Dubspot @ Decibel 2011 in Seattle: Martyn, Machine Drum, Mike Huckaby, Night Slugs, Green Velvet

In October of this year the Dubspot team descended upon Seattle, WA’s Decibel Festival for a weekend of creative mind-meld as we presented two workshops (on Ableton Live and Maschine) and then caught some groundbreaking DJ performances and live acts at an event that is delivering an amalgam of sound and vision to  Seattle’s discerning art and music scene. Dubspot’s rogue squadron of Steve Nalepa, Michael Walsh and Suzanne Strong hit Decibel this year armed with cameras, questions, ideas and an open mind for what this event might bring to the future of music. What follows is our collective account of experience at Decibel 2011.

Eprom at Decibel 2011, Photo by Suzanne Strong

Decibel is one of the most cutting-edge music festivals in the world with a diverse lineup of artists that range from well known veterans like Moby to underground heroes of the moment such as Starslinger. Decibel bridges the gap between technology and creativity through visual art, workshops, panel discussions and cutting-edge electronic music performances at various venues across the city to create a dynamic offering of sound experience. Just a few highlights from our journey include Amon Tobin’s groundbreaking ISAM audio/visual show,  Martyn’s live PA, Machine Drum’s kinetic set, Frite Nite tearing up DB in the Park, Mike Huckaby’s return to deepness, Green Velvet’s classic performance, Kyle Hall’s young enthusiasm, Mad Professor mixing on a full console, and Night Slugs bringing the new blood for a night of debauchery.

Kicking off our excursion was a trip to Seattle’s Fred Wildlife Refuge which worked as Decibel’s home base for discussion, presentation and technology during the first three days of the event. A Microsoft sponsored technology lounge allowed patrons to check out Windows 7 and the latest in controller surfaces from companies such as Akai, Rane, Livid Instruments and Madrona Labs while the downstairs area held a series of presentations and discussion from producers and industry professionals. In the technology center we were especially impressed with Madrona’s first live demonstration of their Soundplane controller (which you can see in the above video.) Madrona explains the instrument as follows: “The Soundplane A is a computer music controller with the sensitivity and feel of an acoustic instrument. It detects a wide range of touches on its walnut playing surface, from a light tickle to a very firm press. The Soundplane can be configured as either a 150-note keyboard with position and pressure sensing on each key, or as one continuous surface.”


Our first night out for the eventing events happened on Thursday when we caught Amon Tobin at the Paramount. The venue was packed to the walls for Tobin’s U.S. debut of the much talked-about ISAM audio/visual show. Since its debut in Montreal earlier this year, the ISAM tour has been gaining much press for the exceptional sound and projection mapping that constitute Tobin’s on-stage presence. A massive installation of blocks surround him on stage while he performs in a cube at the center of the stage. Projected images of smoke, spaceships, gears, mechanical movements and abstract visuals jump in time with the music, grind to different places and create a third dimension of space for the audience. The music remained mostly abstract and worked as a catylist for the visual movements, almost downplaying the audio narrative for the sake of the visual narrative. In that sense the show was groundbreaking. The sound mapping projections were tight and effective leaving the audience with a new  perspective on performance. But just when we thought we had this show figured out, Amon Tobin brought the music around for the old school fans, dropping drum and bass rhythms for a musical ending that left fans satisfied.

Girl Unit - Night Slugs at Baltic Room, Photo by Suzanne Strong

After absorbing the gallery vibe of ISAM it was time to get moving on the dance floor so we headed up to the Baltic Room for the much anticipated Night Slugs showcase. The Baltic Room is like your cool graphic designer aunt who always knows what’s up, but still maintains mad classiness and never-showy, but smart style. The Night Slugs Crew dropped knowledge this night, with Kingdom, Girl Unit, and label co-owner Bok Bok keeping the capacity crowd moving with UK bass meets US R&B influenced tunes. Kingdom stepped to the decks and handed down a slick mix of melodic beats with warped out vocals riding out on an R&B motif. Girl Unit kept the momentum going by seamlessly relieving Kingdom from the decks and jumping right into post-dubstep tracks leaning toward UK dance with significant builds and breaks. As Girl Unit graced the decks, the dance floor swarmed with people going nuts, clearly enjoying themselves. Rounding out this perfect circle of an evening was Night Slugs co-label owner, Bok Bok.  Maintaining the alchemy of the peerless beat with the peerless crowd, Bok Bok catapulted the crowd into a polite frenzy with a set of heavy bass and juke/tech tracks spiced with a dash of R&B.  The evening wrapped up too quickly, but ended with a one-song-each tag team play-out by Bok Bok, Girl Unit and Kingdom.

