Since it began in 2004, the Decibel Festival has brought to Seattle an international collection of producers and DJs — from electropop and drone to experimental hip-hop and minimal techno — who represent the cutting edge of electronic music, a genre that has grown from a fringe interest to a multibillion-dollar industry.
But for all its musical diversity, the festival has largely been held at venues in one neighborhood — Capitol Hill, the current center of Seattle nightlife.
That will change this year when the five-day event, which starts Wednesday, Sept. 24, moves its center of operations to EMP Museum (EMP) at Seattle Center. Excluding Neumos and Q Nightclub, all the festival’s venues, including three stages at the EMP, are located in or near the downtown corridor.
Decibel founder and curator Sean Horton called the move “a very conscious decision” to centralize the celebration. But he was also concerned that Capitol Hill’s large out-of-town crowds and hard-to-find parking would make it less enjoyable for attendees.
“Three years ago we wouldn’t have made this decision,” he said. “With what’s happening with Capitol Hill and the nightlife changes there, I see an opportunity to migrate downtown and have it be something that’s going to enhance the experience.”
Horton characterized the current electronic-music landscape as “two generations coming together” — thirty- and forty-somethings who attended raves in the ’90s and a younger crowd that recently discovered EDM. This year’s lineup reflects that divide. Artists such as Detroit techno innovator Richie Hawtin and ’90s house producer MK are booked alongside up-and-coming synth-pop group Clean Bandit and boundary-stretching hip-hop producer Arca.
Hawtin, who performs his hybrid live/DJ set around the world, is the festival’s biggest name. For Horton, Hawtin’s music was a formative influence while growing up in Detroit, and he encapsulates Decibel’s ideals.
“Seeing him perform live [in 1995] left a lasting impression on me,” he said. “When I moved to Seattle one year later, I brought that with me. I brought that entire idea of minimalism, of visual art, of technology coming together with creativity.”
Amid this year’s logistical changes, Horton feels Decibel is in a good place. Attendance has grown steadily over the fest’s 11 years, and it’s drawn praise internationally from artists and the electronic-music press.
“When we started, I don’t think anyone thought of Seattle as anything other than a city known for grunge and indie rock,” he said. “Not to say that Decibel and Seattle are synonymous, but the world is definitely watching what we’re doing, now more than ever.”
Noon-2 a.m. Wednesday-Sunday, Sept. 24-28, at EMP Museum, 325 Fifth Ave. N., and other Seattle venues; individual shows, $12-$40; festival pass, $160-$225 (www.dbfestival.com)