Last weekend, in scenic Asheville North Carolina, AC Entertainment and Moog Music teamed up to present a revamped and relocated version of the annual MoogFest; a festival celebrating inventor Robert Moog’s massive influence on the world of music. The festival spanned Halloween weekend offering three spectacular nights of music and two days of informative panel discussions and Moog instrument demonstrations. The music schedule offered a perfect blend of sonic innovators, high-energy dance DJs, and envelope pushing Pop acts that showcased the wide-ranging world of electronic music.
The festival took over five music venues in downtown Asheville ranging from a makeshift nightclub in a gallery space, to a dive bar, to the Orange Peel (Asheville’s 9:30 Club equivalent), to the classy Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, all the way up to the cavernous Asheville Civic Center. At times MoogFest felt like two festivals in one; the first, a large-scale non-stop dance party for the party hearty; the second, an equally entertaining but more cerebral music geek nirvana of Moog instrument-fueled performances. The beauty of MoogFest 2010 was watching and listening to these two different worlds of performers and audiences cross-pollinate all weekend long.
Robert Moog (say it with me Moeg) invented the first electronic synthesizer. For music fans that statement should be all it takes to impress the importance of Moog’s impact on modern music. Robert Moog (or Bob as he was affectionately called all weekend by performers and speakers) spent the rest of his life developing and perfecting electronic music instruments for his own company and others. Electronic music would not exist in the way it does today without the contributions of Robert Moog. The man operated with two objectives: to push the electronic sonic frontier as far as it could go through experiments that would make an engineer’s head spin, and once conquered to make his discoveries as accessible as possible to both professionals and amateurs alike. His MiniMoog synthesizer changed the face of touring keyboard playing forever and now that he has passed on, his company continues to innovate in his honor. This weekend saw the unveiling of two new Moog innovations: the Moog Lap Steel Guitar (with infinite sustain!) and the Moog Iphone/Ipad synthesizer app.
All weekend long performers showed off their skills on Moog instruments or their descendants with dazzling performances. Most took time out of their set to mention Moog’s huge influence on them as musicians and how happy they were to be performing in his honor. The most touching moments were when people who personally knew Robert Moog got the chance to perform. More than once during this awesome weekend of music, I found myself pausing in awe on the dance-floor, reflecting on the fact that all of this music could be traced back to the inventions and spirit of one man. What a cool idea to build a festival around!
I attended all three nights of MoogFest 2010 and over the next three days will be sharing photos and reviews of the acts I caught during this fantastic weekend.
THE OCTOPUS PROJECT:
I could not think of a better way to start off MoogFest than catching The Octopus Project perform in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium at the beginning of Night One. Their fuzzy, glitch-filled pop and weird, loopy noise proved to be the perfect mix of cheery fun and sonic experimentation to kick things off with bang. The four piece ripped through their instrument-swapping, high-energy set that showcased an array of synthesizers, a Moog Theremin, some titanic drumming, and the occasional wave of shoegazer guitar. The audience packed in the front of the house and danced the entire set. It was one of the happiest audiences I have seen in some time; everyone there seemed super psyched to be at the first performance of MoogFest 2010 and The Octopus Project’s good humor and infectious weirdo-pop put the crowd over the top. It was obvious from the start that this was going to be one special weekend.
Due to a horrific thumb injury to Bob Mothersbaugh a few days earlier, Devo were forced to cancel their appearance at MoogFest 2010. Too bad, as Devo were one of the most anticipated acts of the festival and have done more to put Moog synthesizers in the popular consciousness than any other band. In fact, Devo were to receive the first Moog Innovation Award for their pioneering use of synthesizers in pop music before their set.
Not ones to completely disappoint however, Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale appeared to riotous cheers at the end of The Octopus Project’s set to perform two Devo hits with the younger band. In typical Devo fashion, Casale and Mothersbaugh began their portion of the evening cracking jokes. Casale mentioned being frightened of Octamom’s “eight arms, but only one puss” and then said how delighted he and Mark were when they met “The Octopus” back stage. Together The Octopus Project + 2/5 of Devo performed fast and loose versions of ‘Girl U Want’ and ‘Beautiful World’. During the ‘Beautiful World’ breakdown, Mark Mothersbaugh delivered a monologue about his first trip as a kid from Akron, Ohio to the Moog Factory in upstate New York where he met Bob Moog and saw the future of music in his creations. It was a great personal anecdote smack-dab in the middle of a song that really showed how much Robert Moog meant to Mothersbaugh and Devo.
After the set concluded, Moog Music presented Mothersbaugh and Casale, on behalf of Devo, a new Minimoog Voyager XL and the Moog Innovation Award. Casale and Mothersbaugh marveled over the latest Moog synthesizer, which combines original analog synth with some modern digital innovations. Mothersbaugh dropped to his knees and bowed to this god of keyboards, while Casale compared it to a super model saying he was “afraid to touch it.”
MoogFest’s venues were stretched across Asheville’s compact downtown along the ‘festival trail’. I hustled from one end down to the other to catch my first show at The Orange Peel. I had heard that this was one of the best mid-size rock clubs in the country and it lived up to its reputation. Imagine the power and accoutrements of the 9:30 Club packed into the Black Cat and you’re getting close to The Orange Peel. Being the farthest of the festival venues, the main body of festival goers had not explored the Orange Peel by the time Saturn Never Sleeps began their set of chill, improvised trip-hop.
