i-2L3dfQH-M

Uniting the Past and Present of Music Revolution: Moogfest 2011

As the leaves changed colors and the temperatures began to fall, Moogfest made its triumphant return to the southern avant-garde city of Asheville, NC.

Though only in its second year under its current management and in its new home, the event has quickly become recognized by artists, music industry elites, and fans as being one of the most unique and truly revolutionary festivals in the land. Through its incorporation of some of the most eclectic music from the past four decades and music workshops open to all who are curious about the impact of musical inventions and work, coupled with the fact that the event’s attendees are also privy to Asheville’s native food-savvy culture as well as a plethora of art instillations all over the city, it is the complete sensory experience that sets the festival apart in a world of an ever-expanding market.

 

In short, Moogfest is a place where young and old gather to celebrate the extent of human genius in the world of music, and the one place where it’s not unusual to see Beetlejuice booty dancing with a unicorn.

Tucked away in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, the three day event celebrates the legacy of music guru Bob Moog, who forever transformed how listeners and artists experience music; and though using Moog equipment isn’t a prerequisite for being on the bill, the lineup focuses on those artists who have worked to be creative and push the future of musical innovation. Perhaps Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne said it best when he said “[the festival] is about being a fucking weirdo and just going for it.”

Friday

Friday began with a whirlwind of excitement. Fans from the previous year’s event turned out to greet faces of new alike as all set out to explore the playground that Asheville had become.

The newest addition to the festival this year included an outdoor stage, something which proved tricky in Asheville’s chilly fall nights, and cause many to relinquish elaborate costume ideas that they had pondered on in the weeks leading up to the event. But this is not to say that the campy spirit was entirely broken by the elements; there were still costumes abound, with the likes of giant Muppets battling aliens and a plethora of girls in neon wigs.

The first show of the day was a surprisingly energetic performance by Matthew Dear. Despite the less than warm weather, the debonair Dear and his squad of well-dressed musicians got the crowd moving enough to forget the unforgiving cold. The charismatic –and typically oxymoronic — enjoyable pop music set the stage for a positive night. The weather, however, continued to get worse as Mayer Hawthorne & The County took stage.

The Michigan based eclectic soul group made good humor of the situation and pleaded with the crowd to not laugh if they fell on the wet stage in the increasing downpour.

German electronic group Tangerine Dream has served as an influential paramount act since the late 60s. With over one hundred studio albums, Tangerine Dream is just one of those acts you can’t miss. The set provided equal opportunity in regards to whether one chose to dance to the groove being put forth or simply sit back and take in the ethereal and otherworldly music. One of the members commented how Moogfest was “one of the best prog fests on the planet right now” and commemorated Bob Moog as not only “just a technician, but a philosopher and a visionary.”

For those who needed something more upbeat than the solemn Tangerine Dream, Canadian electronic band Holy F**k provided a more rage-friendly scene. The incredible thing about this band is the manner in which they create their music. Their use of many instruments and random objects to pull off the computerized sounds without actually using the tools we’ve become accustomed to such as laptops and samplers, was a sight and sound to behold and for which many long.

As if this wasn’t enough, at the conclusion of Holy F**k’s set, Moby, the man who needs no introduction, made his entrance before the Moog masses.

Having been a critical piece to dance music over the past 20 years, the performer did not disappoint. Though personally skeptical in regards to how the music would work in live translation, my doubt was shortly put to rest as I was quickly blown away and whisked back to the days of “We Are All Made of Stars” and “Natural Blues.”

Throughout the set, the pioneer demonstrated that the performance was just as special for him as it was for those that were bearing witness, evidenced by his bountiful expressions of gratitude between every number. Joining him on stage was the lovely and supremely talented Inyang Bassey, whose voice became the centerpiece of Moby’s iconic music.

Saturday

Festival goers who attended Saturday seemed more prepared for Asheville’s blustery onset of an early winter. Most turned out more properly bundled, having made   alterations to their costumes in order to accommodate for the low temperatures. This preparation was at least partially responsible for an increase in the overall energy of the crowd, especially for the outdoor sets.

Dan Deacon, who famously created a mass dance scene at last year’s festival brought his antics yet again when he invoked an insanely long human dance tunnel for people to show off their moves in.

If Deacon’s costumed dance party didn’t get the crowd riled up, then certainly the spirited performance by Crystal Castles did the trick. Vocalist Alice Glass stole the show even though her lyrics were often drowned out by the music. But regardless of less than perfect sound mixing, Glass’s stage presents — which included frequently spitting whiskey onto the crowd — mixed with the heavy light show made for an incredible spectacle to observe.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, the Flaming Lips spectacle is one that is quite predictable. This said, it remains one of the most energetic and sensory overloaded experiences in the live music world of the day.

With an entrance no less than brazenly flamboyant, the crowd went wild as the band members walked out of the giant, flashing nether regions of a previously dancing nude woman. Continuously, front man Wayne Coyne – a festival connoisseur, no doubt –   praised Moogfest as being one of the best festivals in existence; even going as far as far as to encourage festival newcomers to “just stick with this fest, since nothing else could possible top the experience.”

At one point, an attempt was made to raise the spirit of Bob Moog to join the party. Between every song, Coyne had quite a lot to say to the audience, which at times seemed tedious due to the fact that fans wanted to hear more music. But in spite of the amount of conversation, the rainbow warzone that is a Flaming Lips show marked itself as something to remember. With an Emerson, Lake & Palmer cover and a solo performed on an iPad, the Lips exhibition was once again enjoyable as most suspected it would be.

