Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

September 29, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Concert review: Zomby and Araabmuzik at Decibel Festival UPDATED

Posted by Andrew Matson

Photo by me

Wearing a jester Guy Fawkes* mask and styled in hip-hop fashion with a high-top fade haircut and gold chain, famed London electronic producer/DJ Zomby never once spoke to the sweaty crowd trying to dance at the Re-Bar Wednesday night. A few hundred 30somethings had come to watch one of the inventors of the influential dance genre dubstep do his thing, whatever that was — dubstep being the shifty, stretched-out bass music born in the UK club scene, currently influencing the American mainstream via Britney Spears and Kanye West.

Zomby's thing turned out to be over an hour of MacBook DJing full of great songs you couldn't really dance to, with dead air between them. He frequently ducked behind an on-stage projection screen and sat on a stool while the music played — doing nothing, apparently, except getting paid.

What kind of showmanship was that?

The first night of Seattle's internationally known Decibel Festival brought this and some other of electronic music's big questions to life. Like, what's to be expected from live music? If it was "give me a show / show me the hits," Zomby flopped. By DJ standards — playing to the crowd, minding momentum — he didn't try.

But there was drama in the larger picture. Zomby frequently doesn't show up to gigs, so his mere being there carried something of Kanye West's cocky adage "my presence is a present." His utter disengagement with his surroundings was kind of a punk gesture if you looked at it the right way. Sonically, song by song, there was nothing to complain about. Zomby's own textured music sounded great through Re-Bar's speakers, more spatially interesting the higher the volume went. And it was interesting to learn his taste in American hip-hop during his set-closing finale — Soulja Boy, Lil B, Drake and Araabmuzik, all drugged-out and thugged-out — before he half-heartedly threw up his hands and walked off stage.

At 2 in the morning, leaving the club, I felt like I got close to an even deal. Something to talk about, anyway.

A strikingly different, more traditionally impressive Decibel Festival set happened an hour before Zomby took the stage, a mile away on Capitol Hill. There at Neumos, Rhode Island producer Araabmuzik absolutely fulfilled one type of audience enjoyment: giving the audience something glaringly brilliant to marvel at. He furiously pecked at rubber buttons on his MPC machine (Akai Music Production Center), making drum patterns that felt like getting hit with body combos by Muhammad Ali, and cymbals that seemed to come from a machine gun. Watching Araabmuzik's hands displayed on screens mounted to the walls was necessary to believe what he was doing, but still seemed unreal. The sound was notable, too: hip-hop structured with the build-and-release of techno, given to jazz-like percussion solos, all sounding very sinister and gremlin-like. Like Zomby, Araabmuzik didn't speak to his audience at all, and though he didn't wear a mask, he did wear a baseball hat pulled almost all the way down over his eyes, shunting focus away from him, onto the music.

*I stand corrected

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