The crowd was rather small as electronica legend King Britt began his collaboration with multi-media artist Rucyl as Saturn Never Sleeps. The project and performance featured King Britt working a small army of electronic gear to generate deep bass ambiance and lethargic electro rhythms while Rucyl countered his improvisations with hypnotic, voice-modulated, vocal repetitions. At one point, Rucyl reminded the crowd that they were in fact “making this up”; not that there was any doubt in my mind. Saturn Never Sleeps sounded too far out to be very rehearsed. Their set was like a pleasant dream during deep REM sleep. When it ended, the handful of audience members looked around at each other sharing nods and smiles. We all knew we had just shared a really special performance. I only wish it had come a little later in the night. Saturn Never Sleep’s head-trip sonics would have been even more effective on brains slightly softened by festival fatigue.
The Orange Peel was jam packed by the time RJD2 took to the stage behind an impressive table-top full of turntable gear. I had heard rumors that RJD2 was going to be delivering an old school RJD2 set at MoogFest and it was obvious from the one-man set-up that the rumors were true. I love RJD2’s instrumental turntablist material and I have always wanted to see him throw-down this way. So to say I was pleased to see his four turntables, multi-mixers, midi-pad, and laptop in front of the man himself would be an understatement.
RJD2 threw down for one of the longest, solo turntablist performances I have seen in years. For almost an hour and a half, RJD2 worked his four turntables, fired off samples on his midi, manipulated video clips from his laptop, and hyped up the crowd. Foregoing his vocal material completely, RJD2 delivered a blend of bass heavy instrumental hip-hop, innovative chill-out mixes, and sample riddled crowd-pleasers. He managed the flow of his long-set time perfectly; starting heavy for about a half hour; then getting a little more exploratory with some really far-out mixes of funk, classical, and 70’s TV/Film scores. RJ stopped mid-set to show off a rare piece of his vinyl collection via camcorder piped to the club’s screens. The label read Moog Warps and RJ told the crowd how Moog’s influence extended far beyond seeing a synthesizer on stage. He explained that Moog had a huge influence on his own music and that Moog “affected music and your life in ways you can’t always see.”
He followed this with a hilarious puppet show via his camcorder. He wore a Mario Puppet on one hand and began playing his sampler-pad through the puppet. Then he brought in his other hand that was inside a barrel puppet. He then did a little 8-bit inspired beat on the sampler-pad with Mario jumping over his barrel-hand. The crowd went wild as Mario’s jump-beat intensified until the barrel finally got him. The Mario puppet collapsed on the sampler-pad triggering a dead Mario sound-effect. It was an ingenious way to work a bit of primitive electronics into the set.
RJ followed his Nintendo beats with some truly banging bass numbers, working his way toward a furious set finale. As the set pounded forward, the bass in the left house speakers began to sound affected in some way. At first, it sounded like RJ was playing some distorted bass lines and it was working. But it became increasingly obvious that RJD2 had killed the club’s PA system. The left side of the house started crackling and cutting out, and when RJ returned for an encore (rarely allowed the rest of the weekend due to time constraints) he gave it the deathblow. RJD2 literally killed it. I loved every second of it and so did the crowd.
Milwaukee-based electronica producer LORN was one of my most anticipated DJ acts of MoogFest. His album “Nothing Else” is in the running for my favorite electronic album of 2010 and I knew his DJ set would feature it heavily. I also suspected that anyone else he played would get a pretty heavy LORN remix treatment. Both of those predictions panned out for me. LORN was spinning in the Moogaplex, a make-shift nightclub inside an art gallery space that went active toward the end of each night’s main performances. I skipped Friday night’s headlining buzz bands to catch LORN’s set. I knew it would be a highlight of the weekend’s stacked DJ rotation.
Luckily there was a good crowd at the Moogaplex by the time LORN took the stage and he got them jumping right out of the gate. It was pretty obvious that LORN is an electronica artist who gets a kick out of embracing the dark side. His horrified and pained facial expressions as he dropped hardcore bass bombs on us added to the intensity and fun of his ridiculously talented set. LORN doesn’t always go for the obvious crowd-pleaser or the easy beat. It was awesome to listen to him let a subtle beat build and snake its way around the dance-floor before exploding like an artillery hit. Bodies parts were flying everywhere as LORN’s experimental bass and interesting remixes tore the audience to pieces. His set was the most unusual and creative DJ sets of the weekend. Someone has to bring this guy to DC!
London-based DJ and electronica artist Bonobo may be making a name for himself touring with a full band these days, but MoogFest brought him in to do what got him noticed. Spinning bass-centric sets of building sonic variety and complexity. We got two sets out of Bonobo on Friday night. First he unexpectedly took Devo’s time-slot at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium where he played a rhythmic but chill set of exotica that would have fit right in at the 18th Street Lounge. Later, Bonobo closed out the Moogaplex after-hours scene with a banging set of in-your-face bass laid on-top of similar exotic tunes. The two sets were different enough to be entertaining in their own-right but proved fascinating in comparison. Bonobo is very good behind the decks and crafted the proper mix to match its environment. Cool atmosphere early in the evening and then a party throw-down to close out night one of MoogFest 2010 in style.