Decibel Festival Founder Sean Horton Talks Decibel Festival, FAMILY FUNKTION and Collaborating in the Electronic Music Scene

Author : Marco Sgalbazzini
August 28, 2018

Decibel Festival Founder Sean Horton Talks Decibel Festival, FAMILY FUNKTION and Collaborating in the Electronic Music Scene

FAMILY FUNKTION lands in Los Angeles next month on Sept 21-23rd, featuring an action-packed 60+ artist lineup for 40+ hours of continuous music. The event will be taking UNION in the city’s West Side, taking over the multi-room venue with music, art installations, chill-out areas and much more.

On top of announcing an exciting giveaway for this ground-breaking event, we decided to sit down with Sean Horton, the owner and curator of Decibel Festival and and one of the key brains behind FAMILY FUNKTION.

In our chat we decided to dig deep into his work here in Los Angeles since relocating from Seattle where he ran Decibel Festival, as well as into FAMILY FUNKTION and what fans can expect from this exciting debut event.

Win 2 Tickets to FAMILY FUNKTION at Union Los Angeles (Contest on

Hi Sean, thank you for taking the time to chat with us in what is undoubtedly a busy summer for you! Firstly, how are you?

Thank you for asking. I’m doing quite well actually. For the first time in my life I have the ability to focus my attention solely on creative projects like Decibel and Nordic Soul, which feels a bit surreal to be honest. I’ve always had a more traditional day job to help sustain what has ultimately been a labor of love with Decibel.

It’s been a busy 2018 for you, with so much going on! You’ve already been asked about decibel and it’s move to Los Angeles from Seattle many time, but what I would like to talk about is the progress of decibel since it landed in SoCal and ask you what your thoughts are on how it’s doing since the move.

This fall marks the three year anniversary of me departing Seattle, just days after the completion of the 2015 Decibel Festival, which was our most successful program to date. Shortly after landing in LA, I was approached by Red Bull to help launch their Sound Select emerging artist initiative internationally. I accepted the position in February or 2016, with the condition that I cease all Decibel Festival activities while employed for Red Bull. It was a difficult decision, but after 13 years of living a double life, I thought my mind and body could use a break. That said, I always knew Decibel would come back in some form.

After a year at Red Bull, we parted ways amicably and I accepted a role as senior talent buyer at UNION. The owner Mitch made me a generous offer that allowed me to revive the Decibel brand, while producing events that were close to my heart. Over the 14 months I worked at UNION, I produced, co-produced and marketed over 30 events there including Dubfire, The Martinez Brothers, George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars, Carl Craig, Mayer Hawthorne, Guy Gerber, Matador, Actress, HBOV, Nic Fanciulli, Rival Consoles, Giorgia Angiuli, Desert Dwellers, Audiofly, Dam Funk, Dyed Soundorom, Art Department, Oskar Offerman, Josh Wink, Roman Flugel, Mark Farina, Octave One, Julia Gover, DJ Sneak, Egyptian Lover, Matias Aguayo, Lee Reyonlds, Ryan Hemsworth, Kenny Larkin, Doc Martin/Sublevel, Marques Wyatt, Tara Brooks, and many others.

In addition, I’ve host events at 1720 (Keinemusik, Yousef, Green Galactic Anniversary), Lot 613 (Raster Showcase) and Union Station (Rival Consoles/John Tejada). Over that time I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with several organizations in Los Angeles including Circoloco, Ninja Tune,, Stones Throw, Mixmag, Desert Hearts, SCI+TEC, Resident Advisor, A Club Called Rhonda, DEEP, Sublevel, Dialogue, Dig Deeper, Brownies & Lemonade, Midnight Lovers, Cyclone, Droid Behavior, BLK_NOISE, Give a Beat, Underrated and listed.

That’s amazing Sean, congrats on all the hard work! Union has become somewhat of a permanent home for decibel events. How did that choice come about and, more importantly, why?

I wouldn’t say permanent, but there are several advantages to UNION, which is why I accepted the senior talent buyer role there and why I continue to use them as one of the main venue properties for Decibel events. First and foremost, the history of the venue is unparalleled in terms of iconic nightclubs not only in Los Angeles but the West Coast. If you’re not familiar with its history, my suggestion would be to watch the Netflix documentary Jewel’s Catch One. Often referred to as the “unofficial Studio 54 of the West Coast” going back to 1973, Jewel’s was the oldest Black-owned disco in America thanks to owner Jewel Thais-Williams, who stood up against hate and discrimination for 42 years. It was also a refuge for the LGBTQ community during that time. Decibel prides itself on offering diverse programming and safe environments for attendees and much of that starts with the venue.

