About This Festival
Decibel Festival was founded in 2003 by Sean Horton to expose people to cutting edge electronic music, interactive multimedia and visual art—and to educate them, too. A number of forces led him toward its inception: growing up in Detroit listening to techno artists, moving to Seattle and working in the music business, and a desire to unite what he calls a “seemingly elusive community of electronic music fans who, like me, had become disenchanted with the ‘post-rave’ cultural landscape.”
During the 2000s, musicians were just beginning to really explore the possibilities of what portable technologies could do for them, giving rise to “laptop performers.” Horton wanted to provide a showcase for the intersection of music, art and technology, and to enable people to talk about it, too, with workshops and talks. Its inaugural September 2004 fest ran for four days across four venues and attracted about 2,500 people. During its first few years, Decibel averaged about 6,000 people, but it quickly became apparent that interest could support a longer, five-day festival. With the help of tons of volunteers, Decibel has expanded across the city, reaching its peak with 26,000 attendees in 2012.
Older, Wiser, Even Better
Nowadays, it’s a five-day affair that customarily attracts more than 25,000 people per year. In Decibel’s 10-year history, it has brought more than 1,000 performers from more than 40 countries to its multiple-stage set up in Seattle, including Amon Tobin, Lorde, James Blake, Moby, Orbital, Flosstradamus, Trentemoller, Autechre, Green Velvet, DJ Shadow, Ladytron, Gaslamp Killer, among many others. Unlike other festivals of this stature, Decibel doesn’t have dedicated festival grounds. Consequently, it can’t reap the benefits of centralization year after year and doesn’t have a primary space that can accommodate all activities. Instead, the showcases (concerts) and other events are scattered across the city in about a dozen different venues; last year’s ranged from Chihuly Garden and Glass for the opening event to the W Seattle (last year’s official partner hotel and DJ lounge) to a handful of clubs and concert halls.
The bulk of festival activity occurs in the Capitol Hill neighborhood—a bastion of progressive thinking, coffeehouses, clubs, bookstores, and mixed housing, from apartments to mansions. There, you’ll find the closest thing to a hub: Broadway Performance Hall, home to the will call ticket window, conference activity and film screenings, and dB in the park. But simply put, Decibel is the kind of festival where the artists who perform tend to manipulate, mess around with, and exploit technology to its full advantage, and where the attendees and scores of volunteers are as into the music itself as they are the city of Seattle. As founder Sean Horton puts it, “if you like coffee, marijuana, craft beer, thrift shopping, deep conversations, outdoor exploring, and dancing into the wee hours, both Decibel and Seattle are for you.”
From its inception, Decibel has prioritized educating the public, so from noon to 6pm for three of its five days, you can head to a central spot—last year it was the Broadway Performance—and learn a bit more about what happens behind the scenes. The free conference brings together thought leaders, musicians, artists, gaming and lighting artists and innovators, industry personnel and producers to talk about what they do. It helps to showcase new talent and brings festival attendees a little closer to this particular aspect of the music industry. Through the years conference presenters have included the likes of Moby, Peter Hook, Orbital,Erykah Badu, Carl Craig, Roger Linn, Olafur Arnalds, Mike Huckaby, Lusine, and more.
All Decibel, All the Time—Even at Other Festivals
Decibel’s primary activity is its festival, but recently, it’s started to organize and produce more than 50 events all year round—about seven events per month, averaging around 700 people per event. It’s a way to expand the brand, for sure, but it’s also byproduct of the can-do collaborative spirit that Seattle is known for. These range from concerts at clubs around the city to larger scale, collaborative events produced in conjunction with other organizations such as the Seattle Theatre Group and AEG Live. It’s also not uncommon to encounter a dB stage at another festival, whether it’s Bumbershoot in Seattle, MUTEK (Montreal), What the Festival (Portland, Oregon), Movement (Detroit), or Dimensions (Croatia).