Moogfest ’11: Costumed Freaks & Musical Fancy

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Kode9: A dubstep education.

Kode9: A dubstep education.

Asheville, N.C.—Just like last year, Moogfest 2011 saw the freaks come out for Halloween weekend. The music festival and conference filled up the gorgeous Carolina town in the Blue Ridge Mountains with costumed ghouls, goblins and—in keeping with the Moogfest logo—spacemen, plus a few Deadmau5 helmets.

Again, DJ Times was there as a media sponsor and gig co-presenter, and we did our best to keep up with all the activities, which saw much musical fancy.

Part of the thrill of Moogfest is the idea of discovery. Because most of the eight downtown venues are within walking distance—OK, there are some relatively steep hills—hopping from one spot to another is fairly easy. And thankfully, almost all the acts we caught went on and ended at the appointed times—a big plus for anyone wanting to maximize their experience.

So with this much music—over 70 DJs and bands—you have to pick some acts you really want to see, then stumble upon whatever else comes your way—that’s the fun part. My rule: If I walk into a venue and find the act interesting, I’ll have a beverage and listen—if not, I’m out and onto the next spot.

Some highlights: Kode9 at the Orange Peel. Alright, full disclosure—this was DJ Times’ co-presentation, but was it ever terrific. Long known as one of the U.K.’s original dubstep DJ/producers and principal of the Hyperdub imprint, Kode9 (aka Steve Goodman) dropped an education on the Moogfest kiddies with a 60-minute set of hiccupping beats, blasting sirens and embracing, warm grooves. The near capacity crowd wasn’t doing “the dubstep lurch” with each wobble—no, they were actually dancing. That he dropped the Warren G/Nate Dogg G-funk classic “Regulate” didn’t hurt either. A big win.

Odd-Pairing Dept.: Just before Kode9 finished out Saturday night at the Orange Peel, synth-punk pioneers Suicide played its eponymous 1977 debut album in its entirety. As Martin Rev hammered away on his drum machine and keyboards with clenched fists, Alan Vega (now 73) stalked the stage, offering growls, yowls and aborted shrieks. During “Frankie Teardrop,” the album’s centerpiece tune of dashed dreams, alienation, murder and, yes, suicide (plus the afterlife), Vega briefly, but pointedly made the analogy to the ongoing Occupy Movement. It was met with some indifference. Undeterred, he cautiously hissed, “This is for all the Frankies out there.”

Amon Tobin: Facemelt cubed.

Amon Tobin: Facemelt cubed.

 

Sunday night at the Asheville Convention Center, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and Pat Mahoney (billed as Special Disco Version) spun a vinyl-only set that connected better than anyone might’ve imagined. Before dropping his first needle, Murphy stared out at the relatively cavernous venue and mumbled, “I know this is a festival, but we’re just going to play some records for you.” Somehow, the duo pulled it off with a loose balance of older obscurities (Fern Kinney’s “Love Me Tonight”) and more modern club fare (Art Department, Joakim, Virgo Four). From the first Instruments of Rapture beat, heads began bobbing and booties started shaking. Mission accomplished. (BTW, stay tuned tomorrow for our exclusive interview with James Murphy—you could say we got lucky with this one.)

More attuned to the ACC’s vastness, Amon Tobin unleashed his crazy, 3D, multimedia presentation. Playing inside a cube among many other cubes—all of which served as ever-changing projection screens—Tobin manipulated arresting soundscapes that were alternately plodding, crunching or booming. This was not so much offered up for dancing, but—with the cubist projections going mental—rather more for facemelting.

Over at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, legendary Krautproggers Tangerine Dream—I must admit—had me daydreaming, so I double-backed to the ACC and caught Holy Fuck, a Canadian electronic band that, at times and rather pleasingly, sounded like Ummagumma on Red Bull. Warped synth loops, clanking percussion, odd melodies, a pause for brainscramble, then a return to whopping beats—it was a unique combo of all-out experimentalism and crowd-pleasing moments.

Having seen Moby spin or front a band more than a dozen times, I did my best this time to watch the audience watching Moby. From his happy Italo-piano surges to the fierce-ruling diva moments, all the way to his now-trademark, set-ending JC pose, it’s an uplifting, well-paced presentation that had the ACC floor of kids reacting with screams, ecstatic dancing and arms in the air.

Suicide: Synth-punk lives!

Suicide: Synth-punk lives!

 

From the Bands: This being DJ Times, I tried to catch DJs and the electronic-leaning acts, but two bands really did knock me out—TV on the Radio, which I was dying to see at ACC, and St. Vincent, which I stumbled upon at the Thomas Wolfe. Although its set was ultimately satisfying for its precision, if not its fire, TVOTR scored big points for its ferocious encore of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room.” St. Vincent, fronted by gifted guitarist/singer Annie Clark, eased out beautiful, ethereal chill tunes that were often punctuated by tasty, inventive bursts of guitar. We definitely stayed for more than one beer.

I Tried, I Really Did Dept.: Having seen several films it had scored and having read Lester Bangs’ legendary piece on the group—“They sound like silt seeping on the ocean floor, and this place is sold out!”—I just had to check out Tangerine Dream. Unfortunately, the multi-piece band’s dreamy, sonic perfection just didn’t move me. Really tight, super-spacey, unbelievably competent, yes, but… OK, maybe I shoulda been stoned.

Tim Hecker was a different proposition altogether. His package of warm, buzzy soundscapes and aural blasts really is headphone-in-your-room material, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that the ACC wasn’t the perfect venue. Playing the mini-arena completely in the dark, Hecker unleashed a gut-quaking waft of analog violence that just left the audience confused. The following was heard from a group of young adults in the row behind me:

“This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Just close your eyes, then.”

“What’s the difference?”

Truthfully, I would’ve much preferred to hear Hecker in a smaller venue, but synth sounds at that volume was a pretty arresting (if not completely endearing) experience.

And Umphrey’s McGee proved once again that I’m just allergic to noodly jam bands.  Sorry.

On the discussion/art side, Brian Eno was a center of attention with his fascinating 77 Million Paintings “visual-music” installation and his Q&A at the Thomas Wolfe. (Very regretfully, I missed the Q&A—I had to set up DJ Times’ presence at the Orange Peel. Along those lines, big thank-yous go out to Orange Peel’s Lauren Davis and Moogfest’s Boone Vires.)

And this year’s best Halloween costume? A pair of 40ish gals in matching Girl Scout uniforms decorated with marijuana-themed merit badges (a sweet leaf here, a random 420 there). So, what were they?

Pot Brownies. A winner!

– Jim Tremayne