This post was written for Earmilk by Alex Ruder, DJ at KEXP and label head at Hush Hush Records, an innovative Seattle-based label whose roster includes Kid Smpl, Cock & Swan, Chants, Slow Year, and more. We're really excited for Hush Hush's Decibel showcase, as well as Alex's other festival picks below!
The end of September is a beautiful time to be in Seattle. The weather is still sunny yet crisp, the shift into the autumn season beautifully transforms the city's already naturally gorgeous setting, and most importantly, it's the time of the year when the annual Decibel Festival of Electronic Music Performance, Visual Art, and New Media happens.
Founded by Sean Horton in 2003, the festival has grown over the past 11 years and evolved into one of the world's premier events for electronic music, attracting both informed and curious music fans from all over the world while simultaneously placing Seattle's electronic music community and the city itself in focus.
With the general rise in popularity of electronic music over the last cade, the festival has grown along with it and has transformed into quite a massive affair; yet Decibel's curatorial integrity has always remained sharp and intact. This year's line-up proves this once again, hosting nearly 40 unique showcases featuring both legendary veterans and blossoming newcomers that will put the full spectrum of electronic music on beautiful display.
As a fan of electronic music since fully immersing myself into the genre during my college days back in the early 2000s, I feel like I've grown up along with Decibel Festival. I started out attending just a couple select shows during its early years when I was college radio DJ, became more active and involved through my work at KEXP and starting dedicating an entire weekend to the festival, and for the past few years I've been diving into all five days to fully embrace all of its audio and visual goodies. In addition to continuing to help support and promote the festival through KEXP, I'm super honored to host a showcase for the artists on the Hush Hush label I've been running for a couple years now. More info on the showcase below :)
With such a stacked and diverse line-up, it's easy and natural to be overwhelmed by all the amazing options that Decibel Festival provides. While part of the battle is knowing that you're inevitably going to miss something amazing, here's a list of showcases that I'm personally excited to check out at this year's festivities:
Opening Gala at EMP Sky Church, Wednesday 9/24
While Decibel brings in world-class talent from all over the world, it's very much a homegrown festival with strong DIY roots, so it's fitting to see the opening gala feature artists from the local region's three biggest cities: Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, BC. Seattle's Lusine has been releasing meticulously perfect sounds on Ghostly International for a decade now, and he's a razor-sharp performer with a precise and warm sound that excels in the live setting. Portland's Natasha Kmeto is rightfully ascending with her sultry fusion of R&B and bass-heavy, dancefloor-filling electronic beats, and her live show is immediately captivating, as she's known to win new fans over in a heartbeat. Catch her before she heads out as the supporting act for TV On The Radio's fall 2014 tour! Vancouver, BC duo Sabota are still a relatively new name but exhibit a strong and polished analogue house sound on their self-titled debut album from earlier this year. This Opening Gala should be a perfect way to kick off the festival.
Resident Advisor Showcase at EMP Level 3, Wednesday 9/24
Kaytranada is a chameleonic producer who puts his own fresh, loose, and sexy spin on beats that cover a wide range of BPMs. A star in the making, he recently signed to XL Records and is sure to continue to capture ears and hearts with each new song and tour stop. He's been to Seattle a couple times already but this is his first Decibel appearance, so I'm extra excited to see to what he'll have lined up for his live performance. Lunice has been crafting spacious trap-leaning, arena-ready beats well before the style became an international phenomena, and he's bound to bring the ruckus that's he established through his solo works and as one-half of TNGHT alongside Hudson Mohawke. Standout local artist DJAO is top-shelf homie and he's gearing up to drop his long-awaited debut album on Dropping Gems at the end of October. As a longtime fan of his works, I've got to say that his latest creations are his strongest to date, spotlighting his jazzy, enveloping, idiosyncratic take on vocal-laced leftfield bass music. Seattle R&B vocalist JusMoni is kicking off the night and her voice is pure gold. In addition to creating gorgeous sounds with Seattle DJ/producer WD4D, she recently teamed up with Mr. Carmack and StarRo while down in San Francisco for a RBMA session.
Optical 1: Kinesthesia at EMP Sky Church, Wednesday 9/24
Following the night's early Opening Gala, the EMP Sky Church will be transformed to become home to arguably the festival's weirdest, darkest, and most thrilling showcase. Total Freedom is your favorite DJ's favorite DJ and never disappoints with his angular and unpredictable perspective on seductive yet hard-hitting hybrid bass styles. Former Seattleite The Sight Below manages to make each of his live shows a unique event, so I'm curious to see what he'll put together for this experimental-leaning showcase. Arca is the man of the hour though, as he's hot off blowing minds with his "&&&&&" beat mix, handling co-production work on albums by Kanye West and FKA twigs, and a hotly-tipped forthcoming album on Mute. This is his first time playing Seattle and his unconventional style is one I'm thrilled to finally witness in the live setting, as he'll be paired alongside equally astounding visual artist Jesse Kanda.
Modern Love Showcase at EMP Level 3, Thursday 9/25
Decibel has long championed the dark sounds emerging from Modern Love's roster and Thursday night's showcase includes their heaviest hitters in Andy Stott, Demdike Stare, and Millie & Andrea (a collaborative project between Andy Stott and Demdike Stare's Miles Whittaker). Andy Stott's previous live sets in Seattle have been some of the most hypnotic and absorbing dance sets I've had the pleasure of experiencing, and I imagine he'll be playing loads of new material since he's been quiet on the release front since his 2012 breakout album Luxury Problems.
