Last weekend Seattle lost Sean Horton, a major player in the electronic-music community, to the sunny streets of Los Angeles. As the founder of the internationally renowned Decibel Festival, which just wrapped its 12th and possibly most successful run just over a week ago, Horton is responsible for putting Seattle on the map for a style of music more associated with cities like Berlin, Chicago, and Horton’s hometown, Detroit.
Originally, Horton’s plan was to move to Portland to join his fiancée in marital bliss after this year’s festival, with the greater goal of expanding Decibel down the West Coast. Things went belly-up when his engagement abruptly ended just a few days before Decibel kicked off, forcing him to make some massive decisions about his future on the fly. I sat down with Horton to chat about what his move to L.A. means for Seattle’s electronic music scene.
SW: Why the move to L.A.? Why leave Seattle?
Horton: I had already sold my home and resigned from my job at PlayNetwork after 13 years in preparation for the move to Portland, neither of which were [revocable] decisions. It put me in an incredibly precarious situation of being homeless and unemployed come October 1, two days after Decibel Festival ended. Though I had received several offers to rent and/or couch-surf until I found a place, the lack of career opportunities in Seattle was a major concern. I have a fairly unique skill set tied to Decibel, PlayNetwork, DJing, and music engineering/composition that simply isn’t in high demand in Seattle at the moment. If I were a computer programmer, game developer, app developer, graphic designer, or in any other technical field, it would be another story.
Though the people of Seattle have been incredibly supportive of Decibel (thank you!), the city itself has yet to offer any kind of economic or promotional support over our 12-year history. In fact, we’ve paid out tens of thousands in taxes to the city over that time, which has only contributed to my personal debt. I’ve always been a bit baffled by the lack of support from a city we’ve brought millions in revenue into through hotels, travel, taxis, food, retail, alcohol, insurance, permits, ticket sales, taxes, etc. I know for a fact other major cities like Detroit, Montreal, Chicago, Toronto, San Francisco, and Los Angeles offer economic incentives and breaks for arts festivals like Decibel.
Knowing the kind of impact you’ve had on the Seattle electronic-music scene and the people within it (as witnessed in the comments section on your Facebook post about your move), is it hard for you to walk away?
I really wasn’t anticipating that kind of outpouring, which was moving to say the least. I hope people understand that leaving Seattle is the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make. I’ve lived here 15 of the past 20 years of my life. It’s where I flourished as a festival curator, music supervisor, producer, DJ, performer, creative director, composer, fisherman, and person as a whole. It’s the people of Seattle and its natural beauty that I will long for the most. Many tears have been shed over the past two weeks, and many more will be as I make this transition.
Will the move be permanent? That I can’t say. What I can say is that after 20 years in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve seen it change substantially. Though some of the changes are necessary, the cost of living, traffic, and changing cultural landscape make it a less attractive city for creatively driven people like myself.
What does the future hold for Decibel?
2015 was personally my favorite program to date, and Decibel will continue, that I can assure you. In terms of the location, dates, size, and scope—that remains to be seen. Seattle makes the most sense as that’s where the business is still held and where the team resides. We also have 12 years of experience producing the festival in Seattle. In terms of L.A., I’m certainly open to looking at options to host satellite events in the future that are tied to Decibel. As for a full festival program, that remains to be seen. I really know very little about L.A., so there’s going to have to be a learning period I need to go through before I can make any decisions.
How do you think the absence of Decibel would affect the electronic-music scene in Seattle? Does Seattle need Decibel?
Just to be clear, Decibel as a business entity will remain based out of Seattle for the time being. In fact, we already have events scheduled for October and November. I’ll also be returning for DJ gigs this fall in Portland and Seattle. Flights between Seattle and L.A. are only $200, and I wouldn’t dream of staying away for too long. I left my heart in Seattle and will be making frequent appearances. I hope to see many Seattle friends coming to L.A. to visit as well. One of my goals with this move is to try and bridge the gap between the two cities, which I think will ultimately lead to a more unified underground electronic-music community on the West Coast.
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