Kremfest 2017

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  • September in Seattle means one thing: festivals. For 12 years, Decibel ruled the roost with a long weekend of expertly curated electronic music. But in 2016 the team announced a hiatus, which left a gap in the market. A new event called Chance Of Rain had a go that same year, hosting the likes of Derrick May and Omar-S, though it appears to have been a one-off. Enter Kremfest, another new festival by a young club (Kremwerk) that's quickly established itself as the city's go-to destination for underground and experimental electronic music. While previous September festivals have sprawled ambitiously across multiple venues, Kremfest went the more stripped-back route. Across four days and three nights, all the action took place within the same complex, split between two spaces: the subterranean bunker Kremwerk and Timbre Room, a woody space on the ground floor. The proposition was intriguing: a month's worth of club nights, ranging from hardcore techno and bouncy house to goth industrial and drag balls, compressed into a single extended stretch. The result was dizzying and delightful. On Saturday night, in the cramped but cozy outdoor patio space, I danced with glee to a fun, funky set by DJ Minx, whose "D" logo earrings made it clear that she was repping Detroit. On my way back from the bathroom, I got lured into Timbre Room and ended up getting down to the West Coast bass sounds of the Tom Kha crew. The highlight here was Doctor Jeep, who kept dancers on their toes with a mix of frenetic drum & bass, easygoing half-time rhythms and Destiny's Child remixes.
    Kremfest had no headliners in the traditional sense, which was part of the point. The Kremwerk/Timbre Room complex has carved out a sustainable niche for itself in a challenging market, one where rents are rising, the legacy of grunge still holds sway and larger West Coast cities have a way of nabbing touring artists for prime-time Friday and Saturday night slots. Because of this, Kremfest was as much about catching some jazzy broken beat magic from Riz, an institution at the local independent radio station KEXP, as it was about seeing a buzzy international name. Josey Rebelle, Voiski and three artists from Detroit's Interdimensional Transmissions stable—BMG, Ectomorph and Erika—carried Friday night through until daybreak, wrapping up at 8 AM. Rebelle played strictly techno, a slight disappointment given the variety of her Sunday morning show on London's Rinse FM. Around 1 AM, Voiski went into high-energy mode with pile-driving arpeggios that recalled the deconstructed trance of Lorenzo Senni. The Interdimensional Transmissions crew followed, with Ectomorph (AKA BMG and Erika) programming a sparse and trippy live set on a starship console's-worth of hardware. They then hit the decks, rounding out the night with a set that veered between punishing techno and groovy deep house.
    Kremfest's biggest let-down was Vektroid, an artist who made a name for herself in the Internet craze around vaporwave. While her enigmatic productions are a favorite of music critics, she hasn't yet mastered performing live. I was prepared for something glitchy and disruptive, but I'm not sure her trainwrecks, nor her loud bursts of feedback, were intentional. Her body language suggested she wasn't in control of the equipment. But one or two weak performances was never going to spoil the overall experience. More than a destination festival, where punters pay top dollar for flights and lodging, Kremfest was more of a local celebration, paying homage to a venue that has come to feel like home for so many within the Seattle music scene. With every party smashed together across one long weekend, I watched older lesbians, university-aged bassheads, Holy Ship! bros, heavily made-up drag queens and Mate-fueled techno diehards mingle and cut shapes together on the dance floor. That alone was worth the price of admission. Photo credit / Tyler Hill