Reviews

Moogfest 2012: 27-28 October 2012 - Asheville, NC

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.

Moogfest 2012

City: Asheville, NC
Date: 2012-10-27

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

Black Moth

Divine Fits

Santigold

Thomas Dolby

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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