Festival Recap: Decibel 10

14 Oct 2013 — Evelyn Malinowski

After a breezy week, one full music dedication and Seattle friendliness, it is safe to say that this year's Decibel was a success. The festival has proven it has crafted a tradition of exceeding its own expectations (by nature of growing, one could say).

During the closing Optical event at the Triple Door, Sean Horton, the festival's director, took some time to introduce himself and honor as well as reminisce with his staff, calling them the dB family. He asked any present staff to go up onto the stage and give a brief testimonial. Everyone had pride and confidence in their words. In the shadow of an unfortunate cancellation of Oren Ambarchi's anticipated performance, Horton announced that Nosaj Thing agreed to impromptu premiere his upcoming ambient EP, almost as a token of appreciation for the festival and what Horton and staff try to accomplish.

Giving recognition where it's due, it should be mentioned that the festival's showcases were notably consistent about the following: great sound per venue, and enthusiastic crowds full of men.

At most of the showcases that Kelsie or I attended, we found ourselves surrounded by men, young men, and seldom saw a young girl standing alone, of course before her boyfriend rushed back to her side with a fresh PBR tallboy and a thankful kiss.

There was a strong majority of male artists in dB's program. Granted, we see Lorde immediately once opening the website. Among female producers on the festival line-up, 99 percent of them are associated with feminine vocals. This is agreeably no new discovery. Yes, perhaps the line-up at this year's dB can be seen as a reduction of all of electronic/techno's male-female disproportion; be that as it may, there is no reason to continue to feed into this disproportion, to unabashedly promote a week long dance party hosted by male DJs, and to not acknowledge in some way such a striking unbalance.

The most impressive and accessible electronic music being produced right now comes from Americans such as, for concise example, Laurel Halo, Holly Herndon, or Katie Gately, who easily may not have been available for traveling to Seattle during the festival.

Ikonika's set at the Hyperdub showcase is the only set by a female producer who didn't primarily occupy the feminie vocal realm, and she was probably the strongest set that I saw. There was just dancing and dominance over her technology. The hyperlinked footage is old but quite true to the vibe of her recent set in Seattle.

On a larger scale, dB is the Northwest's response to the call of the global dance and techno community. It does us the favor of bringing not only artists but also individuals passionate about electronic music from all over the world to the vicinity, as it latently points out the sore fact that there is little interest in booking female artists. Is no one taking this issue seriously? Female:pressure does.

Amy Grill's 2009 documentary Speaking in Code asked Wolfgang Voigt why he thinks there are so few female artists in the techno scene. While this entire part of the interview is found in the special features on the DVD and cut from the main film, his answer was, "girls in techno, you know, they just have such a small space, you know... It is just a boy's business."

What makes techno such a "boy's business?" Does hetero-normative society still candidly love seeing men operate machinery, even if it is machinery used to mobilize diverse crowds into utopian musical experiences? Is it because of men's robot fantasies, their escapism from manliness, or something about the drugs? The dream of a future utopia implied by techno surely does not have an overwhelmingly male audience and artist registry. We are more in the future now than we were last year, or, technologically speaking, ten years ago. These criticisms and questions, including the ones also asserted by Berlin's Perspectives Festival that took place earlier in September, nag at the focal point of not only the music scene but also the persistent social behavior of placing the man at the top, or in the middle.

Thus, unfortunately, and despite its success, dB has put a sour taste in some of our mouths.

Earlier this year, No Fear of Pop assessed the weak ratio of male-female DJs and producers associated with Berlin's CTM Festival. After some careful consideration and a little reaching out, it was inferred that the disproportion is perpetuated by an unawareness of the behavior, and that there is a need for "progressive booking." It's like if you eat with your mouth open: you probably won't realize you eat loudly until a friend points it out to you. That said, let's start pointing it out more without pointing fingers, calling bookers or journalists or fans out on their mis- or oversteps, even if they are well-intentioned, and give them some extra perspective that they are promoting an inaccurate representation of a music scene which is actually inherently diverse and expansive. Hopefully next year, dB will more carefully consider the fact that their festival provokes political priorities as there is a general air of change in the North American hemisphere these days.