Decibel isn’t your typical electronic music festival. Though it sporadically books EDM artists, its main focus isn’t bass drops, but rather electronic music’s cutting edge.
Fittingly, attendees of the 11-year-old electronic-music festival were treated Wednesday night to a mix of club-ready house, pitch-black techno, futuristic R&B and abstruse, forward-thinking hip-hop.
The latter came from Arca, whose midnight set at the EMP Skychurch generated more buzz than attendance. The Venezuelan producer has worked with Kanye West and alternative R&B artist FKA Twigs, but his solo material is defiantly dark and anti-pop. Garbled samples, blown-out kick drums and moments that sounded like demented reggaeton were accompanied by warped live visuals from Jesse Kanda. It felt more like an art installation than a festival set.
Elsewhere, Lusine and Lunice — two similarly named artists with very different sounds — were both impressive. Lusine, the alias of Seattle’s Jeff McIlwain, played subdued, smoothly contoured electronica that rewarded patience, picking up complexity and intensity through his set.
Lunice, on the other hand, was nothing but intensity. Performing at Level 3 of EMP, the Montreal-based producer and DJ had the highest-energy set of the night, spinning remixes of hip-hop artists like Nicki Minaj and Future alongside his own bass-addled productions. He periodically ventured to the front of the stage to pump up the audience, though he hardly needed to.
Farther downtown at the Crocodile, the “Haunted Pop” showcase featured artists who did more than DJ. Helado Negro sang in Spanish over woozy drum machine textures, and Bellingham’s Manatee Commune did just about everything but sing, dexterously switching between MIDI instruments, guitar, violin and drums to perform his organic-sounding downtempo beats. He was the rare solo performer to incorporate live instruments into his set.
After one night, the festival’s decision to center its operations at EMP Museum seemed like a good one. Skychurch is an ideal venue for laptop-based electronic music performance, and its towering video screen makes visuals at least as important as the music. Its vaulted ceilings rendered acoustics more akin to a symphony hall than a club. With two stages at the museum (there will be a third this weekend), concertgoers were able to easily switch between acts.
Through Sunday, with beat-focused electronic label Soulection (9:15 Friday, the Crocodile), Chicago footwork producer DJ Spinn (11:45 p.m. Saturday, the Crocodile) and techno legend Richie Hawtin (11:45 p.m. Saturday, EMP Skychurch).