Bob Moog Lives on in Asheville and beyond
Fewer and fewer people are mispronouncing Moogfest these days.
And for the record, it’s Moog like Vogue, not Moog like a cow would say it.
It’s a sign of where the festival started and where it has come in just three short years.
The efforts of AC Entertainment (producers of Bonnaroo, BIG EARS and Forecastle) are being realized. Sure, it’s about selling tickets, and getting acts that will do just that, but moreso than with any other festival on the current North American landscape, this festival is a tribute to a visionary individual.
Robert Moog was a pioneer of the electronic instrument movement. It all started with the Moog Theremin Model 201 in 1953. Along with his engineer father, who was well versed in metal and wood fabrication, Bob created that first piece of Moog history. The 16-pound instrument was offered to the public in 1954 and sold for $87.95.
The first modular synthesizer didn’t street until ten years later. That was the first time that a keyboard came into play with the Moog name. Since then, Moog has been credited by a myriad of musicians, from every vein of the sound spectrum, as a champion of what music could and should be.
That’s where Moogfest steps in. In 2010, rare US performances from Massive Attack and Jonsi provided a blueprint for the kind of experience a progressive electronic music gala could provide. For Moogfest’s second year in Asheville, Tangerine Dream brought that same unique bucket-list status to the festival. And in 2012, Orbital, Squarepusher, Morton Subotnik and Harold Budd provided equally rare sets for these, particularly educated, fans.
Moogfest isn’t for the easy listening, commercial radio fan. Rather it’s for those appreciative few who have taken on the responsibility to learn about the music they love. And as a result of this festival, Robert Moog’s creative legacy may be stronger than ever. Here are our favorite from this year's celebration.
FRIDAY, October 26, 2012
Nice to Meet Ya
Aleska Palladino is a name you are most likely unfamiliar with. But what about the name, Angela Darmody? For fans of the HBO crime drama Boardwalk Empire, you’ll remember Palladino, the front-woman of EXITMUSIC, as the wife of Jimmy Darmody and mother of the couple’s son, Tommy, who is the only member of the immediate family still alive on the show.
It’s a good thing perhaps, that Palladino’s character was killed off last season, or else, the world may not have been given the latest piece of music from this affecting band.
She boasted the most mesmerizing vocals of the weekend. No one else came close.
On most of EXITMUSIC’s recorded material, she broods with a low, reaching, burr. But in the live setting, she ranged from overcast to angelic, at times from her knees with her hair dripping over her face.
Along with husband Devon Church and a third member, who proved to be a backline aficionado, EXITMUSIC mesmerized a packed Diana Wortham Theatre, that seemed to become part of the show itself with smoke creeping from its partitioned velvet frame. And though they might have looked small under the wall of evolving colors that loomed behind them, the three-piece proved their strength without a doubt in arguably the most intimate and emotionally gripping show of the festival.
You never know what you're going to get with live hip hop. At its worst, live rap is as bad as music gets, but the heavyweights know that more than anyone. That’s why NAS, one of the most tenured rappers in the game at this point, held no punches with a band that numbered in the double-digits and a methodical set of new tunes and classics. Gone from his set, for the most part, were short mashups of all of his hits. Too many times, rappers will take one verse from each of their staples and play them in succession, which keeps the show moving and allows time for complete versions of their new material. While there was a brief instance of this style, NAS stayed with his hits, in their entirety, and it kept the crowd pleased. Tracks from his latest release, Life is Good, didn’t deter from any fun either, which made this set one of the best of the weekend and showed any potential emcees in the crowd how it’s done correctly.
Late Night Sets
Black Moth Super Rainbow
Black Moth Super Rainbow brought their distinctive, fuzzy electronic sound to the Orange Peel late Friday night to a packed house. The vocoder was laid on as thick as ever as the group played through a set of tracks off their recently released Cobra Juicy album as well as some older favorites--the crowd went wild for 'Sun Lips.' The mysterious band maintained their secrecy as vocalist Tobacco remained partially obscured throughout the night behind some sort of vocoder contraption in a large silver briefcase, and drummer Iffernaut wore his usual black bandana to conceal his face. However, this in no way slowed down the energy of the band or their audience. And many attendees waiting for the upcoming GZA show became new fans of BMSR in the process.
