This year, Seattle’s Decibel Festival celebrates a milestone in American electronic-music history, ringing in its 10th anniversary. There is no question that the annual event has been a leading light on the North American scene, as well as globally, from the incredibly diverse representation of genres, to the exponential growth of attendance. In the lead-up to its 2013 edition, we caught up with Decibel founder Sean Horton to talk experimental curation, dB’s hometown, and getting hitched at a rave.
As you celebrate your 10th anniversary with this edition, where do you see Decibel in the next 10 years?
Tough to say. Though overall creative vision and mission of the festival have remained consistent over the past decade, we’ve grown from 2,500 to over 25,000 during that time. As curator, I have had to continually expand the program out to larger venues, which has definitely tapped my production team to their limit. At the moment, I just don’t see Decibel becoming a large, outdoor festival like EDC, Ultra, and TomorrowWorld. In many ways, we are the alternative to those festivals in that we take place at night, we have an older audience, we focus on largely underground talent, and the venues we select (upwards of 12) are intimate club and theater spaces. I have always preferred more intimate venues and have deliberately curated the festival accordingly. I would like to see our OPTICAL events expand to larger theater spaces. I would also like to see our boat parties and park events grow to larger venues. Beyond that, I’m quite content with where we’re at in terms of size and overall creative scope.
T. Raumschmiere to Christopher Willits, Machinedrum to Deadmau5—who is responsible for the curation of the festival and where are these influences drawn from?
I oversee all curation of the festival, which has always been influenced by my musical upbringing as a musician, DJ, music supervisor, producer, performer, attendee, and longtime collector of all things music for going on 25 years. I first started listening to electronic music in the late ’80s, so I have a historical perspective that weighs in heavily on my decisions. This year, I’m very proud to be hosting Moby, The Orb, Peter Hook (of New Order), Speedy J, Green Velvet/Cajmere, and Juan Atkins, all of whom had a profound effect on me in the early ’90s when I first starting DJing.
As for my current tastes, I’ve definitely been leaning more towards house, techno, garage, nu-disco, and soul, which I’ve never really stopped appreciating. Artists performing this year that I feel best represent the current state of underground dance music are Nicolas Jaar, Art Department, Ben Klock, Dusky, Henrik Schwarz, The Martinez Brothers, Ame, KiNK, Ben UFO, Maxxi Soundsystem, Max Cooper, Kyle Hall, John Tejada, Actress, Midland, Poolside, Tiger & Woods, Axel Boman, Mano Le Tough, Dauwd, and Pezzner.
Another area that I’ve always had interest in as a curator is, for a lack of a better term, modern bass music. Early on I was booking a lot of hip-hop, dub, booty, IDM, and even early UK dubstep. Modern bass artists I’m particularly excited to have on this year’s roster are Kode9, XXYYXX, Shabazz Palaces, Ryan Hemsworth, JETS, Flosstradamus, Nosaj Thing, Phaeleh, Cyril Hahn, Wax Tailor, DJ Rashad, DJ Funk, Shigeto, and longtime dB alumni Machinedrum who will be performing the world debut of Vapor City (live A/V set).
What is the single most important aspect of about running a festival like Decibel?
Don’t quit your day job! Seriously, though, it’s a labor of love built around a very personal love of music, visual art, and technology that has never really been part of mainstream culture in the US. We’re also a volunteer-run festival, which tells you a lot about the passion that goes into it. We may be frugal and overworked, but I challenge anyone to find a more dedicated and knowledgeable team.
What is your single best moment in the last 10 years of Decibel?
Getting married to my wife, Diana, at the 2009 Decibel Festival has to take the cake. We essentially converted an OPTICAL A/V event into our wedding and the dB in the Park event was our reception. Having all our friends and family take part in the festivities was pure magic.
What was your most stressful moment?
Booking back-to-back nights at the historic Paramount Theatre nearly killed me and my production team last year. As beautiful a venue as it is, the costs, union restrictions, and overall size of the production left much to be desired.
Tell us about the synergy between the festival and the city of Seattle. How has one shaped the other?
Seattle is a highly technical city both in terms of tech industry here and the people. Seattle also possesses a natural beauty unlike any I’ve ever seen in an urban environment. In my mind, both are defining qualities of the music/art and the overall creative spirit that seems to permeate from the Pacific Northwest. Another unique aspect of Seattle is the amount of rain we get from mid-October to July, which often leads to intense productivity and/or indoor activities. Seattle has a massive film, fine art, and theater community in addition to one of the largest music scenes per capita in North America. You combine these various disciplines and you get a great deal of collaboration between mediums. Seattleites also tend to be highly educated and particular about what moves them in terms of art and music. Overall, it’s a very tough crowd here, which, as a curator, has always been a challenge. Things that might be popular in SF, LA, Portland, and Vancouver might completely flop here. On the other hand, I hear time and time again from artists that say Seattle crowds are the largest and most engaged in the US. Much like Decibel, Seattle is a beautifully complex anomaly. I honestly don’t believe there’s another city the festival could take place in its current format.
Grab tickets for Decibel here.