Another unique characteristic of UNION is that it is one of only two venues in Los Angeles that owns and operates a 24 hour license, which for an event like FAMILY FUNKTION is mandatory (40+ hours straight of non-stop music). In addition, UNION is one of three venues in Los Angeles that can host four to six stages simultaneously, which for a festival format like FAMILY FUNKTION is also a deal breaker.

Other key attributes include a Funktion-One Sound System, full lighting and A/V capabilities, in-house backline and what I feel is the most impressive green room/artist lounge in Los Angeles (Jewel’s apartment). Lastly, UNION is one of the only legal venues in Los Angeles that doesn’t cater to the bottle service/VIP crowd, which really doesn’t fit into Decibel mold. I firmly believe that UNION is as close as you’re going to get to an underground/warehouse party in Los Angeles legally, which for us is also a deal breaker.

In years past Union was criticized for its issues with sound and, according to some, not being a fitting home for more underground sounds of house and techno. How has the club addressed these issues in recent times?

As audio engineer by trade and fan of Funktion-One Sound going back 20 years, I knew coming in that UNION was certainly capable of producing quality sounding events. I wouldn’t have accepted the role otherwise. I also knew that the key to success lied in bringing on board a production lead who knew how to get the most out of UNION’s Funktion-One system and the rooms at UNION acoustically speaking.

That person was Jesse Wright (The DoLab / Woogie Weekend), who joined the team shortly after I came on board in 2017. Jesse’s production experience helped usher in a new level of quality at UNION, which prior to him had documented issues in terms of upkeep and operational support. Jesse also brought on the famed live sound technician Todd Anisman aka Chino, who is considered by many in Southern California to be one of the best live sound techs in the game. Between the two of them, they cleaned, re-wired, re-hung and completely re-tuned each room. The end product was night and day from where UNION was when I first started. In terms of additional testimonies, many of the most beloved crews in underground dance music produce monthly, quarterly and/or annual events at UNION, including Circoloco, Red Bull Music Academy, Sublevel, DEEP, AMF, A Club Called Rhonda, Das Bunker, Space Yacht, Cyclone, Brownies & Lemonade, Xcellerated and of course Decibel.

The proof is really in the audience and artist feedback, which for the events I’ve been involved there has been overwhelmingly positive. In late 2017, after Jesse and I had been there for several months, UNION was given the honor as Best Dance Club by the LA Weekly.

Union Nightclub

Fantastic! As you mentioned you’ve also been doing events in other venues in LA, right?

As of right now, we’re producing or have produced events at six venues in Los Angeles (UNION, 1720, El Cid, Union Station, Lot 613 and Echoplex). All offer unique capabilities and are in different neighborhoods, which I feel is crucial for reaching localized audiences. I plan to expend the list of venues further going into 2019.

The biggest thing coming up for you is FAMILY FUNKTION, which you mentioned takes place in about a month’s time at UNION. Can you tell us a little about this project and what it’s all about?

FAMILY FUNKTION is the first multi-day, multi-stage event that I’m producing in Los Angeles. To my knowledge, and please correct me if I’m wrong, it’s the first club-based event of its kind in Los Angeles in terms of going 40+ hours straight, so it’s a bit of an experiment too.

For those familiar with European clubs like Berghain, this type of format is nothing new:multiple rooms with doors opening Friday night and remaining open through the weekend.

Another aspect of FAMILY FUNKTION that I’m very passionate about is collaboration. One of the defining characteristics of Decibel Festival since inception has been collaboration. Similar to Decibel, FAMILY FUNKTION has enlisted the support of 10 crews ranging from promoters, to festivals, to labels, to media outlets (i.e., Desert Hearts, Sublevel, Decibel, Hallucienda, listed, Subtract Music, Dig Deeper, XLR8R, SBCLTR, Stranger Than). Each host will be co-producing a stage takeover, which entails artist curation, programming, decor, visual art and a marketing strategy that speaks directly to their audience. In short, FAMILY FUNKTION is a coalition of 10 distinct parties and, ideally, audiences all under one roof. Obviously to make this format work, we needed to put some criteria on the program, which is why Decibel and our main partner listed settled on House and Techno music as a way to create some commonality between the various stages.

