Decibel 2011 Review

Posted by | Monday, November 14th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Events | | |

Decibel Festival 2011
Ryan X

This year, my journey with the Decibel Festival was all about depth. I don’t know of anywhere else I could have experienced this type of live, intense musical experimentation by world-class artists, especially where I could pick my place in the crowd so easily.
I could sit, stand, dance, or talk just outside the reaches of the sound systems. I could get close to just about any performers to see what their hands were doing or the expressions on their faces. The venues for Decibel are not superclubs, exclusive back rooms, or festival fairgrounds. They are medium-sized hangouts, concert halls and theaters with full-range, accurate sound.
For people looking for what’s under the hood, that makes Decibel a uniquely deep event, where programmed synthesis, sampling and playback can express the human mind’s creative potential in a way acoustic instruments alone can’t. With technology right now, the only boundary to music is how well you understand how sound works, and how well you understand your gear.
The artists at Decibel implicitly know this, and that is why what they’re doing is bordering on magical. With the right preparation, one person can perform as an orchestra of functional noise. And I don’t have to give a best guess what they’re aiming for – there is no physical limitation to how loud or fast they can play a guitar, piano, or drum set. Sync it in a sampler,  synthesize it on a keyboard, map it to knob, button, or slider on a control surface, and let your mind take it to light speed or to a molecular crawl. That’s what makes electronic music beautiful.

That said, this is a story of a few of the places Decibel took me to. No timeline, no names and places. Just descriptions to move us along.

Here I am and here we go.

Sweat and vodka. Me and the girl with the sparkle headband are taking it in, sipping it down. Straight from the bottle. I’d watched earlier, stalking the stage, sitting on a lawn chair facing out. That’s me in my own head.
I start singing, just me, ignoring everyone still talking, bees in a hive. I’m on stage, that’s my tattoo. I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was born, or at least for the last half hour. I’m tired like you’re tired, and we’re nodding our heads while somebody entertains us.
The mood is set. No bodies and brains. Just skeletons with souls. Storytime with a kick drum behind it. It’s the Charlie Brown dance. It’s demons and angels chatting, pacing. Those are some dark lines under those eyes. Switching to water. Shake the metal rafters. Slowing down, and now he’s going to play through a chapter with someone who doesn’t know the game yet.
She was in the back, she moved to the front. He found her, and now they’re silently discussing just how the next five minutes are going to go down. Stage right, stage left, meet in the middle and whisper to each other. The tension and release are perfect. Look, but don’t touch. Kind of. Easy to feed off of those memories forever. I’m keeping that one.

On a boat, feeling unsorted. Surviving on peanut butter and apricot sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs and cereal, my mind has wandered. I already know I’m not going to remember any of this, so I’m taking snapshots.
It’s decided to rain.
She wanders up to me – “ahhhh, thissss isss the fourthhh time I’vebeentoSeattle, but the first rain”. I open my mouth to answer and she zips away. I think she was the one I saw lying down on the stage later on, stomping her feet and eating flower petals. Maybe not though. It was dark, I couldn’t see.
She wanders up to me with half a grin, a tiny lilt on one side of her face. “Heya, I gotta proposition for ya.” Behind those pink hearts, eyes are smiling. She’s seven and a half feet tall.
“And don’t I recognize you from the gym?”
“Ahhhhhh this is the best day of my life!”
I slide down the deck when a wave hits, doing acrobatics and fall on my butt while people cheer, including the ones under the umbrella.
Through the music, people are dancing in slow motion. I wonder how they keep their balance, but faces show nothing but closed-eyes happy. It’s like a Jell-O helmet.
Downstairs is a disco-ball. I could listen to this forever, my heartbeat. Two foreheads are close to each other, talking very seriously about houseboats.
My new friend and I talk for a minute; she looks different without glasses.
“Are you gay?”, she says, “because I want to sit on your lap.”

I’m struggling to connect the dots in this theater. Hypnotic sound wash is the name of the game, but mountains and water have their own story on the screen. Is someone drowning?
Twenty minutes in I catch up. It’s about a journey home; classic. Two ideas are fighting, and both are sending troops out to fight, then to go home. The anonymous trek keeps going and going, the leaders long gone. There’s nothing left, and the focus goes to a single man, who trips, his face in the dirt. Energy gone, he resents dying, dismisses it, and then freaks out when he reaches purgatory, where heaven and hell decide his fate. He realizes it’s not real, that there is nothing; nothing after the end. The music stops and the lights fade in. Whew.

