This year WUOG sent two correspondents to MoogFest in Asheville, NC. JJ Posway and Daniel DeSimone detail their experiences below.
“Berry cool” – Alec Livaditis upon seeing the Moogfest mascot, MF Spaceman. Moogfest was indeed, berry cool.
Pantha Du Prince
After a hearty Asheville All-Star Breakfast, most of Moogcrew 2012 (Daniel, Alec, Kaden, Collin and myself) arrived to the twinkling “Lay In A Shimmer,” Pantha Du Prince’s opening song in ExploreAsheville.com Arena. Already spacious, his hypnotic microhouse filled the arena nicely. Hendrik Weber’s bell fetish became relatable in a setting where their tones could really resonate, breathing new life into highlights “Abglanz” and “Satellite Snyper.” His Black Noise heavy set was only enhanced by his visuals, my favorite throughout the entire festival. Largely exploratory, light and shade bounced around a shimmering, metallic disk, being filmed next to his rig. Occasionally the blurry, impressionistic live feed was interrupted by light peeking through tree branches, blowing in the breeze. Weber’s set was one of my favorites on Friday, though Alec wasn’t impressed. But you’re not writing the review are you, Alec? Are you? Not so big now huh?
Long before Nas actually emerged, his full backing band and DJ sound-checked. This full band turned out to be a wonderful thing. Many of the hip-hop shows I’ve seen have suffered due to the absence of any real backing presence. A backing track just sounds so flat. Nas’ band on the other hand, did not. Opening the set with “No Introduction,” the music swelled to triumphant levels as Nas emerged. The band segued from the Life is Good intro into Nas’ impressive, recent single, “The Don.” From there, he indulged the audience’s nostalgia, electrifying the crowd with “N.Y. State of Mind,” and following that with a medley of oldies including “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” “Represent,” “The World is Yours,” “Life’s a Bitch” and “Street Dreams.” Though the set was centered around the new album, the quality of material on Life is Good made it sound like a purely greatest hits set. Take his most recent single, “Daughters” for example. A 90’s rapper releases a new album in 2012 and writes a song about his daughter dating. The potential for that song to be awful is huge, almost inescapable. Yet, Nas pulls it off somehow, while admitting that his daughter hates it. Other highlights from the new album included “Bye Baby,” “Loco-Motive” (his self proclaimed “hardcore shit”) and “Accident Murderers.” Closing with a triumphant “One Mic,” Nas flaunted his well-deserved legend status and left the stage to his band’s fanfare.
Squarepusher/Blondes/Black Moth Super Rainbow/Richie Hawtin, Explosions in the Sky
I engaged in some show-hopping following Nas, as there was no one act I wanted to see desperately. After seeing Primus 3D (which Daniel has covered thoroughly) Kaden, Collin and I headed to Squarepusher, whose stark black-and-white visuals highlighted the intensity of his recent Ufabulum material – piercing beats punctuating skittering melodies, accented by his hyperkinetic visuals displayed on his DJ rig, the screen behind him and his helmet simultaneously. What I caught of his set sounded oddly empty though. Sonically, he didn’t fill the room, though the music was enjoyable.
Blondes came on next at the deceptively small Asheville Music Hall. The three of us were ushered almost directly to a space at the front of the venue as Blondes incited a reserved dance party. Though they looked like they arrived straight from a frat party, they didn’t sound like it. Their heady house thrived in a small environment, though the stoic duo hardly acknowledged it.
Following Blondes we met Daniel and Ryan at Black Moth Super Rainbow. Daniel’s got this one covered, but I have one important observation. Tobacco is built. The dude’s huge. Most surprising thing about Moogfest.
Before capping the night off with more Waffle House, I also danced to Richie Hawtin’s minimal techno grooves and got super introspective to Explosions in the Sky. Then Hashbrown Town.
- Magnetic Fields did a signing session at Harvest Records.
- I haven’t seen the picture of me with Stephin Merritt but I can almost guarantee you he doesn’t look happy. UPDATE: I have seen the picture of me and Stephin, he doesn’t look happy.
- Merritt was also genuinely confused that The Magnetic Fields had a Twitter.
- His main gripe was that they’re @themagfields not @themagneticfields.
- When it comes to children’s books about voting there are two candidates. Cosmo the dog (running under the Happy Party) and Bad Kitty.
- I proudly displayed my “Bad Kitty Has My Vote” pin throughout the day.
