PT. 1 - The Arrival
In my younger days I could handle multi-day music conferences such as Decibel Fest in Seattle no problem. I'd feel myself grow physically from these challenging endurance marathons of no sleep, food, or friends. But those days are long gone and usually what I end up with is a bug (check), exhaustion so severe that work becomes nearly impossible (check), and a lasting sense of dread spread over the entire event that some how I'm missing something (check). It's hard, I always end up some where in the world all by myself at a festival and the only companions I have are conscience and the demons in my head, of which I have plenty - gained over two decades of schlepping around the globe in the hopes of finding something original and good (hit & miss in that pursuit - BTW). What I've learned is that you have to pick your moments of significance and keep it tunnel vision the rest of the time or you will be overwhelmed by the sensory overload.
For me the moments came fast and furious this September 23rd-26th, not just because this was an opportunity to escape the deep forest hermit retreat that my wife and I call home and head off to the big city and all of the great music that comes with a trip like that, this was a given when I first made plans to cover the Decibel Fest for Ibiza Voice and Big Shot as a journalist. This was also an opportunity to reconnect with family, friends, and the city of Seattle - a place where I had spent a lot of my time in the mid Nineties talent scouting in a fertile rock city. I've shared a beer and smoke with some of the city's finest musicians in my day and it was great but that might as well be a million years in comparison to today's rock music scene. Fact of the matter is that I don't like rock music anymore, I've been suspicious of it ever since Johnny Thunders died. These days rhythmic techno music - the latest (and my opinion, best) evolution in the great Afro-American musical diaspora - is what I live for. I was very curious to see how an electronic music festival would fair in Sub Pop Rock City, and to be honest they didn't seem to be eager bedfellows with rock posters and graffiti lining every festival venue as if to let every clubber know that when they left for the night the place would be sanitized for the benefit of Chris Cornell and his big rock ego. But that seems to be the case all over the city, a moribund scene in need of some fresh blood and new venues. My brother, who I haven't seen in 25 yrs., has played music in Seattle most of his adult life and now manages the J&M Saloon in Pioneer Square, He put it best, everyone is a musician nowadays and as such venue owners treat them all like meat in search of whatever works. It's no different anywhere I've been in North America in search of music, really, a sad sign of the time.
That lacking is exactly what made the Decibel Fest so special, the festival offered more than one person could actually see (an existential conundrum, if there ever was one), a nice kind of glut. So even after enduring a relatively short flight and travel time on Thursday the 23rd, I could feel all of that stress weighting my old ass legs down. I made my choice, I was only seeing one showcase that night "Simply Shameless" and who can argue with a line up that includes Dan Bell and Deepchild? Unlike many of the the other journalists covering the festival, I didn't come to be challenged by the cutting edge (pretty much any genre with dub or glitch attached to it, IMHO), I wanted to see the state of dance music and clubbing on the West Coast. Seattle has a much smaller, more sedate scene than those of San Francisco or Los Angeles but that tight knit clique of faces kept popping up at every venue for the next few days giving the whole festival an air of community - whether real of imagined. That was fine for a guy hundreds of miles from home on his own. Berliner Deepchild put on an excellent live performance that suggested the former Aussie has some rock & roll in his blood, he's certainly old enough for me to make that statement with some surety. Like Dan Bell, his music was fun, energetic, and danceable. However, neither were evocative or pushing their boundaries any further than they already have in their careers. It was perfect music for a Thursday night but not for a Saturday night after party. Rumors of an after party featuring Dan Bell and Drumcell (a conference panelist earlier that day) circulated but having learned my lesson from ADE, I knew that a night of late night shenanigans negates an important day of networking at the business conference. Music was missed but knowledge was gained, thankfully.
Friday morning comes instantly as my brother and I traverse a long night and sunrise drinking wine and catching up on two and a half decades lost - sad and joyous at the same time. I spend the day in a semi-drunken haze, perfect for comprehension and networking skills, right? This is of course, the second day of a conference the time when I switch to back-up reserves fueled mostly by adrenaline. This makes me impervious to sleep, booze, substances, probably even death but I'm not going to test that theory any time soon. I am in tip-top shape for what turns out to be the best part of the Decibel Fest, the panels. The ideas and knowledge being given away for free from promotional and label help to production seminars, this is as good as it gets in the US. Sadly, it's still lacking in comparison to ADE with it's A&R and artist networking sessions. I would have loved to seen more panels, more attendees, and just more opportunities to connect people together, the potential is there and I hope that the festival will continue to grow into its conference. It is at this time, I find that I am having laptop and camera troubles - clients: the reason why I was MIA while at the conference and my camera was having issues. It is always something, but sadly no photos of any highlights, majestic Mt. Rainier, nor my adorable little nieces.
That night, I found the Planet Mu showcase to be irritating, as much as try to have an open mind. FaltyDL did little for me, plus (as is the case with the kiddie shows) there were sound problems, caused by a blown speaker - gee imagine that, I've never been to a dub/glitch show that hasn't had a blown speaker. The kids may love it but I'm still not seeing it in sound or professionalism. Local promoters TRUST's showcase at Sole Repair was pure handbag house, my assumptions about Trus'me proving to be correct after all. Sadly, Modeselektor across the street at Neumos was putting on the same kind of lackluster performance they did two years ago. The visuals were amazing but I am so over these guys it's not even funny. I'm bummed that I missed Headhunter, but that is the nature of these conferences - timing and logistics. With Friday's highlight at this point seeming like it would be my bro introducing me to the rhythm section of Bad Company down at the J&M, I headed for the after party at Motor. An interesting locale south of downtown that had elements of a SoCal after party - kids all spun monkey on pharmaceuticals, weirdos in search of an all-nighter (like the trolly Eastern Washington looking couple who had never heard house music and could only use AC/DC as a musical reference), and die hard clubbers. The severe alcohol restrictions for all involved (although I hear there were some booze problems) gave the "Mi Casa Es Su Casa" showcase a very sedate and safe-as-milk feel that I've never found at an SF, LA, or even Chico late night parties. Not sure if that's a good or bad thing??? At least I didn't feel like I could be stabbed at a moment's notice by some drunken lunatic. Lawnchair Generals opened things with a commanding set that made me want to reinvestigate their music after dismissing them as pennyweight house and Catz N Dogs did a fine job of injecting the basic template laid down by the Generals with bass. Nothing any better or worse than the Generals, just solid cuts played well. The real star of the night, and perhaps of the festival, was Chilean DJ Dinky. She played tracks the way only a woman can play house music - with grace, sophistication, and just a hint of romantic swagger. It was probably one of the most thoughtful set I've heard in years and despite running on no sleep it moved me both physically and mentally. I'd probably have even more fond memories of it if I had photos of it and my brother and I not stayed up again til the sunrise hours AGAIN discussing the legitimacy of aesthetics and the importance of Lester Bangs. It must be stressed that my brother is perhaps the only other person in the world who took the time to engage me in such a debate, and you can't say no to family. Things get a little loopy and foggy from here as I move out of downtown Seattle and off to the suburbs in Auburn to stay with my sister, who has masterminded most of this trip (gotta say I have an awesome family, who knew?). More to come in part two....