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Decibel Festival to Return in 2018 with LA and Seattle Editions

The popular West Coast electronic music and arts festival is making a comeback after going on hiatus.

Greg Scruggs

Photo of Decibel courtesy of festival.

Decibel, the West Coast festival which was one of the country's first city-based, multi-venue music events, will return early next year after going on hiatus in 2016. Founder Sean Horton announced on Monday that a new instalment of the popular electronic music and new media event "is currently in the works" and will take place in Los Angeles. There will also be a Seattle edition, where the festival first started in 2003; exact dates will be announced in July.

"The plan was always to launch a satellite program here [in LA]," Horton said on Monday's NTS Radio show Everything But Ecstasy. "LA is a complex city. It's taken some time to figure out the proper channels."

On the radio program Horton confirmed that the LA edition will adopt the same model as in Seattle, whereby existing venues—from nightclubs to art galleries to dinner theatres—serve as the festival's home base. Festival attendees can walk from event to event throughout a neighborhood, though the exact location in the sprawling Southern California city was not revealed.

Last year THUMP reported that Horton's decision to put Decibel on hiatus came after the festival's 12th edition in September 2015, which saw a record 25,000 attendees for marquee live audio-visual performances by the likes of Nicolas Jaar, Tim Hecker, and Strategy.

The ambitious line-up struggled to break even financially, however, which prompted Horton to put the brakes on any immediate plans for future editions. Shortly thereafter, Horton, a Detroit native, moved from his longtime home in Seattle to work at Red Bull Sound Select in LA. Under the terms of his contract, he was not able to market events under the Decibel name.

That changed in May, when Horton left Red Bull and announced a return to booking shows, with a summer line-up in Seattle and LA showcasing Decibel's eclectic taste across the underground electronic music spectrum. In the last several weeks, synth maestro Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and up-and-coming Detroit DJ Kyle Hall have played Seattle gigs under the new Decibel banner.

Next up from these first forays is a series of LA-based parties, starting with Carl Craig on June 9 at Union Nightclub. The summer line-up also includes Mister Saturday Night on June 30 (LA), Matias Aguayo on July 6 (LA), Actress on August 23 (Seattle), and Kenny Larkin and John Tejada on September 30 (LA). In keeping with Decibel's mission to promote the Pacific Northwest scene, Seattle's Pezzner will open for Matias Aguayo and Emerald City locals Raica and Bardo:Basho are on the Actress line-up.

On NTS Radio, Horton also highlighted Decibel's contributions to gender equity by striving to book at least 30-40% female-identified performers, projecting anti-sexual harassment messages on the walls of venues, and providing pocket-sized cards that dancers can give to someone in response to unwanted physical attention.

Decibel's move to expand the brand beyond its home turf is something that a number of other city-based festivals have also done in recent years. Both Montréal's MUTEK—which inspired Horton to start Decibel—and Barcelona's Sónar have gone global, with editions across North America, Europe, Latin America, and Japan. Unsound, originally from Kraków, Poland, has curated versions of its groundbreaking curatorial line-up in Toronto and New York. Pittsburgh-based arts collective Via, meanwhile, has also organized a version in Chicago.