow" and watch his various Youtube videos. In retrospect I am curious why Rookie Snow held back this info. Go. Youtube. Now.
It was officially party hour and I headed to Q Nightclub to catch Midland and Dusky. Q kind of reminded me of an updated version of that club in Basic Instinct and I felt a little bit like Michael Douglas. Muscle men in polos quickly sweep up broken glasses with brooms that they make look like toothpicks and everyone is dancing on every surface imaginable. As Midland played some song that repeated "We Run Ibiza" over and over, I thought to myself I had finally found the mainstream event I'd been looking for. Seattle definitely isn't Ibiza and Midland isn't exactly Skrillex, but it's as close as I was going to get.
Baul and Alex (left) and Q Nightclub (right)
At this point, I realized I'd photographed only male Decibel attendees. This makes sense, as my completely unscientific survey says about 75% percent of the people I saw were men. Fortunately, there were lots of women at Q. Unfortunately, they all seemed to have boyfriends. I exchanged lots of awkward glances with suspicious men when asking if I could photograph their girlfriends alone. I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure this wouldn't happen in Ibiza or at Electronic Zoo. Baul agreed if he could be in the photo with Alex. I took the photo and left.
By now, something known as Decibel Festival fatigue had begun to set in. I chose to close things out at the Timetable Records showcase with Teebs, Lorn and Nosaj Thing. Teebs did his thing in a characteristically pitch black room and I couldn't really see him. Lorn ran through material both old and new, doing his trademark muscle-flexing and knob-twisting that made him seem kind of like Bane. Add the weird voice he was talking to the crowd and he's a doppelganger for the Batman villain.
One thing Lorn said stood out to me—"It's because of me the tickets were $20." I had to do a double take. Was he being an asshole or letting the crowd know he appreciated them? But on second thought, it's something I'd been hearing a lot from artists. Mount Kimbie said Seattle had always been good to them, "We love it here." Nils Frahm came back to the festival even after his poor experience last year. Such an allegiance to a festival, even one that takes itself too seriously sometimes, is something I haven't found anywhere else.