One of the most anticipated acts of the festival, Amon Tobin was a prime example of ingenuity most prized by the spirit of Moogfest. The live show — which stands to transform the future of the concert experience — features an unusual structure made of large cubes that display intricate projections that are visually mapped upon the performance and in sync with the music put forth by Tobin, who performs from within the construction.

Words cannot do justice in regards to adequately representing the experience of witnessing the sight of machines seemingly break through cubes into constellations that dance harder to the music than the audience. While not the biggest act of the festival, Amon Tobin:ISAM had the large Civic Center packed full of old fans as well as new ones eager to see this creation.

Probably the most hyped shows of the festival was 70’s electronic punk band Suicide. Set to perform their debut album in it’s entirety for only the fourth time, there was a lot of chatter about the show. Even Flaming Lips front man, Wayne Coyne, got on the promosexual bandwagon, telling his audience that “this was the show to see.” While certainly a historic event, the show was not nearly as energetic as it once was. Then again, with a lead singer of who has surpassed his seventh decade on the earth, who can critique them on a lack on vigor?

Festival staple, Sound Tribe Sector 9 has been gaining insane momentum since the welcomed recovery of band member David Murphy. With a packed house, the genre-crossing psychedelic rock band put a heavy focus on their new material from the album When the Dust Settles. It was a unique set that allowed die hard fans to dance the night away as well as those exhausted from a full day in the cold to relax and enjoy the enthralling show.

While not one of the larger names of the festival, one treat I stumbled upon was Brandt Brauer Frick all the way from Berlin. This group, labeling themselves as “acoustic techno” closed out Saturday night with one of the most unique sets of the day. While it is hard to wrap your mind around the sound of “acoustic techno” the high energy trio created something akin to aboriginal club music, and the crowd lapped up with a vengeance.

Sunday

As Sunday morning came around, what should have been a tired and weary crowd came out in droves of bright eyed, excited groups in even more costumes than before. Beats Antique was the first big show of the day, and despite the weather not improving, Zoe Jakes was still able to take to the stage in lavish belly dance garb and shimmy her way into the hearts of the crowd. The most tantalizing act included whirling feats coupled with a haunting mask. And to the pleasure of anyone who has seen their recent shows, they ended with their every growing onstage animal party that both confuses and excites.

M83 was a huge surprise hit this year. The immediate phrase that came to mind was “dance club of your dreams.” Song after song, the group performed powerful synthesized tunes that seemed so much larger than what I believed possible in relation to their albums.

The persistently touring EOTO brought improved visuals that included joyously dancing robots and eyeballs to a packed Orange Peel. The ever developing improv brain child of String Cheese Incident’s Michael Travis and Jason Hann took a diverse world fusion dub that was both intriguing and fun to dance to. This, however, couldn’t compete with the show I was personally most excited about: Special Disco Version featuring James Murphy and Pat Mahoney.

With the recent demise of the infamous LCD Soundsystem super group, Moogfest fans who requested this influential band were given the extraordinary pleasure of this set. Even those who would not identify as a fan of disco were drawn into the atmosphere created. With futuristic aerial dancers hanging high above the crowd, roller-skating girls with LED afros and a massive disco ball that would make Studio 54 blush with envy, Murphy and Mahoney kept the high energy up until the very end.  It was a refreshing and gripping show for anyone — and there were many at Moog — that refuse to let disco die.

With the task of following a show like that, who else could perform but Austin, Texas based electro-funk duo,  Ghostland Observatory. Stealing the hearts and retinas of the audience, singer Aaron Behrens bounced around the stage while a caped Thomas Turner created an acoustically impressive show that was only rivaled by their renowned laser show. Executing an exceptional version of crowd favorite “Sad, Sad City,” the set continually pushed the bar and became another example of technological innovation in music capitulated by the festival on its whole.

With all of the music, raging, dancing and the like, the biggest pleasure of the festival happened to be — at best — only loosely related to the aforementioned; it was the presence of the modern Renaissance Man, Brian Eno, who NPR fondly dubbed the title “Mayor of Moogfest.” Presenting his exhibit, 77 Million Paintings — Eno’s exploration into light as an artist’s medium and the aesthetic possibilities of “generative software” — for the first time on the east coast at the YMI Cultural Center. In so presenting, Eno managed to add an all new element to the already abundant sensory experience that was and is Moogfest.

Within his Illustrated Talk, fans were graced with the insights and power of his newest creation as well as Eno’s astute and humorous thoughts on the future of technology in music and art. The exhibit, which Eno explains as exploring the relationship between time and attention to investigate the “threshold of eventlessness,” seems simplistic at first  but quickly sucked its audience into a deep and powerful experience that was quite unexpected.

Set within a dark room, viewers were sat in plush couches and exposed to a multifaceted and ever-evolving environment that strikes a deep primitive and almost ethereal cord. Despite the name, the number of paintings is something closer to 100 million…cubed.

“The piece you just really loved will never happen again.”

-Brian Eno

The addition of mastermind Brian Eno to the cumulative experience of Moogfest helped to set this festival one more step above expectations.

The exhibit will remain open to the public until November 30, 2011.

And as we say goodbye to another Moogfest and look back on all it has done and all it celebrates, it becomes increasingly impressive how remarkable the life and work of Bob Moog was. His work changed our relationship to music and how it interacts with our lives; and celebrating that on Halloween weekend in Asheville was the perfect fit.

 

Click the thumbnail(s) to view photos from the fest by Brad Kuntz

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *