Quick Decibel Festival Reviews
The massed editorial staff of Bubblegum Cage III just got back from Seattle and – frankly – we don’t have a lot of time on our hands, so let’s get a move on, shall we?
ROOM40 10th ANNIVERSARY SHOWCASE
Rafael Anton Irisarri – AKA The Sight Below and one of the organizers of the festival, apparently. Lovely guitar-and-laptop business. Kept it short and sweet.
Lawrence English – The Room40 label boss turned in an excellent set but he certainly wasn’t as concise as Rafael Irisarri. Went on a bit and also attempted a seamless transition into Grouper, which fell a bit flat.
Grouper – Ah but when Liz Harris picked up her guitar and started to sing, the evening really took off. Boy does she ever have a knack for making apparently vague, slurred melodies hit home with absolute precision. Uncanny!
Ben Frost – Backed by a wall of guitar amps, Frost put in one of the more showy laptop sets of the festival. He favours brutal volume and dark themes but has the good taste and technical acumen to keep the sound crystal clear at all times. And those wolf sounds, corny on record, are genuinely terrifying live. Still, the none-more-intense, nature-is-cruel shtick does get a bit much after a while. The fact that he sites Ayn Rand as an influence and looks like the young Hitler doesn’t help.
OPTICAL 1 – BETWEEN SPACE
Robert Henke – Seated at the center of the fancy Nordstrom Recital Hall, The Monolake man presented a set of unusually lucid dark ambiance. His visuals involved fading black-and-white images into each other, using some crazy Jitter filter that superimposed the texture from the emerging image upon the outline of the present one. Stark and impressive.
Murcof – Got a standing ovation for his rather mediocre set of tepid, modern-classical-tinted electronica. Goodness knows why. Terrible visuals-y visuals, too.
Mark Van Hoen – The ex-Seefeel and Locust fellow began with a few pieces of jaw-droppingly brilliant video-sample collage, before complaining that his computer wasn’t “responding” properly and going on to do some more standard (but still brilliant) music-with-video pieces. At the end of his set, he stomped away, looking displeased. One of the highlights, nevertheless.
RED BULL MUSIC ACADEMY ON THE FLOOR
Shlomo – Flying Lotus and Burial have a lot to answer for, don’t they? Goofy, lumbering stoner beats.
Teebs – Part of Flylo’s gang, rocking hyper-compressed psychedelic beat-scapes. Not bad. Got the crowd of Friday night drunks moving a bit.
Headhunter aka Addison Groove – Gutless and brainless amalgam of electronic dance music’s most mind-numbing cliches. Needless to say, the crowd loved it.
Mount Kimbie – And this is why it was worth sitting through Headhunter. The post-dubstep duo’s first North American date, apparently. Bits of playful live instrumentation (and vocals!) plus plenty of dub chaos made this wonderfully casual set reminiscent of the Mouse on Mars boys at their best. Seemed to confuse the party crowd, though, who only really got going when some rather heavy guitar riffing was brought in. Well, this was Seattle, after all.
OPTICAL 2 – TACTILE IMMERSION
Noveller – Though we’re heartily sick of seeing avant rockers using those green looping pedals everybody seems to have, this was an undeniably skilled and affecting set of solo guitar atmospherics. Plus she had the best merch of the festival – psychedelic cat tote bags!
Fennesz – A torrential downpour of guitar noise and Mego-style laptop chaos. Pitched somewhere between Plus 47 Degrees and Black Sea, this was heaven for Fennesz fans. Lillevan’s live visuals made a superb match – layer upon layer of splashing, clashing, cascading liquids. Rafael Irisarri came on for an encore, which may have been a distortion-drenched version of “Endless Summer”. The show in Vancouver the next night was great too, though rather more hesitant.
Oneohtrix Point Never – The artist of the year. Daniel Lopatin seems to be moving away from his signature synth arpeggios, towards a more digital sound, centering on his Korg ES-1 sampler. This set moved from ominous drones to processed live vocals and ended with some of Lopatin’s mangled ’80s pop remix magic (aka “echo jams”). The visuals, by Killingfrenzy, were pitch perfect and genuinely dreamlike – snakeskin-textured visions of the city at night, morphing and trailing.