“I was essentially creating a music festival for myself,” explains Decibel Festival mastermind Sean Horton jokingly. “I didn’t like the fact that all this quality music was being produced and distributed all over the world, and there was no place for me to go experience it in a live context.”
Seattle’s annual citywide electronic-music event will celebrate its 10th anniversary next week as it packs 11 local venues with more than 130 artists and DJs from all over the world over the course of five days.
Headliners include recent breakouts and emerging talents — Russian-German electro-house producer Zedd, Chicago “EDM-trap” pioneers Flosstradamus, 16-year-old New Zealand electropop singer/songwriter sensation Lorde, deep house musician Nicolas Jaar (whom Horton says they have been trying to book for “close to five years now”).
But there are also godfathers of electronic music who have been active for decades and performed at past Decibel Festivals — UK ambient house duo The Orb, influential Chicago house producer Derrick Carter and legendary Detroit pioneer Juan Atkins, largely regarded as one of the originators of techno music itself.
Horton, who discovered electronic music during the late ’80s and early ’90s as a teenager living just north of Detroit, says that artists like Atkins influenced him to start DJing and producing events, eventually leading him to Seattle and the creation of Decibel Festival in 2003.
In the nine years since Decibel’s inception, the festival’s attendance has gone from 2,500 in 2003 to 26,000 last year, and electronic music has gone from an oft-misunderstood niche underground scene to a multibillion dollar industry that corporations have branded and watered down for mainstream consumption. Large-scale outdoor music festivals like Ultra and Electric Daisy Carnival now regularly draw crowds of more than 300,000, and “electronic music DJ” has become one of the highest-paid professions in the world, with big names like Calvin Harris, Tiesto and David Guetta earning $46 million, $32 million and $30 million respectively in the last year, according to Forbes.
“EDM has grown to such insanely exorbitant heights in terms of the production, in terms of the costs to book these artists, in terms of the audiences,” says Horton. “Being born in ’75 and growing up through the ’80s, I haven’t seen anything this excessive since ’80s hair metal and butt rock, the pyrotechnics shows of Poison and Winger … The laptop and CDJ’s are the new guitar, and it’s funny to me that it’s gotten to that point.”
And though the appeal and audience of electronic music have changed immensely since Decibel Festival’s beginnings, the independent, still non-corporate-affiliated event has stayed true to the genre’s underground roots in its spirit and musical offerings.
“We’re keeping true to the diversity side of it … the historical side of electronic music, and the people that helped build the Decibel audience up over the years,” says Horton.
“I don’t ever want to sacrifice the integrity of the curating, the integrity of the festival for booking artists that might be popular, but not really fit within our scope,” he adds. “We want to be the alternative to that huge, massive outdoor-festival culture.”
Sept. 25-29, featuring multi-artist showcases at venues all over the city, including Showbox at the Market and SoDo, Neumos, The Crocodile and Q Nightclub. All-access festival passes, $250; tickets to individual showcases, $15-$35 (http://dbfestival.com/).