Moogfest, Asheville’s annual carnival of souls, made its third appearance in our fair city this year. And so close to Halloween, it most certainly is doing its part to keep Asheville weird.
The event first came to North Carolina in 2010 after spending 2004 to 2008 in New York City. Moogfest disappeared into the vortex in ’09 and emerged a year later in its new home, a natural fit for Asheville.
The traditional drawbacks of this kind of festival were present: long lines and the decision of which act to see when two or more are playing at the same time. Otherwise, organizers and festivalgoers alike viewed the 2012 version of Moogfest a triumph.
“Moogfest was very successful this year, most notably because the educational panels were more heavily attended this year than in years past,” says Emmy Parker, senior marketing and brand manager for Moog Music Inc. “Bob would be very pleased to know that people are being given the opportunity to learn the science behind the sound of his instruments. The performances were world class as always, however, the educational aspects may be the most impactful thing we can do to celebrate Bob’s innovative spirit. Who knows, maybe the next Bob Moog is sitting in the audience.”
Ashley Capps, president of AC Entertainment, which organized the event, agreed that Moogfest was a clear success, also emphasizing the exciting upswing in the additional interest in the panel discussions this year. “We had a wonderful weekend … and, once again, the response to Moogfest from artists and audiences alike was remarkable,” Ashley says. “Each year the festival continues to evolve conceptually, and this year was no exception. In addition to so many stellar performances, it was great seeing the panels and workshops so strongly attended on Saturday. We’re already eager to plan 2013!”
The opening night of the festival—Friday, Oct. 26—offered a truly visceral fervor, with both fans and musicians bringing a marked excitement and energy to the party. The downtown streets were teeming with fluff heads and creatures of the night alike, a tribute to the broad influence and appeal of Bob Moog’s musical genius. Buke & Gase and Pantha Du Prince kicked off the weekend at Diana Wortham Theatre and ExploreAsheville.com Arena, respectively, offering diametrically opposite sound gardens for the eager and the curious. Buke & Gase’s performance was engaging and powerful, their simple yet full sound sometimes calling to mind hints of My Bloody Valentine. Strong and ethereal droning harmonies, coming both from the artists themselves and also layered through the effects pedals, carried the sound alongside thumping bass beats rumbling from the combination drum/tambourine—just one of the hand-forged “Frankenstein instruments,” as band member Aron Sanchez calls them, being used onstage.
Pantha Du Prince is reminiscent of electronic music pioneer Aphex Twin both in his album work and penchant for recording everyday sounds and altering them electronically to create musical elements. His performance on Friday night, however, had more of an old-school rave vibe to it. He busted out a deep, funky groove and lured the crowd down the rabbit hole.
Bear In Heaven kicked off the Thomas Wolfe stage on Friday. If you could genetically splice Smashing Pumpkins, Genesis, and Depeche Mode, you’d come close to creating the sound achieved here. It was familiar yet totally distinctive.
Nas dropped in to remind us that hip-hop is still alive and kicking. His raps are on the harder side tonally and thematically—more KRS-One than J5 or Blackalicious—and he tipped his cap to yesteryear throughout the performance, including an especially impressive Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” dub.
Miike Snow was clearly a Moogfest fan fave. The audience exploded with cheers as the band did its thing. The Swedes rocked a catchy and unique Euro-pop sound, also incorporating some more sophisticated electronica a la Radiohead. It was a solid recipe for likeability.
Primus 3D, in case you had any doubt, was utterly badass. Beyond the giant spacemen with moving faces flanking the stage and the three-dimensional visuals behind the band, Les Claypool can hook a crowd with his mere presence. The guy has one of the most unmistakable voices in the biz, not to mention his trademark twang-womp bass style.
Squarepusher. Yowza! Have you ever had music rearrange your molecular structure? The gut-twisting, teeth-vibrating bass drone that he let loose on the audience just before coming to the stage accomplished just that. He then went on to melt everyone’s face off with some solid drum ‘n’ bass and a geometric light show, all while rocking his glowing square helmet.
Blondes were solid and mellow. Their beats were like a musical rendition of butterflies on a sunny day, only more manly. Dueling DJs Sam Haar and Zach Steinman grooved and swayed, pressed together shoulder to shoulder much of the time like a four-armed music monster.
Over at The Orange Peel, fans lined up for blocks to get a glimpse of Black Moth Super Rainbow. With front man Tobacco at the helm, this crazy train was driving the closest thing you’ll hear to true robot rock. Bizarrely peaceful yet disturbing images—like a creepy-looking house with overgrown foliage all around it and, later, a swing set on a sunny day with a huge nuclear plant in the background—served as the backdrop to this thoroughly enjoyable ride.
Saturday afternoon included a delightful array of Moog panel discussions. Of special note was the inclusion of the Google Doodle team that created the Moog Doodle to celebrate Bob Moog’s birthday earlier in 2012. Witnessing even an hour of intellectual discussion with the likes of Google doodler Ryan Germick and Google engineer Joey Hurst was a little slice of nerd heaven. These guys are at the cutting edge of Internet technology, and they’re thoughtful, humble, and immensely creative to boot.
Saturday night eased in with the Moogfest Mashup at The Orange Peel, thumping beats dropped to a crowd that hit the dance floor ready. The matching glow cuffs on most of the dancers were a nice touch; they all blinked and changed color in unison along with the music.
Indie rock supergroup Divine Fits put on a solid rock show. Lead vocals by both Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner were excellent, and Britt in particular had the rock scream-sing thing down. There was a strong 1990s feel to their tunes, in a good way, reminiscent of the likes of U2 and Oasis.
One truly intriguing band was The Magnetic Fields. The combination of classical sensibilities with lyrics reminiscent of Weird Al or They Might Be Giants, plus Stephin Merrit’s voice (Crash Test Dummies called: they want their bass back) … well, it’s all a bit tough to digest let alone categorize. Not everyone likes their cello with a side of Weird Al, as lovable as Weird Al may be.
Amidst all the action, over at the ExploreAsheville.com Arena, artist Andy Reed was doing live painting as the music of the evening unfolded. His work is visually stunning and absolutely brilliant. Check it out for yourself at his Etsy shop.
Santigold was lots of fun. She and her color-coordinated band and dance team lit up the house and had everyone grooving. Her clean, poppy jams had something of a Latin flavor to them, with plenty of polyrhythms to enjoy.
Moog Music presented New Wave legend Thomas Dolby with this year’s Moog Innovation Award. Dolby is the third recipient of this honor, joining previous winners Brian Eno (2011) and Devo (2010). His performance was spectacular. Dolby has performed with David Byrne and David Bowie in the past, among other greats, and the nuances of taste and talent that would link the likes of those three were strongly evident in the show.
The evening culminated with raver founders club members Orbital bending Mooger minds at their foundations. Brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll helped forge the rave generation and their inspired and improvisational spins have still got what it takes. They brought a grand energetic synergy and cohesiveness to their performance, and the crowd ate it up.
While several other great acts performed at the annual event, we hope this offers a taste for the flavor of Moogfest if you weren’t able to make it. And if you were one of the approximately 7,000 fans per day who did attend, happy trails and panda tails to you as you wind down from the Moogfest high. See you at the corner of Bermuda Triangle and Neverland next time around. Moog on.