“I’m not here,” he says. “This is kinda like anthemic, but with no anthems.”

Climb the stairs and there’s a window boarded up.
“Yeah, dude, the DJ tripped coming down from the booth and almost fell through.” Best dance music I’d heard yet. First place I’d been where everyone was actually dancing. Like a beach party in an attic. With no sand or water.

My favorite single artist of the past year, and she’s playing gnarly bass music in a concert space in the pitch black. The seats have been removed so we can cluster. I run to the front to see her face, run to the back and up the stairs to hear the subs shaking the room like a cave. I want one of these in my back yard.
His bag of tricky sounds is almost more than I can handle; he must have a 16-core brain. Several of these this week who have mapped their minds into their electronics, pathways I can’t even begin to imagine, and from the construction comes raw, pure energy that the old classical composers would have killed to have at their fingertips.

Now somebody is pointing a giant laser pen into the middle of my brain, teaching me about quantum physics by shining, shining the light on some toy building blocks. The is crazy overload, the machines and the gears grinding and stomping, forms being created and then destroyed, all without a single moving part. We saw the future there, yep.

I was walking up and down the slope of the grass, listening. I ran up to the sound guy and said, “Did you hear that? When you walk up the hill over there, you start to lose some of the low mids!” He laughs and says it’s because the speaker boxes aren’t exactly parallel to each other. “We usually use a level,” and points to one by extra cables next to the stage.
Other than the landscaping, the sound here is the best I’ve heard anywhere at the festival. Brilliantly clear five feet in front of the stage or all the way back to the road. Hippies and Burners are gathering. Hula hoops have sprouted in the gentle rain; like mushrooms that eat you instead of you eating them. The scene is Techno Fairytale. The only other thing I wanted was a big screen with football on. There’s to wishing.

He was growling and shaking his fist at the setup in front of him. This is what I cut my teeth on. One person, two turntables that probably don’t work all that well, and a crate of vinyl. The first time I saw someone playing a DJ set with CD decks, I was so mad my nose started bleeding, and I asked for my money back.
I enjoy the purity of records and needles, and a nice housey opening set by a pro, leading you in to the rest of the night, is something to be cherished.

The mixing guy was watching a movie with airplane engine stopping hearing protection on. “Dude, you gotta turn this DOWN.” He shrugs. My body hurt the next day like I got punched by a zillion screaming hypodermic needles. Sound does that, you know.

Of course I run into my friend I graduated high school with. In Michigan. Yeah, she’s like, rich and successful and stuff. But we’re in the crowd together. “I got you a beer but it’s, eh, not here anymore.” No worries. I convinced to her to come out to a show, I think. She says she works hard all week and then parties her face off on the weekends. “This is good!” she says. She’s seen Pearl Jam thirty-four times.
And she’s part of the crossover crowd that I would love to have dive into this with me. The more you listen, the more you experience, the better it gets. She’s dancing upstairs where it’s less stuffy. I was watching somebody’s stuff on the bench, as watching the manic pushbutton mayhem on stage was both captivating and numbing.

There’s a man with a neutral face standing in the shadows, watching us watching him. This is new. Sequencing to a new level. I wonder how seriously you can take a room full of people who occasionally shout at nothing.

I was looking underneath my laptop; can’t remember why, drinking below my mask. Must. Push. The Airhorn. Button. And people can say what they want. They don’t know me.
But my hands are wrapped around the brim of my ballcap, and nobody else is here. My eyes are shut, and I’m dropping, dropping. I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was born, or at least for the last five minutes. Something. Give me a break about my haircut.

If I’m gonna be old, I might just wanna be like that guy. Total frantic control over a solid sea of bashful faces, wringing out every last rave-tastic vibe. I remember when I used to spend weekends on dancefloors filled with people and colors, no drinks but water, no pretense, anger, jealousy or judgment. Sort of seems like a dream now, but that old guy remembers it. Hell, he helped create it. I can do a little shimmy-shake and get to the middle, bump some shoe-gazers around and make some fist-pump room for myself.
Ya’ll remember that whole West Coast pop and lock liquid thing? Slip slide, slip slide. Only problem is, now I’ve got a beard. Nobody wants to be the old guy that’s not the one on stage. Old old old old old. Like a low tom drum loop, that’s what’s echoing in my head.

My friend in the dark hood was almost everywhere, with little black star eyes.
“I’m glad you told me that,” she said.

I talked to her after the lights came on, final moments of the trip. “It was total chance that I was even here tonight.”
“You were awesome.”

And then it was over.

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