One of the neat things about citywide music festivals like Decibel is that despite how spread out the venues are, and how many showcases are going on simultaneously, you’re bound to see familiar faces no matter how you jump around. Sure, this happens with concerts in general—but far less frequently. When you start at one concert, then rush off to another utterly different one that same night, only to run into the same people, there’s a much more distinctive communal aspect to the experience. Such was the case moving between the very contrastive Optical 1: Sine Your Name Across My Heart and Warm Oscillations showcases.
As the crowd began to swell at the doors of Benaroya Hall’s Nordstrom Recital Hall, tense anticipation permeated the atmosphere. Those with festival passes had been advised to arrive by 6pm (doors) to secure their entry into the auditorium, given that the medium-sized space would easily fill up. The wisest ticket holders arrived by 5:45, but there were no lines. Instead, the waiting area was unstructured (both physically and socially), and those waiting stood scattered around the edges or sat in the handful of seats, with all eyes occasionally flicking towards the closed doors. Most people were dressed to impress and on their best behavior; but beneath the classy, cordial outer layer were pumped up electronic-heads subtly competing for priority entry.
Once the doors cracked open, it was off to the races. People scurried—in as refined a way as possible—to secure choice seats and hold spaces for other latecomers. By 6:15, the Hall was little over halfway full; but 15 minutes later, as the show was about to begin, there were only sprinklings of open seating. Just before 6:30, Decibel Founder Sean Horton introduced the showcase and explained the last minute Ulrich Schnauss ↔ Tycho switch (which very few seemed to be unaware of). Minutes later, the lights dimmed, the audience hushed, and Mountains took to the stage; the journey had begun.
Weaving liquid shadows danced to-and-fro across the large elevated projection screen behind Mountains’ Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg as they engulfed the auditorium in thick layers of synths, processed sounds, and live acoustic guitar. Upon emerging from the water, onlookers were lifted into the mirrored sky and clouds of Air Museum. I overheard someone explaining that “gravity changes” during such performances; I couldn’t summarize the feeling better; but would add that time changes as well.
Former Slowdive member Simon Scott continued this alter-dimensional voyage with the help of his friend Rafael Anton Irisarri, using a combination of field recordings, effects-heavy guitars, and droning synths. Their projections drifted across natural landscapes with the occasional blend of surreal alterations and abstract forms. Experiences during performances like these are highly subjective, but I suspect that most would agree that it’s akin to feelings of deep meditation or hypnosis.
Turning the gravity knob back to a more familiar level was Tycho‘s lighter, more danceable psych-ambient bliss. The mastermind behind the project, Scott Hansen, is also a professional designer, so his beautiful, well-coordinated visuals were to be expected. With an abundance of surfer and Jacques Cousteau footage, the odyssey returned full circle to the very first oceanic projections of Mountains’ set, except now with the means to glide across the water’s surface. Most of Tycho’s set was brand new material from his appropriately-titled upcoming album, Dive, and it was a perfect end to the show—with just the right combination of energy and relaxation to allow a balanced decision afterward between a calm Friday evening or a wild one. I settled on the latter.
It was a sloppy night at The Crocodile by the time I arrived (along with others from Optical). Mux Mool was finishing up his set, and half of the crowd seemed intoxicated—or very nearly there (bear in mind there were three hours left at this point). The other half were bobbing around, mingling and talking, or watching from the safest areas around the edges. Clearly there were at least a handful of Mux Mool fans who danced energetically and cheered him on—one audience member professed his love and made a heart with cupped fingers—but there was a lot of empty space on the dance floor during his set. Despite the rather messy reception, he definitely pumped out the jams and rewarded those who were really paying attention.
By the time Beat Connection took over, the place was really getting packed. Returning from their September tour with STRFKR, the young duo have been playing live sets with the addition of a drummer—and the resulting energy is dynamic, to say the least. Their coordinated, multi-colored triangular lights are perfectly suited to the ensuing synthpop dance party. They played at least one brand new song, as well as crowd favorites like “In The Water”. Perhaps it had something to do with the tubes of light, but Beat Connection made me miss the old Cut Copy. In any case, these “Tropical Psychedelic Pop” upstarts are making a strong case for themselves as Seattle’s best synthpop act!
Star Slinger arrived to a full house of sweaty drunkenness and built-up energy, the combination of which exploded during his fantastic set. Every single song was a banger—from tweaked remixes of H-Town, Childish Gambino, Zoo Kid, and Alex Winston to signature jams like “Mornin’“, “Longtime”, and “Dutchie Courage“. The wild dancing and cheers of the crowd made it clear who they came to see most of all. Had his set gone on for another hour, I suspect that very few would have stopped dancing (willingly, at least); but an encore had to suffice. Amidst the frenzy, much alcohol was spilt, both on the floor and on the unlucky, leaving a sticky mess in its wake.
As excited as I was for Star Slinger, and as much as I loved his set, I was amongst the handful of weirdos who were most of all interested in oOoOO (aka Chris Greenspan). By the time he started playing, most of the crowd had either left or moved away from the stage to chat in an obnoxiously loud drunken stupor (surprise surprise), establishing Seattle as a poor city for witch house shows (or maybe this was just a bad pairing?). Emphasizing this fact were the conversations I overhead during oOoOO’s set between people who didn’t quite grasp what was happening (most) and fans of oOoOO trying to explain why his music is good. In any case, behind oOoOO was a looping, slow-motion projection of various people smoking, a clip from BBC of some masked group flaunting butcher’s knives, and other somehow appropriate visuals. Beyond the laptop he leaned in front of, I couldn’t see what other equipment he had on his table, but he was certainly tweaking songs with something else.
Fitting to his identity, oOoOO said nothing to the audience the entire time, and at one point lit up and smoked a cigarette on stage during a song. He smoked for at least a few minutes before someone came out and took it from him, after which he simply shrugged and grinned at the audience (one person gave him a new cigarette, but he didn’t light up again). Most likely due to the very poor atmosphere and reception, he cut his set short to about 30 minutes, as opposed to the hour he was schedule for; but I forgive him—especially since he played his gorgeous “MyEgyptianLoverRmx” (remix of the Space Cowboy / Nadia Oh song)! I just hope he’s willing to give Seattle another chance in the future.