- I’m not necessarily anti-Cosmo, or anti-Happy Party at all, Bad Kitty just had the pins. Cosmo had some weak business cards.
- If Daniel had a lot of money, he’d support local artists.
- That’s a huge Urban Outfitters.
- Peking Meat Sauce Noodle Bowl forever.
Saturday Night Foreword
Let me just warn you ahead of time, this was a show-hopping night. Moogfest loaded Saturday night up with my favorite acts, most conflicting. Then they adjusted the schedule to avoid conflicts…and created more. An unfortunate casualty was Julia Holter.
The Diana Wortham Theatre fell silent as Holter, her bassist and her drummer calmly took the stage. Against a soft pink backdrop, they looked miniscule. Even on a small stage, Holter’s minimal set-up looks striking. Holter herself looked striking too – Collin claimed he would buy her dinner. Opening with “Our Sorrows,” the group answered the audience’s silent reverence with a crisp, live sound. I was honestly scared to click my pen. That hush continued on throughout the night at the Wortham Theatre, where their lineup alone would’ve been an amazing night. From what I caught of Holter, “Marienbad,” her second song stood out as a highlight, though the new song following got me excited for a third Holter LP. Sadly this is all the Holter time allowed me.
The Magnetic Fields
Entering just before what setlists tell me was their third song, “Your Girlfriend’s Face,” we took our seats for Magnetic Fields. The indie veterans played a stripped-down, inoffensive set. Though there was a healthy portion of Love at the Bottom of the Sea material, the band was thorough in covering most of their albums and a good bit of 69 Love Songs. A dramatic “Reno Dakota” was the first I witnessed, followed by “Come Back from San Francisco” and “No One Will Ever Love You,” what Merritt called their “Fleetwood Mac song.” Most songs benefitted from the simple arrangement. “Fear of Trains” sounded even twangier than on the record and “Grand Canyon,” sounds great no matter what. Unfortunately, Love at the Bottom of the Sea highlight and lead single, “Andrew in Drag,” suffered, sounding empty, however great the songwriting.
As can be expected, Merritt acted stand-offish all night, both to the audience and his own band. He responded negatively to a shouted request for “Strange Powers,” made a sarcastic comment about Simms’ ukelele tuning and commented dryly on various other things. At one point though, Gonson even had enough and chastised him for interrupting “All My Little Words” and suggesting the band play “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah” (what Merritt calls the only good happy song recorded) instead. “Are we trying to kill time or something? Why would we play ‘Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah’?” she replied. “All My Little Words” resumed as normal and the band ended warmly with “Forever and a Day.”
With little fanfare other than the opening strains of “GO!” Santigold took the stage at the Explore Asheville Arena. It was apparent that Santigold was the only proper “pop” artist at Moogfest, interspersing her grand performances with costume changes, bringing out a two-stepping horse (guys in a costume unfortunately) and constantly flanking herself with two silent back-up dancers. When accompanied by her small live band they sounded fine, but other times, given the breadth of the arena, she sounded unsupported by her backing tracks. However “GO!,” “Lights Out,” “The Keepers,” and of course, “Creator” maintained their proper depth and drive. During “Creator,” previously selected audience members flooded the stage to dance alongside Santigold. Shortly after this spectacle, and “Freak Like Me” I decided to head over to Orange Peel as to catch Death Grips on time.
I arrived to a tense Orange Peel. The crowd was near silent in anticipation, and the people in front of me were analyzing passer-by to determine whether or not they would throw up. They deemed me tolerable, claiming I would “stay put.” They were right in front of me, I assume they knew I could hear them.
Finally the lights fell, and MC Ride and Zach Hill emerged from backstage, accompanied by deafening applause. That multi-video Money Store promo site lit up the two rectangular screens behind the two, as Hill built up a drum roll against an ever-intensifying drone. Ride calmly explored the stage and removed his shirt (why wear one out at all?), fans reaching for him. The drone and roll built up until finally the beat to “Come Up and Get Me” dropped. Studio Death Grips sounds surprisingly flat now compared to their speaker-straining, incredibly bass-heavy live sound. Ride’s delivery stayed consistently intense as “Come Up and Get Me” segued through “Lil Boy” and into “Get Got.”
Death Grips’ screens played their iconic videos (usually synched to their respective songs), as well as other grainy visuals. The already grating “Guillotine” video hit harder when Ride’s there yelling at you, rather than in that car. Covering the entire stage throughout the set, he danced like a man possessed. I don’t know how he does it night after night. “Guillotine” segued into a menacing “No Love” and finally “The Fever (Aye Aye)” before time forced me to leave, absolutely satisfied.
Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin
Perhaps the most immediately striking thing about Hecker and Lopatin was the silence in the Wortham Theatre, much in contrast with the Orange Peel. Again I was afraid to click my pen and take notes. Not that I ever really wanted to, as I sat absolutely hypnotized. The living legends performed as silhouettes against a stark blue background. A deep pulse throbbed behind them as they eased twinkling synthesizer runs and tasteful noise into swells overhead. Transcendent was the word that came to mind during the festival’s greatest performance. Beautiful, encompassing, you were just as enthralled closing your eyes and letting Hecker and Lopatin’s lovely noise engulf you. There’s not much more I can say. I can’t capture that sound in words; it’s something to be heard.
Harold Budd/Keith Lowe
Though Harold Budd is a legend, I’m a big Four Tet fan as well, so I scheduled for fifteen minutes of Budd. Ironically fifteen minutes was just enough time to get through Budd and Lowe’s gong intro. A fifteen minute gong intro. The resonation was awesome and everything – had I nowhere else to be I would’ve loved it…but a fifteen minute gong intro? Towards the end Budd slowly took his place basically hiding behind his piano and Lowe sat down to the left, manning his upright. Lowe joined the mix with a few swells, and the gong guy stood up to leave. That’s when Budd entered with the soft-pedal piano that made him famous. I remained seated for another fifteen or so. The quiet interplay between Budd and Lowe sat just above the speakers’ hum.
Kaden, Collin and I arrived at Four Tet during “Pyramids,” the B-side from his Locked 12” and a Pink highlight. Kieran Hebden had the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium packed to the point where security got involved in the pit (though this is partly due to hosting a standing show in a seated environment). As I mentioned in my Moogfest preview I’d seen Hebden in Athens before the release of Pink, and even though a couple of the singles had been released, I still wanted to see what a post-Pink Four Tet show sounded like. It was, as I guessed, significantly more house-oriented. Hebden favored live bangers over his idyllic early studio work. In Athens, “Love Cry” was a set highlight due to its maddening build-up before Heben dropped its signature beat. The “Love Cry” Asheville saw contained little tension, as Hebden introduced the beat relatively early. There were also less segues at this performance. Neither of these things were bad though, in fact it was reassuring to hear a different kind of Four Tet show, especially after leaving Budd early.
After Four Tet, Collin and I caught roughly 15 minutes of Shpongle, during which technical difficulties took hold. Soon we got surprisingly lost, but made it to Carl Craig’s closing Orange Peel set. He wrapped up the weekend with a lively techno set, then Moogcrew 2012 reassembled and capped the night off with another round of Waffle House.
I want to go back to Moogfest. It was berry cool.
Friday October 26
Nas – ExploreAsheville.com Arena
I have definitely been disappointed by large hip hop acts in the past but Nas was certainly not one of them if for no reason other than the fact that he actually played his material the full way through and not just single verses of tracks he has been featured on. Accompanied by a full band of drums, bass, guitar, synths, keyboards, and a backup vocalist Nas literally ran up to the front of the stage and didn’t let up off of the hype until the set was done. Not only Nas but also the band stayed fired up as musicians emphatically hit their notes or head banged to the beat while mouthing the lyrics smiling out at the crowd with expressions that seemed to say “this is a beautiful thing”. Colored Lights beamed down from the rafters of the enormous ExploreAsheville.com arena while film clips of urban scenes played on the projector screens to the left and right of the stage. Although I thought the crowd was as excited as it could get after the first few songs I literally cannot describe the screaming reaction to Nas’ question as to who in the audience remembered Illmatic. He delivered, playing Illmatic classics like “NY State of Mind” (Or Carolina State of Mind as it was altered for the setting), “Represent”, and “The World is Yours”. There was also a lot of inclusion of his new album Life is Good with tracks such as “Daughters” and “World’s an Addiction”. Finally, he closed with the song “One Mic”, a beautiful way to end a beautiful experience.
