By Andrew Hall | 10 October 2011
As Decibel Festival, now one of the world’s premiere events for fans of electronic music, got started here in Seattle, there were a few questions people seemed to be interested in asking. One was “is Zomby actually going to show up?”; another was “if he does, what the hell can we expect from him?” As the festival’s kickoff party at Re-Bar got going early in the evening, we learned after much speculation that yes, Zomby had touched down in Seattle, and yes, he definitely was going to perform, though he supposedly spent several hours at the Sea-Tac International Airport waiting for his ride into the city and the festival’s promoters booked him knowing what they were in for.
By this point in his career, Zomby’s reputation for pulling weird shit may outshadow the remarkable music he’s released for Hyperdub and the slight, somewhat polarizing Dedication, which marked his debut for influential English indie 4AD. After no-showing on Animal Collective both in Prospect Park and during their ATP festival, supposedly stealing records at early DJ gigs, and pissing off countless promoters all over the world, it’s hard not to be awed by either just how committed he is to alienating potential fans, possible sources of revenue, and other musicians, or how totally he does not give a fuck.
And his live set felt like a very clear extension of the persona he’s crafted over the last several years. First came relatively subdued sets from locals 214 (who worked in a vein stylistically indebted to UK funky and future bass) and Jon McMillion (whose set flirted with deep house more than anything else), as well as Atom™, who moved through a series of glitchy, minimal pieces and clever visual interludes. Zomby then emerged wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and proceeded to tear through a colossal run of rave and jungle tunes rendered paralyzingly bassy and all-consuming through the huge PA brought in for the festival, moving through parts of his own records and tracks by other producers. It was clear that he was doing virtually nothing, but that didn’t feel like it mattered when the product being presented was so heavy.
Then something clearly changed. About halfway through his set he wandered behind the curtains being used for onstage projections, had a word with someone standing backstage, proceeded to roll a spliff, then returned to smoke it as he played three AraabMUZIK productions in a row. From there, he flipped between some of his 8-bit inspired tracks, a Drake song that half the room seemed to sing along to, and Lil B and Soulja Boy tracks with occasional cuts to dead silence for single notes. If a particular track ran long enough, he’d walk backstage again to roll something up, and his sequencing became increasingly lazy and devoid of momentum.
People were already clearing out by the time his set was coming to a close, but he returned for an encore—he played “Things Fall Apart,” his Panda Bear collaboration, after a break in the music, threw up a peace sign, and was then immediately escorted out of the venue—and he disappeared into the night, not to be seen by anyone again over the course of the next few days. Most telling was the fact that Zomby left the venue unmasked; he is, in fact, an entirely anonymous-looking white Londoner. One concertgoer went so far as to say he basically looks like “a chav.” His rationale remains utterly unknowable, however, and so long as he continues his current working methods, it’s unlikely that any of us will have any chances to get any closer to understanding him.