Moogfest 2012 recently packed in 36 acts over two days in the arty mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina. Moog Music and the Bob Moog Foundation present this festival in Bob Moog’s honor, promoting his legacy and celebrating musical creativity of all kinds. As his quote in the Moog Factory reads, “To be human, to be fully human, is to need music and to derive nourishment from the music you hear.”
This year, the panels were open to the community at large to expand the educational component, with Google programmers on hand to describe how the Google Doodle celebrating Bob Moog’s birthday was created. The Moog Doodle took 350 programming hours and remains one of the most popular of all time. Thankfully missing this year were the computer chips in the festival wristbands, so check ins were easier and no one thought about tracking possibilities. As always, the Halloween spirit was evident throughout the proceedings with plenty of costumed revelers. For a swing state, there were few political references but plenty of Sesame Street characters, although no Big Bird citing. Yet clearly the music was the big draw, with five venues offering choices from DJ sets to chamber pop-acoustic performances. Even an impending hurricane coming up the coast could not dampen the spirits of the Halloween revelers.
The first night began fittingly with a stop in the set by experimental duo Buke & Gase. With a progressive minimalism approach, their otherworldly songs floated over the Diana Wortham Theatre. Over at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium (TWA), Brooklyn band Bear In Heaven was tearing it up with a power synth pop complete with dance moves by frontman Jon Philpot. He welcomed the crowd to Moogfest, adding how happy the group was to be there. The single from their debut album, I Love You, It’s Cool, “Sinful Nature”, delivered cascading synths over a throbbing dance beat. During “Reflection of You”, Philpot implored the crowd to “dance with me” as he boogied to keep his end of the bargain. At the end of the set, Philpot thanked the crowd and smiled mischievously, calling out “Thanks for supporting synthesizers!”
While Nas and Primus held court over in the adjoining arena space, Swedish indie pop band Miike Snow followed Bear In Heaven in the TWA. Behind ample use of fog, the stage set up looked more like the bridge of a space ship, lights aglow from electronic knobs and busy streams of spotlights. The group has evolved to a straight up band performance without hiding behind any former facades: the two hit-producing team of Bloodshy & Avant (Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg) with a wise choice of an English speaking singer, Andrew Wayatt. Mike Snow hits such as “Song for No One”, “The Wave”, and “Animal” along with “Paddling Out” and “Burial” were confidently rolled out by this well-oiled electronic machine, as their fans sang along in constant movement.
EDM powerhouse Squarepusher’s futuristic building blocks appeared out of darkness on the TWA stage to cheers over tremendous bass fuzz. U.K. mastermind Tom Jenkinson entered from the wings wearing his trademark black helmet and gave a big wave to the audience, taking his spot up on top to trip the music. He cued everyone to applaud throughout the glitch fest, as the strobe lights pulsed and the beats dropped in an intricate sound design of crunches and bleeps.
Down the street at the Orange Peel, a long line waited for a chance to see Black Moth Super Rainbow’s electronic take on dance music. The singer known as Tobacco hid behind his vocoder under a baseball cap, turning various knobs with a bemused look on his face as he surveyed the adoring crowd. This collective includes guitar, bass, drums and keyboards to supplement the synths with distortion and percussion piled high. Their song “Dreamsicle Bomb” provided a highlight to the set and “Gangs in the Garden” compelled some fans to crowd surf.
Back at the U.S. Cellular Center, DJ pioneer Richie Hawtin kept the dance music flowing with layered nuances of sound, as Explosions in the Sky rocked their epic instrumental jams over on the TWA stage. With enthusiastic crowds at both venues, the music continued into the wee hours of the night for Moogfest 2012 day one.
New band Divine Fits took to the arena first Saturday night with an audience ready to party. The group formed by Britt Daniels of Spoon and Dan Boeckner of Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade clocked through their new album, A Thing Called the Divine Fits, with the intensity of veteran rock stars. Looking over the costume collection in the audience, Daniels remarked about a neon robotic face, “It’s applauding whatever it is!” Trading off vocal duties, the two openly exhibited the comradery that led to composing a solid debut collection. The single, “Would That Not Be Nice”, had that live edge which brought an urgency to the tune. They also presented the Spoon anthem “Got Nuffin”, as well as a poignant cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lost”.
Santigold was up next, with dancers and band filling the stage, opening with “Go!” Afterwards, songstress Santi White shouted a cheery, “Hello Moogfest!” She too took the time to survey the many costumes, telling everyone how they were “looking so fine” and bemoaning how she had to wear the same thing every gig. White showed why she left the record company office for the life of a performer, easily leading her dancers through the set of solid pop hooks and costume changes (mostly designed by White, along with the choreography mix of tribal, cheerleading and dance floor flourishes). From the force of speak singing in “Disparate Youth” to the melodic vocals of “Lights Out” and “L.E.S. Artistes”, Santigold embraces the cultural collage of all genres at once, with a welcoming party atmosphere.
The Moog Innovation Award was presented to Thomas Dolby at the beginning of his set in the TWA, a custom Minimoog Voyager unveiled with great ceremony on stage by Mike Adams, President of Moog Music. Dolby promptly went on with presenting his music, “All right, good evening Moogfest!” Dolby shouted directing his attention to the crowd, “How are you?” He graciously introduced his band right away, launching into hits and new songs off his 2011 album, A Map of the Floating City. He stayed busy behind a tricked out keyboard or strutted the stage, with a busy light show filling the space. Dolby explained how “One of Our Submarines” was in honor of his Uncle who drowned in a sub during World War II, and suddenly the song had new meaning for many in the audience. Saving “Blinded Me by Science” for last, he told the story about recording the famous vocal sample by noted British scientist, Dr. Magnus Pyke. Dolby then requested that the crowd be recorded while shouting “Giants” in honor of his U.S. hometown World Series team.
Back in the area, U.K. synth pioneers Orbital took their places on their platform of gear surrounded by huge speaker towers to wild cheering, as the samples in the introduction of “One Big Moment” flooded the space. Their only East Coast tour stop had attracted many fans eager to witness this act’s electronic legacy over the past 22 years. Songs from their new album, Wonky, mixed smoothly with the older work. At a panel earlier in the day, Phil and Paul Hartnoll spoke about early sound explorations that were shaped by the synth gear but now everyone has the same tools available. Paul Hartnoll spoke about how there’s a danger in this, a drawback if everything sounds the same. He related a laptop to a rabbit hole, with the endless depths of decision-making for any musician. But Phil Hartnoll reminded everyone, “It’s all just tools. At the end of the day, a tune’s a tune.” For the new album, the brothers took a blank studio space and filled it with a few favorite “toys” to return to days of less “stuff.” (Good intentions, although they ended up with much more than needed anyway. An impromptu jam session with Chad Hugo of The Neptunes broke out at the event.) Judging by the non-stop dancing during their set, fans are more than happy with the results.
The next generation was represented in TWA, as Kieran Hebden of Four Tet played a seamless set of electronica. Here, the musical mantra consists of layering melody of blasts of beats while tripping samples of sound, as the volume was cranked high. Outside the venue, an impromptu dance party of gnomes in lighted caps (as seen weaving through crowds throughout the night) entertained people still hanging out, hating to leave the festival.
Buke & Gase