Explosions in the Sky
Explosions in the Sky was the perfect close to Friday night's festivities in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. The emotionally charged post-rock group ended with a bang that left the audience feeling excited and triumphant, hungry for more to come the next day. Crescendos rose from the ashes of crescendos as songs built upon themselves, growing ever more massive until finally climaxing in a wall of screaming guitars and thundering drums as the wave reached its zenith and finally collapsed in on itself. Explosions in the Sky are masters at expressing passion without words on their albums, and this skill transferred to the live setting as the musicians' intensity built with both the songs' and the audience's, resulting in some very powerful moments.
GZA presents “Liquid Swords”
“Wu Tang Clan is strong!” These were the words of GZA, aka The Genius, just before his last flurry of songs at a capacity-stretched Orange Peel. While most of the crowd was between the ages of 25-35, there were plenty of hands with X’s on them, proving that GZA was correct, even though those with marked hands weren’t even born when Wu-Tang first told us all to ‘Protect our Necks’.
Liquid Swords was nearly a perfect rap album, and hearing it performed live for the second time in five months mattered not. This show was our favorite at Bonnaroo 2012 and it was equally amusing the second time around. Several Wu Tang hits were sprinkled into the set as well, but the best bit of news came in between songs when GZA promised a Wu Tang reunion next year. Hmm…with GZA having played two of AC Entertainment’s festivals this year, those ties also seem strong. Could we see a reunion of the Killer B’s on the farm in Manchester in 2013?
SATURDAY, October 27, 2012
Shaping Hits (Moog Panel)
At the Shaping Hits with Moog Synths panel discussion on Saturday afternoon in the intimate Diana Wortham Theatre, brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll of Orbital and Chad Hugo of N.E.R.D. and the Neptunes sat down with moderator Amos Gaynes to discuss their experiences with synthesizers and the patches that they developed for Moog.
The guests spoke about their history with electronic music and the ways in which the technology has advanced and simultaneously become widely available for practically anyone interested in making music. Nevertheless, they made sure to drive home the point that good music is not made by the hardware, but rather the musician. Later in the discussion, the musicians decided to try some improvisation together with the Moog Little Phattys that rested on the table before them. Without a drum machine, they made due with tapping a microphone for a beat as they played a few minutes of delicious synth riffs. At the end of the discussion, a few minutes of audience questions were allowed that ranged from advice on succeeding in electronic music to how a certain sound in a certain Orbital track was achieved. These panels are another big part of the celebratory style of Moogfest and create a unique environment where fans can meet their heroes and get hands-on with the instruments that they play. (Pictured is a crowd shot of Orbital later in the evening.)
The Magnetic Fields
The Magnetic Fields played a distinctly acoustic set in contrast to the electronics to be found nearly everywhere else. The mood of the show fluctuated wildly throughout the set in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium; one minute the band would playfully tease the security guards stationed between them and their fans, and the next lead vocalist Stephin Merritt would make an embittered remark on being forced to play the band's older hits. Merritt came across as something of an odd figure, much as he does in many of his songs.
His deadpan humor was difficult to read and made it nearly impossible to tell a joke from a snide remark or a legitimate criticism of his fellow band members. While the audience seemed to give Merritt the benefit of the doubt, there were points of obvious tension between him and the rest of the band. While the show was perfectly sound performance-wise (aside from an eight string ukulele which refused to stay in tune, much to Merritt's annoyance), Merritt himself came across as less than pleasant.
Nice to Meet Ya
If you’re familiar with Spoon, Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade or New Bomb Turks, then you are most likely already in love with this indie rock superband. If not, well, that’s what we’re here for. Divine Fits is comprised of Spoon frontman/guitarist Britt Daniel, Dan Boeckner, lead for Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, drummer Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks and keyboardist Alex Fischel.
