- Decibel's commitment to presenting a wide spectrum of electronic music in intimate venues has made it one of the world's premier electronic music festivals. Last year, though, some things changed. For their most ambitious undertaking yet, the organisers took over Seattle's Experience Music Project Museum. It proved an impressive coup for founder Sean Horton that nevertheless took away some of Decibel's scrappy nightclub vitality. For 2015, Horton went back to basics. The streamlined program focused on tested venues and experiences, with even the daytime conference held in a rock club. The result was Decibel hitting its finest form yet.
Decibel takes over a few Seattle neighbourhoods for five nights. A wristband let you hop from one venue to the next, and included two boat parties and some early evening audiovisual showcases that went down at a beautiful restaurant and theatre called The Triple Door. There was also a breakfast party for nocturnal ravers on Sunday morning, and a free party at Volunteer Park for families. For the most part, the venues are top notch, and the festival's experienced staff make sure that the sound is near enough perfect everywhere. Famed grunge venue The Crocodile hosted a raucous Bottom Forty party with Daniel Avery and The Black Madonna, while the large concert hall Showbox saw packed-to-the-brim shows from Nicolas Jaar and Autechre, who rocked the RA party after turning the venue pitch black.
One of the best things about Decibel is getting to spend time in Seattle, a gorgeous waterfront city with great shopping, excellent food and a wealth of tourist activities. But it's hard to talk about Seattle without mentioning the changing landscape of Capitol Hill. Both the city's gay village and main clubbing district, in the last few years the neighbourhood has been overtaken by newcomers to the area who turn weekend nights into chaotic and sometimes violent scenes. It puts a damper on the Capitol Hill club crawl that used to be at Decibel's heart. The glitzy superclub Q, home to Decibel's official afterhours in the heart of Capitol Hill, is the most obvious victim, particularly with its overly aggressive security. I saw Function play an incredible set there on Friday night—one of the festival's major highlights—but it didn't change the fact that the venue was uncomfortable and unpleasant to be in.
Q is only one venue of many, and Decibel has reacted to the changing landscape by moving away from Capitol Hill where possible. What felt different about 2015 was that the rest of the city's scene was adjusting in its own way, too. On the same day the festival started, local newspaper Seattle Weekly featured young techno crew Secondnature on its front cover, claiming that they were revitalizing the city's dance music scene. It was the talk of the town during the festival, and the plaudits were deserved. Secondnature's opening night party at The Crocodile—where local artist Josef Gaard nearly outshone banner performances from Tin Man and Cassegrain—was another high point of the week.
The rise of Secondnature and other young artists in Seattle gave a momentum and energy to the festival that was impossible not to pick up on, even if the dynamics of how Decibel brings scenes and crews together has changed. In the past, most events you'd find during the week would be official Decibel affiliates, but this year there was a network of spin-off afterparties from crews like Secondnature, Bnry and High & Tight. Secondnature's Sunday morning marathon—featuring stellar turns from Aurora Halal and DJ Qu—was undeniably vibey, while High & Tight's gathering with Orphx and Erika was described by more than one person as a religious experience.
The success of these extra parties doesn't take away from Decibel proper—instead, it speaks to the community the festival has created over the years. It wasn't uncommon for people to move between the Decibel afterhours at Q and the other parties at venues like Kremwerk and The Big Building, and even if you kept solely to the official events, Decibel still had a banner year. Where else could you see Dasha Rush play abstract techno while eating gourmet Thai food? And then have your choice of Dirtybird, Kompakt and Droid Behaviour showcases later on in the evening?
The event that really put Decibel's 2015 in perspective, though, was the final one. The Flammable party on Sunday was remarkably rowdy considering it was the last night of the festival. Sean Horton played before a five-hour back-to-back from Roman Flügel and DJ Tennis, which was triumphant anthem bashing in the best possible sense. The crowd, a mix of regular punters, Seattle DJs and members of all the different crews that had featured across the week, showed no signs of diminishing deep into the wee hours, as people swarmed the stage around the two selectors. It was a particularly heartwarming moment that underlined what makes Decibel so special. Last year, I said that it was my favourite festival. 2015 was a reaffirmation in full force.
Photo credit: +Russ (lead, Dasha Rush), Brennan Emerson (Josef Gaard), Andi Dean (Daniel Avery)