In terms of the lineup, we’re hosting 60+ artists. We have what we feel are some of the most talented and historically relevant artists in both the House and Techno genres going back in some cases 30+ years. Headliners/Co-headliners for FAMILY FUNKTION by stage include Omar S, Sebastian Mullaert, John Tejada and Seb Wildblood (Decibel Stage on 9/21), Cassy, Danny Howells, Doc Martin/Sublevel live and Tara Brooks (Sublevel Stage on 9/22), DJ Three, Kim Ann Foxman and Daniel Bell (Hallucienda Stage on 9/21), Nico Stojan, Atish and Sandrino (SBCLTR Stage on 9/22), Lena Willikens, Mozghan and Chris Cruse (Dig Deeper Stage on 9/21), Jozif, Porky, RYBO and Lubelski (Desert Hearts Stage on 9/22), Holmar, Sunshine Jones and Mr. C (listed / Stranger Than Stage on 9/21-22), Kate Simko, Dave Aju, Ricoshei (XLR8R Stage on 9/22) and Jay Tripwire, Dance Spirit, Jon Charnis and Anton Tumas (Subtract Stage on 9/22).

Would you consider this Decibel Festival’s new rebranding, in essence?

As I mentioned in a public statement about FAMILY FUNKTION, though this isn’t Decibel Festival as those who’ve supported us over the past 15 years might know it, this is the epoch of what I believe will be a family with common goals functioning together as one. That said, Decibel Festival / Events continues to host one-off events in both Seattle and Los Angeles. Will there be a full Decibel Festival program again in either city? If FAMILY FUNKTION is successful, my goal would be to host Decibel Festival Los Angeles in 2019 and potentially a smaller versions of the program in Seattle around the same time.

Gotcha… so that brings us to an important question: What’s your goal with FAMILY FUNKTION?

The first goal is to produce an affordable, safe, quality event where attendees, artists and partners all walk away wanting more. If we can prove that this collaborative, DIY model works in Los Angeles, we would consider hosting other events throughout the year. For now, it’s crucial that we get the word out about who we are, what we represent and why we’re doing this.

How would you describe the intended FAMILY FUNKTION experience for those planning to come?

FAMILY FUNKTION is a two day celebration featuring 60+ of some of the finest live acts, DJs and visual artists hailing form the House and Techno community. In terms of production, FAMILY FUNKTION will be transforming the historic two-story, eight room venue into a veritable playground for the senses; complete with Funktion-One Sound across all stages, visual art that includes projection mapping, audio/visual installations, lighting/lasers, decor by talented set designers/artists and a curated selection of food and merchandise vendors.

Having a multi-day festival of this nature with air conditioning, indoor plumbing, food, quality production and the ability to go back to your home/hotel whenever you feel you need a break is unheard of. I don’t think people really grasp the level of freedom this event allows for quite yet. It’s truly what you make of it and if you decide to only come for your favorite artist, pass prices are so affordable ($30-$60) that you’re welcome to do that. If you decide you want to stay for 40 hours straight (please at least go take a shower at some point) that is completely your right to do so.

You touched upon it earlier, but what is immediately noticeable about FAMILY FUNKTION is the spirit of collaboration that drives it. What’s your take on collaborating in the electronic music industry generally?

Based on both my experience as well as dozens of personal testimonies from those I respect in the industry here, it’s no secret that many promoters and venues in Los Angeles have been historically insular, competitive and closed off from these types of collaborations. I think we’re at a pinnacle moment in the history of electronic dance music where mainstream “EDM” is losing momentum and in an effort to capture new audiences is largely disguising itself as “the underground”. As a lifelong lover of this music and the community who supports it, now is the time to build sustainable, independent models that in my opinion can’t exist without collaboration, community and open dialogue with one another. On that note, to anyone who feels left out of the conversation in regard to FAMILY FUNKTION, please reach out to me. Obviously we have only so many rooms and timeslots available this go around, but if we can prove this model works the plan was always to bring in new partners moving forward.

How did you choose who to work with for FAMILY FUNKTION?

I work with people who want to work with me, which is the same philosophy that I’ve used with all Decibel partnerships going back to 2003. That said, everyone involved with FAMILY FUNKTION has either co-produced an event with Decibel, or we’ve at least been in discussion about it. As I mentioned earlier, we did have to put some basic criteria on the event so that it wasn’t too board in its creative scope. That said, there’s well over two dozen House and/or Techno based event producers in events in Los Angeles who I feel capture the spirit and legacy of underground dance music.

Does this debut edition lineup define the sound we can expect for all forthcoming FAMILY FUNKTION or is there room to experiment more and, perhaps, bring in some of the other genres you featured with Decibel in Seattle?

