Concert Reviews, Decibel 2011

Decibel Festival 2011: Thursday and Friday

Kat Taylor / October 4, 2011

After attending Wednesday’s Decibel festivities at Re-Bar, I was off to a respectable start in my journey of full-throttle showcase attendance. Unfortunately, Thursday was a stark reminder of my human limitations regarding time and space. Almost every venue housed an artist I wanted to see, many of which were performing at the same time: Bonobo at Neumos, Ladytron at the Showbox, Girl Unit at the Baltic Room, and Truckasaurus at the Crocodile to name a few. This grand first world problem sent me into hiding, masking my indecisiveness with whiskey and profound yet unmemorable statements on the state of civilized society.

photo from Holy Fuck

Eventually, I threw my hat in the ring and watched Holy Fuck closing out the Bit Rock showcase at the Crocodile. Electronic fusion bands can be really hit-or-miss. On one hand, they embody all the heart and soul of the traditional rock band and the freshness and well-timed perfection made possible by modern technology. However, they also have the potential to go in the direction of experimental jam bands who never seem to move beyond second-stage billing.

Holy Fuck was the headliner, so my expectations were high but surprisingly met. Say what you want about Amon Tobin (as I heard plenty of people do the morning after the show), but this band is named appropriately. True, the visuals were nothing to write home about, but the crowd’s energy more than made up for it and it was nearly impossible to find a person there not fully engaged by the performance. As quickly as I found myself wrapped up in my own inability to make decisions, my state unraveled into a strange combination of excitement and complacency as I moved to the music.

Friday was a much less roiling experience. I started my evening by heading out to Benaroya Hall for Optical 1: Sine Your Name Across My Heart. Unfortunately, one of the artists I was most excited to see, Ulrich Schnauss, could not perform due to Visa issues, so San Francisco-based Scott Hansen of Tycho did a set in his place. I cannot stress enough how badly I wanted to see Ulrich, but Tycho will do in a pinch.

Tycho performed at last year’s festival along with a few guests at the Triple Door, which perfectly punctuated the event. The Triple Door performance was a little more intimate, and perhaps a more desirable venue in the first place, but Tycho’s chilling crescendos and resonating melodies gave me goosebumps. To be fair, I probably shouldn’t be wearing shorts in September. Enhanced by 70s-era, nature-inspired, and kaleidoscopic visuals, he created a mood few others can replicate, and I hope to see him back in Seattle soon.

photo from Ill-Esha's website

What followed was a complete 180 from the calming, sit-down experience at Benaroya. First, since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to swing by Showbox at the Market to see what was there. In a word, dubstep. That’s what was there. Now, I’m not going to knock the genre, especially since the two acts I caught, Triage (Portland) and Ill-Esha (San Francisco) were clearly best-of-breed. That’s to say their performances were tight, fun, and professionally executed, a boon to start-up sub-genres, particularly within the diverse expanse of electronic music. Ill-Esha was particularly interesting, having muscled her way into a primarily all-boys’ club with her R&B-style accompanying vocals and signature stage presence. Although Aaliyah may be rolling over in her grave, this show’s severe drops and crazed rhythms managed to prove magnetic for even the most crotchety of concert-goers (i.e., me).

Still, for this relative dinosaur, watching the crowd and watching the show were equally entertaining activities. All ages shows might as well be the deluxe version of a high school dance, and I felt like a self-appointed chaperone… a rather shitty one, considering my disinterested stance on the overlapping drug culture. It must be as prevalent as it was when I was a kid, judging from the costume choices. Rave fashion has come a long way. Whether you’re wearing a fuzzy hat with ears, a giant foam cowboy hat bearing the Texas A&M logo (I’m a Longhorn, myself), or a pair of jean shorts with “FUCK” written across the backside, you’ve got to show you’re serious with a get-up that shouts, “PLEASE look at me.” It’s too bad candy kids are going the way of the dodo, because I was starting to get hungry and really could have used a candy necklace or ring pop to keep me going.

I took off to catch the Star Slinger show at the Crocodile, only to find a line wrapped around the building. The line for wristbands was longer than the line for ticket-holders, a few people up front confirmed it wasn’t moving, and it was less than an hour until the show. I’m not a big fan of waiting for things or being outside, so I headed up to the Baltic Room to see the Trust Showcase. It proved to be a fine display of talent across the house music genre.

I walked right in and caught the end of local acts SunTzu Sound and Kid Hops. Clubby and soulful, the set was a reminder of what makes them Seattle mainstays. Although the small dance floor was already filling up, the two artists that followed revealed it was nowhere near capacity.

As I bobbed and shifted through the crowd to maximize my view and minimize the amount of people touching me, I thought, “You know what this dance floor could really use? A table.” I’m being sarcastic, of course, but until Hanssen took the stage to make use of its containing keyboard, laptop, mixers, and bass guitar, it remained an annoying mystery. The crowd would have been better served had the table been along the wall near the entrance, as I’ve seen the DJ booth placed for other Baltic shows, but I’m guessing there may have been power outlet issues in play. Despite the obstruction, it was a good effort to keep the music continuously flowing.

Hanssen got off to a quiet start, but eventually filled the room upbeat loops and synths peppered with his organically supplied bass. Formerly one-half of the house duo Jacob London and another fellow Seattleite, Hanssen was a true crowd-pleaser and all around good guy, high-fiving all the folks spasming just inches from his equipment.

photo from

Next up was Detroit djing prodigy Kyle Hall. I found it pretty ironic that the first artist I’ve seen perform without the assistance of a laptop this year is under 21 years old. Born in 1991, Kyle Hall has been spinning records when he was 11, and his early start is reflected in his effortless ability to move a crowd as easily as his older counterparts. He played several tracks I recognized as previously rotated by Mark Farina and Spank Rock, two of my favorite artists. Everyone at the show went crazy for his fresh take on classic dance hits, and I left feeling pleased for taking the road less traveled.

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