I began last evening of Decibel Festival 2011 early (relatively speaking) at the Optical 2 showcase at Benaroya Hall. The night before was a busy one, the morning was filled with a long prior engagement, and by the time I had finished writing about it all, it was time to go out again. I arrived ready to kick back and relax.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen right away. The was due in part to the show starting a little later than expected (despite the Decibel site’s warning the show would start “promptly” at 6:30) and the steely bubbling of the first act. Matthewdavid played a choppy set of synthesizers and extra heavy bass that tickled the nerves and startled the brain. Like a good horror movie, its amazing if you’re in the mood for it, but you’re in for a sleepless night if you’re not. On the other hand, the visuals looked like a display of an infrared camera or a warm front moving in on a weather map.
Christopher Willits was up next with calm, ethereal reverberations delivered from his make-shift sound picnic on the floor of center stage. Armed with a truncated guitar, he layered melodious echoes over bass lines that hummed like alien heart murmurs. The flickering images of nature close up faded in and out above his head through his humble performance.
When Germany-based Oval took the stage, the room exploded with a collision of audio pandemonium. His hour-long set was shaped primarily by short, twangy plucks from Asian-style chamber string orchestras mixed with bombastic samples of rock band-style drum solos. By far the quirkiest of the three, the rollicking interchange of traditional and modern sounds is a fine offering for glitch-lovers as well. At its finer moments, the set resembled some of the earlier work of Wagon Christ.
Ultimately, the visuals in all three sets weren’t quite up to snuff, and the showcase itself didn’t have the soul-warming continuity of Optical 1. Also note the following showcase, Optical 3, is not included with the Decibel pass. Although the Decibel site reads “as with previous years,” a pass granted entry last year, and it was one of my favorite parts of the festival.
After the Optical debacle, I hiked up Pike Street to spend the second half of the night at Neumos checking out the Deep Foundations showcase. When I arrived, Detroit native Mike Huckaby was getting into the second half of his set and the crowd was starting to warm up. He was leaning toward the techier side of deep, throwing in dark, thumping bass that shook the crowded venue. Parts of it were a little too minimal for an unrested curmudgeon like me, so I took to the back row for a little while and watched the deep house revivalists pay homage to one of their musical prophets.
Little did I know, about 20 minutes later I’d be fighting my way to the front so I could alternate between dancing my ass off and staring in awe at my new favorite DJ, Deniz Kurtel. The Turkish born, Brooklyn-based bombshell had the carefree, nonchalant attitude of a seasoned musician and the sophistication of a white collar professional blowing off a little steam. Every track selection, every effect, every minor flick of the wrist exuded talent and confidence. The real clincher is the majority of her selections included female vocals, which seem to have an overbearing effect on the overall sound, but the balance here was perfect.
Even before she finished her set, I wanted to run home, learn everything I could about her, and listen to everything she’s ever made. Yes, it was that good. Trying to explain her magnificence is like trying to explain sex to a virgin. In addition to her seemingly innate ability to shatter a dance floor, Deniz Kurtel is an accomplished interactive visual artist, has years of intensive classical piano training, and holds two degrees unrelated to music. In addition to having a myriad of accomplishments under her belt, she has a jawline that could cut glass and beauty to shame the gods. Okay, I’ll stop now.
Poor I:Cube had to follow her arresting performance in addition to some minor sound problems in the beginning. Despite his marked annoyance, he still managed to move the crowd, mixing some feel-good synthy waves with a few retro grooves.
The real excitement began when he was joined by Gilb’R, the other half of Parisian duo Chateau Flight. With almost no standing room left, the crowd erupted with every change-over. Each track had an undeniably catchy hook, applying a magnetism that drew in even the furthest foot-tapping head-bobbers up in the rafters. Switching between bouncing harmonies, electrifying zaps, sweet girly exclamations, and dark masculine vocals, the two DJs made their calculating crowd control look spontaneous and improvised. Overall, they provided a rich, full-bodied conclusion to a spirited evening of diversity.