For repeat offenders, Day One of the Decibel Festival is a blur of registration lines and familiar faces. Seeing all the familiar faces coming into town for the yearly celebration of all things electronic becomes just as important as catching an act or two. Programmers were savvy to this, however, putting a truckload of must-see talent inside the EMP, where the main registration booths were. I spent Day One happily in the dyed-metal confines of the Seattle Center’s weirdest shaped building.
The Experience Music Project is a new partner to Decibel this year, and the festival organizers jumped straight into the opportunity, programming acts more than willing to take advantage of the Sky Church’s gargantuan screen. Dropping Gems favorite daughter Natasha Kmeto dazzled with her hypnotic vibes, easily matching the mesmerizing visuals gyrating behind her. The early crowd was more interested in milling about and staring at the beer garden’s prices than the music, but Kmeto’s performance was professional and admirable given the circumstances.
Upstairs, the Level 3 space boasted an energetic, youthful lineup. Recent Red Bull Bass Camp attendees Jusmoni and DJAO set the stage for the Resident Advisor showcase’s Lunice and Kaytranada. And while it took a bit for both performers and tech crew to get used to the makeshift setup of the venue, by the time Lunice took the stage the crowd began to fill out, the energy rising in correlation.
Back downstairs, the Opening Gala gave way to Decibel’s first OPTICAL event, starring The Sight Below, Max Cooper and Arca. I had dawdled upstairs too long to catch anything but the tail end of Max Cooper’s set, the carefully selected and synced visuals enrapturing the crowd. A change of environment means everything for OPTICAL; the aim of the Sky Church is not to soothe or contemplate like the Nordstrom Recital Hall or Broadway Theater, but to almost oppress with it’s full-view screens and light show.
And in that sense, Arca and his visualist Jesse Kanda were perfect for the role. The two sported genderbending clubwear and were joined by Fade to Mind’s Total Freedom, who for some reason I thought was on another bill. Arca was definitely the highlight of Wednesday, assaulting the crowd with a myriad of styles, extending from the dirty, post-modern cumbia he specializes in. The visuals featured Kanda’s signature distorted bodies, viral internet videos, and gyrating, black bodies (all the non-cg generated dancers on screen were African American). Some sections elicited cheers, others gasps, more for the real world footage than for the ghastly CG creations.
The mix of abominable imagery coupled with the neverending polyrhythmic, latin assault that would drift into house, club, ballroom, and hardstyle gave the set a feel not unlike the savage rituals of the Modern Love crew, and perhaps even more outsider given its free coupling with queer politics.
By the end of the night, both the Kaytranada audience and the Arca audience were forced to converge outside the EMP, each crowd sorry for the other, pitying their missed opportunity to see something special. Ahh, the choices Decibel forces us to make.