One prominent feature of Decibel Festival is the way its schedule breaks down into rather meticulously set showcases. Unlike most other festivals, in which entry to one location likely grants access to every stage, Decibel also sells individual tickets to each show as an alternative to more expensive weekend passes. That means a good portion of the audience at every event is experiencing their only taste of the festival for the weekend, and that also means high stakes for festival curators to set up showcases where the line-up flows nicely from one artist into the next. With some venues separated by miles of difficult city commuting, even those with full passes are likely to bunker down at one location for a majority of any given night.
True to form, not too many people looked interested in heading for the exits as the crowd swelled from one artist to the next on Thursday night at the Showbox at the Market. Headliner Dan Deacon made sure that Subversion was one of the best-attended showcases of the night, and openers Clark, Filastine, and Vox Mod each turned the level up with their individual sets.If the artists’ styles couldn’t be linked directly under one genre, they at least shared the common theme of dance music that draws outside the lines, or perhaps more accurately, bounces outside the grid. True to the title of the showcase, these artists weren’t out to banish dance music, but rather to subvert it just a little, keeping the audience grooving to every song while still steering their music in new and exciting directions.
From what I saw, Vox Mod had the best dance moves of the festival. And that may sound like an inconsequential detail, but in electronic music, where performers often pull extra weight to separate their live show from their records, any added flourish of entertainment can be huge. Vox Mod’s dancing, a mix of Thriller-style zombie hands and old-school head banging, were that added flourish. In combination with his up-tempo beats, hardened by crisp snares and kicks and complicated by fluttering mid-range synths, the local Seattleite’s performance jumpstarted the night like defibrillator to the chest.
Having roots in a self-described anarchist marching band called Noise Brigade, it’s no surprise that electronic musician Grey Filastine composes music fit to incite a riot. Teaming up with Javanese indie rapper Nova, the duo performed as simply, Filastine. Their sleek name is where any sense of slimmed down neatness ends. Utilizing the most out of a collection of auxiliary percussion and live instruments that included hand drums, beat pads, a melodica, and most notably, a grocery cart, Filastine created live polyrhythms and middle-eastern melodic structures with aggression and grit. Between starting the set with Nova rapping ferociously into a loudspeaker, and ending with a drum jam in the middle of the dance floor (concluded by tossing fake currency into the air), the politically minded duo flew through their set with a bold confidence that refused to be ignored.
Perhaps the artist most emblematic of the night’s dancy-but-heady vibes was Clark, whose music is often categorized as IDM, or intelligent dance music. Though the English producer wasn’t the last to play in the night, it’d be tough to call him an opener. Clark, full name Chris Clark, has a pedigree that marks him as one of the blue bloods of electronic music, and for the better part of fourteen years he’s remained in the conversation with Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada as one of the best of the genre. Between his immaculately layered drums and inordinately organic synths, he didn’t waste much time in the set proving his reputation. Perhaps most striking was Clark’s ability to weave in pop chord progressions so sparingly but so effectively. His set felt like a lesson in patience, pulling hooks from his arsenal like bottles of wine aged just for the right moment.
Anybody who’s seen Dan Deacon knows they’re in for a treat, and the Thursday night headliner didn’t disappoint. The king of vocoders led audiences down an interactive rabbit hole filled with specifically guided dance circle games, meditations on the therapeutic powers of disco balls, and (with the help of the fluorescent tape adorning all of his gear as well as LED side-fill lights) all the colors of the rainbow. With vocal choruses that can resemble a good folk singer as much as an electronic act, Deacon was the closest thing to a pop star at Subversion, if not all of Decibel festival. His set followed suit accordingly as the Baltimore native bantered between songs with the ease and wit of a charismatic frontman combined with a sardonic comedian. If you didn’t come for the fun of watching one audience member try to mirror an unrelated audience member’s dancing in the middle of a huge audience formed dance circle, you stayed for the undeniable excellence of songs like “When I Was Done Dying".
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