10 Years of Decibel
In a scene saturated with commercial dance acts and dominated by just a handful of event promoters, Decibel Festival has remained true to its founding principles by continuing to create a festival experience unlike any other major American festival. Decibel, a fixture of the Seattle music scene, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this fall. Spanning 5 days and nights in late September, the festival will prove to be Decibel’s largest installment to date. It has claimed an undeniable spot at the forefront of the electronic and dance music scene in the nation and has, without a doubt, evolved from its fledgling first year. At its outset, Decibel Festival strived to bring an unparalleled experience to Seattle, one which coalesced around live electronic music performance, visual art and education. Its 2004, inaugural event attracted just over 2,500 attendees. Now, in its tenth year, Decibel Festival has matured considerably and is ready to take flight, so to speak, with an anticipated attendance of 30,000 dedicated electronic music fans.
Refined Taste & Visual Art
While it seems a certainty that the festival’s increased size and success can be directly attributed to the electronic dance music craze that has swept the nation in recent years, the organizing principles behind it are anything but related to the so-called “EDM bubble.” If an over-the-top spectacle is what you seek, try Insomniac’s Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas or ID&T’s TomorrowWorld in Atlanta. Decibel is a festival for those with a refined music taste and an interest in visual art, new media and technology.
A Different Approach
While much of the current festival circuit is focused on selling out large venues and increasing profits by playing it safe with bookings, Decibel has opted for a different approach, one rooted in exposing fans to artists that they have never encountered before. The founder of Decibel Festival, Sean Horton, has therefore focused his efforts on carefully and thoughtfully curating diverse lineups brimming with some of the most underrated, yet artistically brilliant talent in the world. He explains that “as a deejay, music producer, performer and visual artist myself, I basically wanted to fuse all of what I loved into one unified experience. Helping build a community of like-minded individuals was a driving force for me as well. There’s so much talent in Seattle and I wanted to help facilitate it.” It’s no wonder then, that each Decibel booking is billed as an artist “showcase.”
As a deejay, music producer, performer and visual artist myself, I basically wanted to fuse all of what I loved into one unified experience. Helping build a community of like-minded individuals was a driving force for me as well. There’s so much talent in Seattle and I wanted to help facilitate it. – Sean Horton
Still, these festival showcases do not solely revolve around debuting new and up-and-coming artists, but rather strive to bring acts to Seattle that otherwise would not have been booked by other major promoters in the Emerald City. For instance, past lineups have included Detroit techno legend Carl Craig, San Francisco’s Dirtybird head-honcho Claude VonStroke, dance music heavyweight Moby (who will be returning as one of Decibel’s main headliners this year with a DJ set), and even Deadmau5 (before anyone had a clue who that kid in the mouse head was).
This year’s lineup reflects a similar array of old and new artists, but on a much more massive level than in years past. Roughly 130 artists including the likes of Nicolas Jaar, Art Department, Green Velvet, and Peter Hook will be performing at nearly a dozen indoor and outdoor venues throughout the city of Seattle, making this one of the most unique formats for an event of this size. Festival attendees will be granted access to these venues (nightclubs and concert halls alike) which populate the downtown and Capitol Hill neighborhoods of Seattle. Attendees will revel in this truly urban festival, absorbing the delightful soundscapes made possible by some of the leading-edge equipment in the business (venues will be outfitted with EAW’s Avalon System, Funktion One, KV2 Audio and L-Acoustic rigs). This year’s event features 27 official artist showcases, 4 optical events, and 6 official after-hours shows. According to the Decibel website Optical events are “A/V showcases featuring a wide selection of international ambient, neo-classical and experimental music, accompanied by some of the world’s leading visual artists.” In other words, there is a little something for everyone.
Decibel Festival Conference
In fact, for those less interested in the techno-heavy, after-hours shows, the festival also features a conference component during the daytime hours with panels on topics ranging from video game scoring to new instruments and new media. Additionally, the Decibel Festival Conference features workshops conducted by some of the leaders of hardware and software manufacturing in the music industry (partners of the festival include Dubspot and Ableton, to name a few).
This abundance of variation in festival activities is perhaps the largest draw of the festival; one can choose to take part in a workshop, check out a panel and witness breathtaking and cutting-edge audio and visual performances throughout some of the city’s best venues in a single day. The crowd will certainly reflect this sophistication, with a mixture of avid (and well-informed) music fans and technology aficionados.
Not Your Average Beatport Top 100
Attendees are forewarned: they should not expect any “bangers” or to hear anything from the Beatport Top 100 chart. Instead, they should anticipate an eclectic mix of urban and experimental styles with a focus on underground dance, electro pop, and dub. Still, the festival has changed and grown since its inception in 2004. This year’s lineup includes some more mainstream acts like Zedd and Alex Metric, yet these are few and far between and simply reflect the reality of the ever expanding scope of the electronic dance music scene. To put this into perspective, 2010’s Decibel Festival drew in just under 18,000 attendees while last year’s attendance numbers jumped over 26,000. According to Decibel’s website, festival pass sales went up 23% from the year 2011 and 2012. This year, we can only expect that this upward trend will continue.
Seattle’s EDM Community is Flourishing
Particularly, Seattle’s electronic music community has expanded and grown at such a rapid pace, that the city has seen massive outdoor and indoor EDM festivals become the norm. Many new, state-of-the-art nightclubs have opened their doors in just the last year alone, that it would be hard to argue against the claim that Seattle has one of the strongest electronic music communities in the nation. Decibel holds a very unique place within the dance music scene in Seattle. While other promoters are enjoying a high degree of success by drawing in many newcomers to the scene with high production value, flashing lights and big names, this success does seem unsustainable. I’ll be the first to admit that massive raves (“massives”) are a lot of fun, but carnival rides and LED panels aren’t what converts lifelong dance music fans; music is. There is no doubt that each and every Seattle promoter is bringing something new to the scene and are working to produce some of the most top-notch events in the nation here in the northwest. Still, it seems inevitable that the EDM bubble will burst, and the mainstream massives will need to reinvent themselves if they are to stay relevant. There are only so many times that one can listen to Martin Garrix’s “Animals” before you start to crave something new and innovative from a DJ set. If and when the hype does subside, U.S. promoters will be scrambling to rebrand, but Decibel will endure. Decibel Festival has been, and still is, the last remaining bastion of cutting-edge dance music embodied in festival form in the Pacific Northwest, and perhaps the entire country. It is a precious gem, and those of us who have the pleasure of experiencing it should cherish it.
Full Line Up
Decibel Festival will take place from September 25-29, 2013 in Seattle, WA. Check out the full lineup below:
Get your tickets here: http://dbfestival.com/dbx/tickets