I have a special fondness reserved for a downtempo project that appreciates the timbres of an electric violin and accordion. Rena Jones was the only artist on the Abstract Earth Project showcase ticket with which I was unfamiliar before commencement of the first night of Decibel Festival and the performance was a welcomed surprise. The trio led with graceful melodic arcs dripping with heavy pathos and I was reminded of the kinds of films where station command would watch with graven expressions as the space shuttle leaves behind the obstinate astronaut protagonist and Earth’s only hope to set off the charge and deflect the asteroid. It was a pleasant, bitter-sweet soundscape that would be an appropriate preface to the headlining artists – a testament to my perpetual gratitude towards the festival coordinators for their consideration and faculty in crafting apropos showcases. Behind Rena Jones and company were slow-motion loops of oil diffused in water and forward/rewind abstract patterns overlayed with more abstraction, the nights visuals courtesy of the artists with assistance from VJ and Epic Lasers. The atmosphere for Little People was a grand departure from the sweet-nothings of Rena’s cello. Simple harmonies were replaced with complex layers as Laurent Clerc leaned into his element. Instrumental hip-hop washed out over the Showbox Market which was beginning to fill nicely now in anticipation of the titular performances. I had this reassuring sense that Laurent was so loving submerged in his process that he would play to an empty room with as much voracity as he would a packed venue. Indeed, when he finally did look up from his turntable he seemed surprised, as if he had forgotten we were present. His humble air received warm waves of applause as some thousand people embraced music as the great panacea against the cold and the rain and the vindictive wind that raged outside.
Wax Tailor was to be the third act of the night with the cleanup position reserved for Blockhead. The cloth draped under an expansive turntable setup proudly boasts “Wax Tailor: the Dusty Rainbow Experience,” a tribute to the Frenchman’s fourth LP of a similar name released the previous year. Cell-shaded storybook characters by the visual artist Rebecca Dautremer illuminated the venue and played out the over-arching narrative of Wax’s musical score as lofty beats sent pulsed reverberation through the soles of our shoes. Live band members lent a talented bass and traditional string accompaniment to the mix and had the featured artists been limited to those three then the set would have been merely excellent. What made it exceptional was the appearance of guest vocalists that provided a touch of soulful jazz and poignant hip-hop to the electronic mélange. I felt some intrinsic pleasure at the experiments in repetition and severe contrast in timbres as I was buffeted with the gentle nostalgia that comes with attempting to identify the origins of delightfully archaic and obscure samples. I picked apart soundbytes from middle century Hitchcock films and arena favorites such as Muse and Neil Young. It was warming to watch the ensemble smile as broadly as the audience and making playful faces at one another throughout the gratifyingly lengthy performance. Wax’s final song was his magnus “Que Sera,” the chorus of which was filled out with booming voices of the massive hoard of Parisian trip-hop fans encircling the stage.
There were many that departed the Showbox upon the conclusion of the third act, a regretful casualty of a witching hour timeslot on a Wednesday night, though Blockhead was not without a great number of supporters. The New York producer and DJ was very casual and affable as he lay out his table donned in Decibel apparel and it felt as if a college buddy had stepped up to entertain friends rather than a globe-trotting musician with a much celebrated discography. Samples of Phil Collins roused enthusiastic whistles. Brilliant lasers (from what I am sure were very expensive flashlights) cast neon shadow-play with the oppressive artificial fog as fists pumped, heels stomped, floorboard bowed, and whoops rang out loud and jubilant. It was a fitting conclusion to a sublime showcase and an auspicious presage to what will be and has always been a glorious festival. Decibel sincerely is one of the greatest events to happen to Seattle and there is little else from our great state that does so much for our collective national culture as these five days of conferences and concerts. I am very much honored to be a part of such a musical advent.