Steve Nalepa and Mike Huckaby at Decibel 2011, Photo by Suzanne Strong

As partners with Decibel Festival, Dubspot presented two workshops at the Fred Wildlife Refuge on Friday in an effort to bring our classroom experience to new spaces. Ableton Live Course Designer and prolific producer Steve Nalepa kicked off Friday’s workshops with an hour long presentation on how to construct a track from scratch in Ableton. Always brimming with ideas, Nalepa crammed a lot of information into his exploration of Live, discussing composition ideas and production techniques in one take to a full house of music enthusiasts.

Next on Friday’s presentation schedule was an excursion into N.I.’s Maschine with Detroit legend Mike Huckaby. As one of the hottest producers in house and techno today, Huckaby had an eager crowd for his take on how to make tracks in Maschine. The highlight of this discussion was when he explained how he uses Maschines “Scenes” mode, an unconventional workflow where he fills each scene with a different drum pattern (while keeping the same kit for all scenes.) This allows for the exploration of different rhythms to find the perfect fit for whatever project you’re working on. And in Mike’s opinion it offers a simple workflow for remixes as he explained in the presentation: “Need a remix for Vladislav Delay? No problem. Check your scenes, check your PayPal.” Around this time Michael and Suzie met up with legendary producer Moby for a great chat and a photo session which we published last week on the Dubspot Blog.

Moby and Suzanne Strong at Decibel 2011, Photo by Michael Walsh

Friday evening offered a number of events to check out and we were jumping cabs all over town to try and hear it all. Starslinger commanded a packed room at Crocodile – proof that he’s gained quite a following in his short career. After bumping shoulders with a few hundred people we figured it was time to get over to the SunTzu Sound’s Trust showcase at the Baltic Room. SunTzu has been holding down a soulful corner of the Seattle dance music scene for over a decade now with DJs (Atlee Treasure and J Justice) who have become local legends and some of the city’s favorite promoters. For this showcase SunTzu brought some new blood and some local legends to the party for a nice cross-section of music. Atlee Treasure started the night off with soulful house music to warm up the audience in a tactful way. Next up, Detroit’s Kyle Hall brought youthful energy and sound to his DJ performance – quick mixes and big drops characterized this set that was fueled by Hall’s original tracks on the decks. Lastly we were incredibly impressed by Hanssen (Bob Hansen from Jacob London) who performed a live PA with keys, effects, huge basslines, house grooves and a live bass on top of it all. Rocking out on a fold-out table on the dance floor had the crowd engaged and screaming for tech/house bass lines with lots of substance and soul. After the Trust showcase we got over to Neumos to catch the end of Resident Advisor’s Blurring The Lines showcase. As we walked in Martyn was in prime form rocking a live PA that moved through breakbeats, house grooves and futuristic movements of sound – clearly the most impressive offering of live music performance so far at Decibel. Running an Ableton Live setup with outboard delay (Boss DD-1) he worked feedback loops into a frenzy over shuffled beats, all the while tweaking a Korg Monotron’s filters to blistering peaks. Needless to say we headed home sweaty and satisfied.

Comma and Danny Corn, Photo by Suzanne Strong

On Saturday during the day we found Decibel warming up to its peak with DB in the park. With killer sets from Danny Corn, Comma, Salva and Eprom, this party was epic. The rain stayed away but a slight misty drizzle kept the packed park cool while the Frite Nite crew heated up the speakers. Danny Corn rocked a killer DJ set peppered with originals, followed by Comma who played an impressive set of all originals Comma compositions.  Comma is also half of Slidecamp (along with Boreta from The Glitch Mob), who recently released their beautiful debut album on Glass Air / Alpha Pup.

Beans – Blue Movie (Salva Remix) by SALVA

Frite Nite leader Salva was up next, he played a wicked live set full of footwork vibes and bass heavy bangers. Clocking in over 150 bpm for the most part, his set was packed with energetic dancefloor heaters. Salva’s remix of Beans “Blue Movie” absolutely smashed it, ‘I said I don’t step aside I step up. So if you speak, shut up. This kid is about to erupt. New York! My record’s on fire, fire. My mic is on fire, fire….” So good!!!