Primus – ExploreAsheville.com Arena
Bathed in a murky green light Primus’ Larry Lalonde took the stage first to play the unmistakable guitar intro to “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers” followed by the nasally vocals and heavy bass of frontman Les Claypool. I waited patiently, palms sweaty, eyes on Jay Lane for the whole band to come in together full force and when they did they set off a psychedelic funk juggernaut of sound that raged for a full hour and a half and could have gone on all night and I still would have been loving it. Like many thing in life the 3D effects was not immediately present as 2D clips of the “Salad Fingers” animation played in the backdrop, but then fluorescent faucet heads started flying out at me from the enormous backdrop screen and I thought to myself “oh, there’s the flavor”. Other effects included kaleidoscopic geometric patterns, waterfalls of marbles and christmas ornaments, inverted color spectrum squirrels, wild west villains, and stained glass tunnels that seemed to reach and an suck you into another dimension. All the while a face resembling that of the current Dalai Lama stared contemplatively out of the visors of two enormous inflatable astronauts. The band’s musical performance was first of all rewarding to yours truly due to it’s diversity of source drawing from 5 different albums and also diversity of sound ranging from mosh-worthy tunes to spacey stand-and-stare ones. The performance was also unique because, as mentioned by Claypool prior to the tour, the set was very jam oriented, and not the blackberry or grape kind. Predominantly Claypool and Lalonde took leads and inserted solos into songs that did not previously have them adding a totally new dimension as well as playing off of the visuals. It was a true experience rather than a performance. In conclusion I overheard a few quotes from the crowd just to give you a taste of the reactions: lines like “that’s the truth right there”, or “3D has found a purpose”, and finally “It doesn’t get much better than that”.
Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers
Intro to a Crawl
The Last Salmon Man
Eternal Consumption Engine
Jilly’s on Smack
Over the Falls
Hello Skinny (“The Residents” cover)
Lee van Cleef
Eyes of the Squirrel
Tommy the Cat
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Orange Peel
It was unclear whether or not the two block line for the Orange Peel was for BMSR or for the GZA who was set to take the stage after them, but what was for sure was that if I hadn’t had a media pass I wouldn’t have gotten in for a long time if at all. Needless to say the venue itself was packed and on an unrelated note also full of smoke from either some fog effect for the stage or illicit substances in the audience. For anyone who has seen the album artwork or listened to the sounds of BMSR but not seen them live their setup would likely confuse you. The band was on stage completely unmasked and uncostumed except for drummer Iffernaut’s balaclava. T-shirts, pants, baseball caps etc. seemed to be the dress code. Tobacco himself spent most of his time largely invisible to the crowd as his face was buried in his vocoder hidden behind a suitcase. In fact, aside from projector screens the stage was completely absent of props aside from a few lit candles here and there. On the projectors, though, played repetitive clips of peaceful, simple, yet unsettling scenes. Examples include a masked person sitting in a cemetery, a nuclear power plant in the background of an abandoned playground, and an overgrown road where, sporadically, a demented hand puppet would peek into view from the edges from offscreen. After getting what pictures I could I allowed my mind to wander and the layers of analog synths and distorted instruments washed over me like waves. I lost myself in the haze and it was beautiful.
GZA – Orange Peel
In the wait time after BMSR at the Orange Peel I reflected on the fact that the GZA, the genius, one of the members of the infamous Wu-Tang clan was about to be standing just feet in front of me. When the stage was set up it was clear that this was a man who believed in the roots of Hip-Hop in that his “set up” was a table with the mixing board on it for his DJ and nothing else. While I am aware that I just heralded Nas for his complicated set up the two are both awesome for their own reasons. It was great to see a music legend walk out on the stage in baggy jeans, tennis shoes, t-shirt, and a sweatshirt the way it was done in ’95. No laser shows, no projector screens, just 2 guys, a turntable, a mic, and an audience. The environment was simply great. In his characteristic New York slur GZA spoke back and forth with the fans between songs, periodically stepping into pit separating the audience and the stage to rap directly into their faces. On a couple of occasions he even handed the mic over for audience members to talk into. One of the biggest surprises about the show for me, though, was that despite the title “GZA presents Liquid Swords” the setlist was not Liquid Swords cover to cover. Although it was largely Liquid Swords material it was not necessarily in order and was supplemented by Wu-Tang tracks like “C.R.E.A.M.” and a tribute to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”. Also near the end of the 1:00-2:00 AM set GZA mentioned the release of a new Wu-Tang clan album which is buzz that I hadn’t heard yet and the crowd loved wether or not they had. I may be late to the party on this one, but I looked online and sure enough found rumors, so Wu-Tang fan or not keep your ears peeled for this one.