Having just released their debut album A Thing Called Divine Fits, this group is new to each other, and played with the vigor of a brand new band trying everything to make it, even though they are all quite successful already.
While Spoon is still going strong, Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade are no more, so maybe Boeckner will be pushing for another project with ‘the guys’. Their album is near the top in our best of 2012 race and is worth a listen. If you’re looking on where to start, it may be easiest to tackle the track, Would That Not Be Nice first.
If there was a band that sounded like “Moogfest” this year, it was Divine Fits. Their synthy pop harkens to the 1980’s at times but points to the future at others. Hopefully, this isn’t just a one-off project for these gentlemen.
It was only about thirty minutes into Orbital’s headlining set that I looked over at a new friend and said, “I’m gonna have to start trusting these festivals and their headliners.” I was referencing my thought, that going into Moogfest, there was no way I was going to like Orbital.
I listened to it. It just isn’t my thing.
But there’s something that was reaffirmed to me on this weekend, and it is especially the case with electronic music. Recordings are light years away from live presentations.
Orbital is brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll. On this night, they stood side by side, each wearing flashlight sunglasses, jumping about, pointing around and completely owning the biggest crowd of the weekend in the US Cellular Arena in downtown Asheville. Not only did they renew my faith in the opportunities that live settings provide, they turned me on to a new type of music that I have typically shied away from in the past. What more could you ask for from a show?
Kieran Hebden, known to most as the electronic musician Four Tet, got the entire audience up and moving during his set at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium late Saturday night. Just when the crowd got comfortable with a beat, Hebden would switch it up, keeping the audience on their feet and hopping for the entire hour and a half set. Sonic texture after texture flowed from Hebden's electronics as he manipulated his sounds and constantly introduced new ones. Four Tet's set was truly a sensory overload in the most wonderful way possible as the dynamic sounds, evolving beats, and disorienting lights inspired the perfect atmosphere for a late night dance party. The show acted as a cathartic release that harkens back to the festival's roots in pure electronic music, fitting for one of the festival's final acts.
Experimental hip hop outfit Death Grips' Saturday night show at the Orange Peel was easily the most energetic of the festival. Lyricist and madman MC Ride's intimidating frame, adorned with tattooed images of the occult, loomed over his writhing audience throughout the set as he aggressively dominated the stage with almost inhuman contortions and rage. The audience responded with a mosh pit to be remembered and their fair share of crowd surfers. Zach Hill accompanied Ride on drums and brought an intensity to match, hammering down on his kit in a blur of sweat and muscle. Flatlander, mastermind behind the group's harsh and increasingly minimalist production, was mysteriously missing from the act; Death Grips has not yet made any statement regarding his absence at recent shows. Despite being a man short, the remaining members of the group brought their full force and did justice to the violent ferocity of their unique style.
While Moogfest may still be young, it has a big name standing behind it. Moog has been on the front lines of musical innovation and refinement for decades. This might give the festival a leg up, but it also sets expectations high from the starting line.
Together, Moog Music and AC Entertainment have created a festival deserving of both of their names in Moogfest. The festival highlights old favorites in electronic music without losing sight of the up-and-comers who are pioneering the next generation of tunes. Moog has always been a company looking towards the future, and Moogfest does the same.
However, let's not get too caught up in tradition to overlook a simple yet vital fact; Moogfest and Asheville are fun. AC Entertainment has created a great festival here, but Asheville is what really makes it shine- the not-so-secret ingredient that gives it a life all its own. Where else can you see someone in a chicken suit crowd surfing to Death Grips, or wander into an art museum and be able to try out firsthand some of the most influential technology in the history of electronic music? Above all else, though, Moogfest is about embracing the future of music without forgetting to celebrate how we've gotten to where we are today and who we are because of it.
To see our interview with AC Entertainment creator Ashley Capps before Moogfest, click here.