Ninja Tune Showcase at the Crocodile, Thursday 9/25
Three heavy hitters in Martyn, FaltyDL, and Letherette that all have joined the elite roster of Ninja Tune Records, arguably the electronic music world's most premier and influential label outside of Warp Records. Both Martyn and FaltyDL have released two of the strongest cerebral electronic full-lengths of the year with The Air Between Words and In The Wild, respectively, while Letherette's stellar self-titled album from last year was a sublime mixture of classic house styles interspersed with heady, chopped-up hip-hop instrumentals and slow-motion soundscapes. I'm hoping Natasha Kmeto will jump on stage to perform "Restless" with Letherette, a silky collaborative standout from their record.
Rhythm & Bass Showcase at the Showbox, Thursday 9/25
Following an opening DJ set from blossoming Seattle electronic/pop trio The Flavr Blue, the classic and impeccable Showbox venue will transport momentarily to the fertile Los Angeles scene with two of the city's most thrilling and dynamic live performers, TOKiMONSTA and Baths. The evolution of Baths' live show from one-man act to full band status has been wonderful to witness and it'll be thrilling to see his band translate the dark and deceptively kinetic sounds of his recent Ocean Death EP inside the confines of one of Seattle's oldest and most loved venues.
Crew Love Showcase at Q Nightclub, Friday 9/26
Boston-based DJ/production duo Soul Clap have established their own brand of deep, slinky, hypnotic slo-mo dancefloor vibes ever since they started unleashing their now-classic edits over five years ago. They've influenced an army of disciples and also managed to develop their own crew in the process, recently launching their own label, Soul Clap Records. Their inaugural release comes from young talent Nick Monaco, his debut album Mating Call providing one of 2014's strongest leftfield electronic/pop debuts of the year with an assured blend of dancefloor cuts and Krautrock-leaning gems. I'm quite eager to see him live for the first time. Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap are seasoned veterans of creating dancefloor mania, and Q Nightclub will be an ideal venue for you to lose yourself on the dancefloor to their precisely crafted make-out selections all night long.
Hush Hush Showcase at JBL Theater, Friday 9/26
Conflict of interest here: I'm thrilled about this showcase for the Hush Hush label I run to share sounds with world, especially since it'll be in a live setting that is ideal for Hush Hush's intimate, contemplative aesthetic. Held in the seated JBL Theater within the EMP Museum, this show will be comparable to Decibel's gorgeous Optical showcases with a strong visual element coinciding with the four act's transportive sounds. Seattle outfit Cock & Swan kick off the night with their dimly-lit take on experimental, vocal-laced pop full of warm analogue synths and unexpected samples. This is their first show in over nine months and they'll be accompanied live by one of Seattle's secret weapons, Sax G. Veteran Seattle electronic producer Bob Hansen may be best-known as one-half of Jacob London alongside his pal Dave Pezzner, but his solo works under the Hanssen guise are equally engrossing. His recent Seven Years Week album on Hush Hush showcases his recent affinity for spacebound synth-heavy explorations and this will be his first time performing a chunk ofSYW live. Seattle's Kid Smpl and Slow Year both mine a dark, engrossing, and arresting sound that defies easy categorization, capping off the night in a heavy and cathartic fashion. This is an early show, so attendees will still be able to check out the nighttime showcases afterwards!
Hyperdub Showcase at Crocodile, Saturday 9/27
A Hyperdub showcase is becoming a bit of a tradition at Decibel Festival and each year they continue to bring the goods, confidently establishing themselves as one of the most forward-thinking electronic/bass labels of the last decade. Kode9's DJ sets are always riddled with exclusive dubs and unreleased material and he brings enough bass to make your insides tremble. DJ Spinn is carrying on the hyper-kinetic juke/footwork tradition laid down by his late friend and tour partner DJ Rashad (RIP) while Scratch DVA, one of Hyperdub's quiet weapons, will be making a rare Seattle appearance.
Dance Nostalgic at the Showbox, Saturday 9/27
One word: Lindstrom. Outside of Todd Terje, Lindstrom is the one Scandinavian producer I've been eager to catch live and his set at the Dance Nostalgic Showcase alongside Com Truise, Midnight Magic, and Avalon Emerson marks his Seattle debut. His 2007 release Where You Go I Go Too is still the pinnacle of exploratory cosmic disco in my book and I'm looking forward to being immersed in his blissful, slow-building productions.
dB After-Hours 3: Dialated presented by Rane, Saturday 9/27
This is my afterhours pick of the festival out of the official Decibel parties. KiNK, Efdemin, and John Roberts, three of the strongest tech-house producers of the last decade, will be pummeling the dancefloor from 2am until 7am and I'm determined to find the second wind necessary to catch KiNK after sadly missing his closing night set at last year's Decibel Festival, reportedly a standout set from many trusted sources.
Friends of Friends at Crocodile, Sunday 9/28
Ever since first receiving Friends of Friends' inaugural release at KEXP five years ago (the brilliant Daedelus x Jogger split EP), I've kept a close eye and ear on FoF's evolving sound and impeccable curation. Their line-up for this year's showcase is a testament to the cool diversity of their roster. Salva is headlining the event, and while the superstar DJ/producer is currently blowing up in both the electronic and hip-hop worlds, and recently forming his own label in the process, it's a testament to FoF's razor-sharp ears that they released some of Salva's earliest works and he's still a key part of their growing family. Groundislava is hot off the release of his brilliant Frozen Throne album, a mesmerizing sci-fi-leaning fusion of seductive R&B and retro/future analog electronics. Nadastrom and Deru are new additions to the FoF crew and offer well-seasoned veterans in mid-tempo dancefloor bangers and nostalgic ambient sound structures, respectively. This bill is arguably one of the most diverse showcases of the festival.