Moogfest ’14: Mountain Musique Non-Stop

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The Robots: Kraftwerk in 3D.

By Jim Tremayne & Phil Moffa
All Images Courtesy of Moogfest

Asheville, N.C. – After taking an 18-month break, Moogfest returned to the Blue Ridge Mountains this past week with quite a bang. Running April 23-27 at a variety of venues throughout Asheville, N.C., Moogfest delivered a deep mix of educational seminars, tech exhibits, and musical showcases. According to co-producers Moog Music and Paxahau, the event drew over 7,000 badgeholders per day, including 25,000 attendees to the free events.

DJ Times dropped into town Friday afternoon, April 25, and caught some of the talk and heard plenty of the music. This is what it looked like through our eyes:

Friday Highlights: After traipsing past the Broadway Outdoor stage and catching a few booming electro-beats from Egyptian Lover, we walked up the hill to Thomas Wolfe Auditorium to score early seats for the first Kraftwerk 3D show. (The group had played the previous night and would perform still another show later that evening.) A good 75 minutes before the first tune, a line ran down Haywood Street with fans who apparently shared our thoughts. (In addition to many wide-eyed Kraftwerk first-timers, one notable fan we ran into was Michael Lachowski, bassist for seminal Athens dance-rock outfit Pylon, whose minimalist aesthetic certainly owed a nod to the Kling Klang crew.)

Onto the show: What’s to say? If you love Kraftwerk, this was a special treat. With 3D glasses passed to all attendees, fans got to experience the clever visuals to go along with the quartet’s proto-electronica. Having now played several recent retrospective shows in various cities where each gig tackled a different album, Kraftwerk certainly seems to possess 3D visuals of its entire post-1974 catalog—from Autobahn to Tour De France Soundtracks. And on cuts like “Spacelab,” the synced video show took you to outer space and eventually launched interplanetary craft “into the audience.” At one point, the nose of one space module “hit” us right between the eyes.

And the music? The 29-song set included the obvious title cuts from each album (since Autobahn), plus enduring faves like “The Robots,” “Neon Lights,” “Numbers,” “The Model” and “Radioactivity.” While it can be sometimes hard to understand what the four members are up to behind their podiums, it’s apparent that Ralf Hütter—the only remaining original member—is responsible for keyboard melodies and the oft-processed vocals. As the group closed the show pre-encore with “Musique Non-Stop,” the audience got a glimpse into what the other band members (Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffenhagen) were doing, as they offered brief solos by manipulating filters and effects in the multi-track. Outstanding stuff—vielen dank, Kraftwerk!

Still amped from the Kraftwerk show, we scooted back to the Broadway Outdoor stage—stationed in front of the Moog factory—to catch the second half of a show from another legend—Giorgio Moroder. DJing solo on a laptop, Moroder mixed the crowd-pleasing hits (Donna Summer, Blondie) with some not-so-obvious cuts (relatively obscure soundtrack selections from “Metropolis” and “The Never Ending Story”). It must be said: His closing tune, Summer’s 1975 electro-disco anthem “I Feel Love,” can still produce chills no matter when or where you hear it.

Time for some late-night action, so we cut over to the New Earth club to catch an evening of Detroit techno with Mike Huckaby and Underground Resistance presents Timeline (live). Spinning all vinyl, Huck hit the decks with a bit of a brutal beginning—his tough tunes garnered little response. But when he dropped the BPM a tad and hit a smoother groove, the room began to give it up and that hands-in-the-air vibe carried throughout his 90-minute set. Then, set up as a quartet, UR dipped into its jazzy treasure trove and offered a tasty hour-long mix of sleek electro beats and flavorful saxophones. An outstanding musical nightcap.

The Legend: Nile Rodgers onstage with Chic.
In the House: Many from the 313, including the Paxahau crew (Moogfest’s new production partners) and DJ Times photog Amy Hubbarth, plus reps from Ableton and NYC’s Dubspot. Happy birthday, Nate!

Saturday Highlights: After a failed attempt to see Nile Rodgers’ “Musical Masterclass” at the Diana Wortham Theather—it reached capacity just as we arrived—we decided to ease over to the Masonic Temple for an all-out geekfest of sci-fi and bended circuitry.

Billed as “Science Fiction & The Synthesized Sound presented by OMNI Reboot,” the upstairs event included discussion on the “rebooted” science monthly, plus some otherworldly sounds from DJ King Britt. Playing with Ableton and the Push controller for the first time, he said, the Philadelphia-based DJ/producer offered up a trippy half-hour journey of spatial sounds and broken beats—experimental, occasionally off-kilter, and wildly cinematic.

Immediately afterward, the Q&A with OMNI editors careened into the super-esoteric world of sci-fi, so… time to jet. After popping into the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design for Dan Deacon’s “Durational Performance”—and just catching the wind-down of his visually enhanced set—we stopped by the Moog Music building to connect with industry colleagues. While there, we re-visited the Broadway Stage and bobbed our heads to some funky jams from Higher Learning and booming bass bombs from Two Fresh.

Back at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, we settled in for Chic featuring Nile Rodgers and the show didn’t disappoint—the band cooked and the hits kept coming. From the original Chic smashes like “Le Freak” and “Good Times” to Rodgers-produced chart-toppers from Madonna, Diana Ross, Duran Duran and David Bowie, the platinum-plated set had the room standing and boogeying with abandon—grandparents and hipsters alike. A rare feat.

Though we scooted before M.I.A. hit the Wolfe stage, we still managed to catch some rather diverse grooves in smaller venues the rest of the evening. Over to the Asheville Music Hall, we enjoyed Escort, another “live disco band.” Fronted with élan by vocalist/bassist Adeline Michèle, the group presented a stripped-down version of its regular 19-piece set-up. Still, like Chic’s set a few blocks away, Escort’s elegant, retro-disco grooves had the joint jumping. (Attention Nile Rodgers: This might be your next hitmaking project!)  Afterward, DJ Mark Farina included a nod to the late Frankie Knuckles by dropping “The Whistle Song” on the packed club.

The Headliner: M.I.A. at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.
A quick trip back to the (very dark) Diana Wortham Theater included a tight set from techno duo Blondes, which dropped grooves that were alternatively taut and housey. While mixing in sweeter flourishes that included chimey effects to match the rumbling basslines, Blondes showed the full dimensions of great techno: tough, yet musical, listenable, yet danceable. Only regret: We wished the performance had been set in a different, less academic-feeling venue—mainly to accommodate more dancing. Nonetheless, it was a satisfying cap to the Moogfest proceedings.

Thanks, Moogfest and Asheville—we hope to see you again next year!