Saturday October 27
Santigold – ExploreAsheville.com Arena
Santigold’s musicians and backup dancers took the stage before her to face an enormous crowd Saturday wearing clothing somewhere between high fashion and that of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Everything was either gold, emerald, or white and definitely not functional for day to day life, but for extravagant music one must have extravagant clothing. Santigold herself took the stage in a relatively modest green dress and goggles and was met with an ear shattering scream from her fans. The whole ordeal was a collage of frenetic lights, heavy music, choreographed skits between the people on stage, booty shaking, crumping, bright lights, and horse costumes. In other words brilliant. Images playing on the screens to her left and right ranged from psychedelic to disturbing evincing really strange feelings when combined with the rest of the experience. It was definitely one to lose yourself in. It was also definitely one to be in the front row for because during “The Creator” she brought much of the front row up onto the stage to dance with her which consisted mostly of colorfully clothed girls and one uncomfortable looking man in a batman costume.
Death Grips – Orange Peel
To start off the review I would like to give the reasons why photographing Death Grips was nearly impossible for me:
1) The only lighting was a blood red floodlight positioned behind the two members on stage (MC Ride and Zach Hill) soaking anything not facing the light in a thick black shadow and anything facing it in a homogenous crimson glow
2) There was no photo pit so I was forced to take pictures from the crowd
3) Three words: Rowdiest. Show. Ever.
Under the bright red glow MC Ride (Stefan Burnett) sauntered on to the stage immediately removing his shirt and grabbing the mic. Zach Hill sat behind the drum set with a look on his face like he would kill the next human being looked at him in a funny way and picked up his sticks. Soon, though, he too abandoned his shirt and within 30 seconds of playing had already broken a drumstick. At the first bass drop I knew I made a mistake by not wearing ear plugs. Up until then most of the shows I had seen at Moogfest had been mixed to a loud but painless volume level but not Death Grips. At some point it as decided by the sound crew that ears were going to bleed at this show. In the absence of keyboardist Andy Morin instrumentals were played off of what may have been an ipod, sampler, or similar piece of technology sitting behind two video screens playing assorted clips. If anyone’s eyes were on these, though, they were missing the real show. MC Ride stood leaning over the monitors shouting at the audience with every fiber in his bearded, toned, tattooed being. Meanwhile the audience clamored and crawled over each other throwing not only punches but possibly human beings at each other. In my own mind I likened the experience to some sort of religious service centered around rage, violence, and head banging. Although the set was short at just under 50 minutes it was one of the most intense the whole weekend. Oh, and some dude in a chicken costume crowd surfed for upwards of 5 minutes.
Shpongle – ExploreAsheville.com Arena
I’m not sure how the staff did it, but I left the arena after catching the end of Orbital’s set for what seemed like only a minute or so and returned to find the behemoth known as “The Masquerade” already in place. Like I talked about in the preview for Shpongle, The Masquerade is an approximately 20 ft. tall structure resembling a mayan temple with the purpose of employing video mapping, a tool where images are projected onto oddly shaped structures to create the effect that they are tangible. As it was, though, the structure was all white awaiting the start of the show, looming patiently. Punctually Simon Posford (Hallucinogen) walked up to his psychedelic cockpit sporting his signature hat: something like a fedora with diverse, colorful feathers stuck in the band, and with a smile on his face started the show. The visual experience was incredible. Wisps of color, bright lights, quivering gelatinous forms, swirling vortexes, rotating geometrical phantasms, and the Shpongle idol itself among other things all graced The Masquerade that evening. The sounds ran much like the albums do: continuous streams of psychedelic-dub-electronic-middle eastern-amazonian trance. It was like you took a choir of monks, people playing ethnic asian instruments, a mariachi band, DMT, a didjeridoo, and Mozart then fed it through some ridiculous techno-machine and plucked the product like a rubber band. It was all to easy to sprawl out on the bleachers in the back of the arena and just absorb the experience, becoming one with the colors, losing yourself in the music, becoming shpongled. Many did not take that route, though. The crowd was rife with dancers, LCD lights, gnome costumes, mushroom hats, and dreadlock having, skirt wearing people of all sexes. No matter how you took it, I cannot imagine a better end to a festival than experiencing Shpongle until 2:00 in the morning then running through the uncharacteristic 50 degree Asheville weather in the blistering wind to your car.
There you have it. MoogFest 2012 through the eyes of two WUOGgers. Thanks to everyone who made this possible, especially Jessica Linker!