Anticipation is mounting for Seattle’s Decibel Festival in September. Why do 25,000 people travel each year to a quiet city in the Pacific Northwest known more for its coffee, flannel, and ’90s grunge than for its electronic music? Decibel is beloved by fans, producers, and industry movers and shakers as one of the most comprehensive electronic music festivals in the US, showcasing underground and emerging talent.
Detroit transplant Sean Horton founded Decibel in 2003 as an experiment in cultivating an electronic music community in Seattle. Horton borrowed from Detroit’s Movement Festival and Montreal’s MUTEK to create Decibel, which finds some middle ground between the two: it combines both Movement’s party atmosphere and MUTEK’s intellectual audio-visual component. Unlike the rash of Insomniac-style EDM festivals popular in the US, Decibel focuses on the nightclub as home base and fosters an appreciation for electronic music as an art.
The fundamental component of the Decibel experience is discovery. The festival consistently breaks new talent and has featured many now-famous artists ahead of the curve: Flying Lotus played in 2005, Justice in 2006, and Deadmau5 in 2007, among many others. In conjunction with his goal to both entertain and educate attendees, Horton adds a historical element to each year’s lineup with artists who have been instrumental in the formative years of electronic music. This year’s lineup features a balance of dance music veterans, rising stars, and near unknowns, from dubstep pioneer Kode9 and favorite techno maven Richie Hawtin, to R&B party-starter Kaytranada and beat maker Sweater Beats, to pianist Douglas Dare and dark techno maestro Black Asteroid. In addition, Decibel hosts free daytime technology workshops to stimulate attendees outside of the club.
As much as Decibel revolves around underground techno, house, and dubstep, the lineup reflects the fluid and diverse nature of electronic music by expanding into hip hop, electro pop, and elsewhere. Horton also makes a point to include more accessible artists in response to the growing popularity of electronic music in the US, such as with this year’s Pete Tong, Anna Lunoe, and Paper Diamond.
Decibel operates much like a choose-your-own-adventure festival experience. Showcases are spread across Seattle’s venues with at least seven events happening each night, and there is no shortage of opportunities to explore something new. The festival maintains a focus on quality live performance rather than just DJ sets, so attendees can be sure that each show will be an immersive experience that involves all senses.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Decibel is its tight-knit community atmosphere. It is truly a labor of love: run largely by volunteers who somehow balance organizing a five-day festival with their day jobs, the festival limits corporate sponsorship and makes very little money. It also presents attendees with an opportunity to explore Seattle’s electronic music subculture, growing alongside Seattle’s tech industry, which has inspired an interest in technological music, art, and film.
Summer festival season may be winding down, but Seattle will soon host one of the most gratifying festival experiences for those who wish to discover new artists, enjoy top-notch audio and visual performances, and meet like-minded electronic music fans in a community environment. We’re ready to put away our camping gear, stash our neon, and head to Seattle’s nightclubs for Decibel this fall.
View the full lineup below, and purchase festival passes here.