Eprom @ DB In The Park, Photo by Suzanne Strong

Eprom brought it home with the heaviest set of the day. His productions are some of the most unique and insane sonic explorations out there right now. He dropped a couple unreleased tracks that completely lit the place up and then announced a new song called “Honey Badger” that was serious fire. Ridiculous! A future smash you will hear everywhere soon. His work incorporates an intense sound design element, yet also utilizes minimal, sparse production tactics, heavy with 808s and a massive amount of attitude and confidence. This label is making big moves and Frite Nite delivered in a huge way. For more on this camp check out the label’s new compilation Surreal Estate which features tracks from Sepalcure, XI, Distal, Starkey, Salva, Eprom and more.

Green Velvet at Decibel 2011, Photo by Suzanne Strong

Next we were off to catch Green Velvet who totally slayed the crowd at the Showbox on Saturday night with his live performance. Hypnotizing fans with steady house sounds laced with a straight techno beat, Curtis A. Jones had us mesmerized by the glow of his Fraggle-like green fauxhawk. Leading the crowd of young (waiting for Designer Drugs) and old (waiting for “Camera’s Ready…”), Green Velvet was like a priest conducting a mass of swelling and steady beats. And we were all caught up in his rapture. Cajmere was left behind in this very Green Velvet-focused set, grabbing the vodaphone-sounding mic for songs such as “Flash,”  the whole room bounced as if riding a four-on-the-floor earthquake. He held a calm, cool, and collected vibe as he rolled through his repertoire. Sadly, it all ended too soon so that young duo, Designer Drugs, could step up for their set.

Designer Drugs, Photo by Suzanne Strong

On the other end of town on Saturday night, half of the Dubspot team caught RAC (Remix Artist Collective) DJs who were rocking a packed house at the Baltic Room with the types of remixes they’ve become known for. Phoenix, Kings of Leon, Holy Ghost and Foster the People were just a few of the artists they chopped up and scattered throughout their set. Simultaneously Neumos was bumping to a packed house of underground house enthusiasts who had come for Mike Huckaby, I:Cube and and Chateau Flight. Huckaby really set the tone of this show with a refined, in-the-pocket sound that teetered between house and techno while remaining understated and thumping.

Sunday night was the closing of Decibel 8 and found a series of parties closing the show in proper form. At Neumos the Mad Professor and Gaudi brought live performance to dub music – Gaudi with the use of an incredible beat box MC and Mad Professor mixing on a full console to proper effect. At the Triple Door up the street we caught Dntel (prolific producer who also appears in the Postal Service pop act) for a subtle, understated meld of light and sound in a cozy atmosphere. With a very quiet, dark room at his disposal, Dntel worked subtle rhythms and sounds into a hypnotic movement for the full house of fans. Lastly, and probably one of the best things we caught at Decibel, was DJ dBridge dropping new and old school drum and bass knowledge for an eager crowd back at the Baltic Room. With basslines wobbling and BPMs running quick, we found our final moment to celebrate the week we had experienced – reveling in the fact that genre comes second at this festival of sound and that all styles were represented equally. And just as we were about to say goodbye, dBridge blessed us with a classic from 1994 (see above) that sent everyone home excited for next year’s event. We left exhausted, enthralled and excited for electronic music once again.

The Authors:

Michael Walsh is the Editor of Dubspot’s Blog, a producer of audio/visual art and a journalist living in Southern California. Read more of his work at soundsdefygravity.com

Suzanne Strong is a photographer and journalist living in Seattle who covered Decibel 2011 as part of the Dubspot Rogue Squadron. See more of her work at suzannestrongphotography.com

Steve Nalepa is a Dubspot instructor and curriculum designer who also moonlights as a prolific music producer and performer. Check out more of his work at stevenalepa.com

  • Sean
  • 10/27/2011

Nice recap! So happy to have Dubspot on board this year.

  • Michael Walsh
  • 10/27/2011

Thanks! We had a blast!

  • Recap Roundup: Comma, Gobe, Outsider, Librarian, Thats Deep | sub⏐division
  • 10/27/2011

[...] many cool people, and practically drowned in good music. The biggest highlights for me were playing Decibel Festival, and the Frite Nite shows where we got our whole label together in San Francisco and Arcata, CA. [...]