Historically House and Techno only make up roughly 40% of the overall programming for Decibel. In addition, Decibel is typically around 75% live and 25% DJ based in terms of performances, which is the reverse for FAMILY FUNKTION. That said, I’d say there’s about 30% crossover with FAMILY FUNKTION compared to previous Decibel events, which considering how many hosts and partners are involved was intentional.

UNION Nightclub

Will you guys have food and chill out areas on site?

Though we’re offering in-and-out privileges for all attendees, the goal here is to make the venue as comfortable and engaging as possible with eight rooms, air conditioning, six bars, ample restrooms, ample seating and a massive outdoor smoking patio with a kitchen and vendors. We want it to feel like a festival and intend to ensure it does.

How about decor, is something planned to transform the rooms in alignment with their hosts and themes?

Aside from the 10 hosts, we’ve enlisted some of the Cityfox team to help with decor and production for FAMILY FUNKTION, which considering how many different rooms and spaces there are in UNION is going to be a pretty elaborate project. We’ve also brought on Keisuke Shingu (Robot Heart) and John King (Flying Lotus) to produce both live and reactive video art/projections as part of the experience.

The flyer says more artists could be announced. Can we expect headliner-type additions?

As customary in Los Angeles, there are several artists who will be performing (local, regional and international) who we are not permitted to announce due to radius clauses. There are also artists we’re still in the process of negotiating. You can expect additional headliners and supporting acts for sure!

I know the lineup is heavy with plenty of great names. Any highlight acts you recommend we don’t miss?

As a musician and recording artist myself, I tend to appreciate live acts (i.e., artists performing their own compositions live via drum machines, synthesizers, sequencers, mixers, effects, etc.).

A few live highlights to mention would be Sebastian Mullaert (full hardware set), John Tejada (debut of a new live set), Jon Charnis (world debut live set), Sunshine Jones (full hardware set) and three of LA’s premier production duos Ricoshei, Dance Spirit and Sublevel live.

As for DJs, FAMILY FUNKTION is filled with skilled selectors who I’m proud to say will be given 3-4 hours each to transport attendees. Of those that I’ve personally experienced, I’d recommend catching Cassy, Omar S, DJ Three, Lena Willikens, Kate Simko, Daniel Bell, Atish, Holmar and of course Doc Martin.

One thing to note about the program that not many people seem to be discussing, FAMILY FUNKTION is as much a celebration of Los Angeles’ homegrown House and Techno talent as any event that I’ve seen or heard of. In terms of numbers, 55% of the artists are either from or currently living in Los Angeles and 60% of the hosts are LA based.

If you’re unfamiliar with the program or simply want to hear selections from the artists performing you can click the below links I prepared for your readers:


FAMILY FUNKTION DJ Mix Collections curated by Decibel Festival

FAMILY FUNKTION Song Compilation curated by Decibel Festival

Last but not least… this is a 40+ hour continuous party. Any advice on how to make the best out of it from an attendee perspective?

My hope is that guests treat FAMILY FUNKTION like a festival, which means getting fully immersed in the artists, activities and people in attendance. I’m a firm believer that festivals don’t have to take place strictly outside (Decibel Festival has always been urban/indoors) and what makes them special is the time you spend interacting with likeminded individuals both on the dance floor and in the chill areas, both of which which we’ll have plenty of.

In terms of programming/scheduling, each host will be building out their stage schedule with complete transparency with what each other is doing. The goal is to stagger headliners/co-headliners so at any given time there’s going to be at least one high-profile artists performing. Also note that DJ sets will be longer than average (around 3-4 hours) and you’ll have the option to choose between four rooms of music and an additional four rooms for conversation, visual art, food, beverages, seating, vendors, etc. I know I already went over amenities, but just to recap, UNION is a two floor, eight room venue equipped with Funktion-One Sound, full lighting/video production, air conditioning, six bars, ample restrooms, ample seating and a massive outdoor smoking patio with a kitchen that will all be running the duration of the event. We’re also coordinating a marketplace for community vendors that we’ll be announcing closer to the event, so stay tuned.

Oh and a few important things to note:

– We will be releasing the stage schedule before the event, no later than September 10th.
– We will be allowing ins-and-outs
– We will be offering day passes beginning September 10th. Purchasing a full pass ($30-$60) is however still by far the best value option for attendees, and highly recommended if you plan on coming both days.

Discounted Passes to FAMILY FUNKTION are available here. Passes are tiered and will go up in price the closer we get to the event. Advance purchases are recommended.

Additional information and alternative ticketing sites include


Resident Advisor 9/21:

Resident Advisor 9/22:

Restless Nites: