Mountain Oasis: Electronic Madness & Pre-Halloween Frivolities

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By Jim Tremayne & Chris Caruso

Asheville, N.C. – Last weekend’s Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit saw past and future stars perform in a unique and open atmosphere that pleased esoteric-music obsessives and party-loving festival-goers alike.

Produced by AC Entertainment and held this past Oct. 25-27 at a variety of venues in this beautiful North Carolina college town, Mountain Oasis had thousands of Halloween-costumed partiers getting their collective groove on to an impressive slate of hitmakers, underground faves and relative upstarts. From beginning (Claude VonStroke) to middle (Animal Collective) to end (The Orb), there was something for everybody.

And that seemed to be the point of the event, which presented a terrific mixture of moody electronic acts like Ulrich Schnauss and Darkside, hitmakers like Nine Inch Nails and Gary Numan, cultish originals like Silver Apples and Neutral Milk Hotel, and electronic phenoms like Bassnectar and Pretty Lights. If you wanted to sing along or just groove to wafty beats or even dark drones, it wasn’t hard to do.

Dirty Opener: Claude VonStroke (EarthMusic Photography)

Dirty Opener: Claude VonStroke (EarthMusic Photography)

Some DJ Highlights: Beginning at 7:30 pm at the ExploreAsheville.com Arena, Claude VonStroke’s festival-opening DJ set was heavy on house tracks featuring his trademark dirty basslines. Selections like “Dood” and “The Clapping Track” from his recent Urban Animal CD shined, managing to get the crowd moving from the get-go. Later that night at the Orange Peel, Rustie dropped an energetic trap/dubstep set, which included a slew of heavily remixed contemporary hip-hop tracks, in addition to his own cuts like “After Light.” Sunday night at the arena, PANTyRAiD played a heavier, more bombastic trap set that included an ocean of bouncing, life-sized dice and an onstage twerk team.

Canadian duo Adventure Club dropped a tight 45-minute set that included its hit “Crave You” and crossover faves like the ETC!ETC! edit of Cedric Gervais’ “Summertime Sadness” mix. Bassnectar played to the near-packed arena Friday night with a booming set that catered to both casual fans and the heaviest of bassheads. After opening with the non-album track “Color Storm,” the No. 4 finisher in the America’s Best DJ poll dropped an explosion of bass bombs, from the trapped-out D-Bass remix of Azealia Banks’ “212” to a teaser of his own hit “Basshead.” The art and visual direction, coupled with esoteric moments of the set, took the audience on a trip unlike anything else that night.

Bassnectar: Bombing the bass (Criss Images)

Bassnectar: Bombing the bass (Criss Images)

The artists that blurred the lines between DJ and live performances delivered some of the weekend’s most unexpectedly memorable sets. Purity Ring—an 11th hour addition to Friday’s arena lineup—mashed glacial dubstep and trap production with dreamy vocals. The show, which included a “tree” of light diamonds functioning as drums and overhanging oval illuminations, showcased producer Corin Roddick controlling everything from beat-mashing vocalist Megan Roddick’s voice to triggering visuals. Robert Delong’s at-capacity Orange Peel show on Saturday saw the one-man-band playing approximately 10 instruments for a genre-defying dance party. Disclosure played a similar live show, with the inclusion of a live bassline for “When A Fire Starts to Burn” and the appearance of Jessie Ware (on “Running”) being particular highlights.

Playing the arena before Nine Inch Nails’ scalding, but crowd-pleasing set, Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor built a wall of sound that steadily rose from a single violin note at the outset, then came crashing down like an aural tidal wave almost every 15 minutes. Oh, and the band’s opening tune—the swirling epic “Mladic”—took a good half-hour.

Also Far Away from DJ-Land: At the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium on Friday, Half Japanese’s engaging set of childlike punk tunes preceded Daniel Johnston’s slightly abbreviated set of cultish ditties. But from note one, it was the recently reformed Neutral Milk Hotel which dropped the weekend’s most chill-inducing set and probably the only one that left audience members in tears. With a circus-like, almost Salvation Army Band sound that beautifully decorates Jeff Mangum’s surreal lyrics and mesmerizing incantations, NMH remains like no other band. And it was apparent that cuts from the group’s 1998 classic In the Aeroplane Over the Sea still maintain a mystical hold on its audience that almost defies explanation.

By the time The Orb hit the Orange Peel’s stage to cap off the first Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit this past weekend, the news was out that music icon Lou Reed had passed away earlier that Sunday morning.

And as Reed’s first big band The Velvet Underground played gigs that included bewildering Warholian films projected onto the band members as they droned and squealed through their transgressive repertoire, it seemed somehow appropriate that The Orb was carrying forward that very multi-media/outsider-music ethos. (Full disclosure: The Orb event was co-presented by DJ Times.)

Multi-Media: The Orb at the Orange Peel. (Criss Images)

Multi-Media: The Orb at the Orange Peel. (Criss Images)

The Orb—a U.K.-based electronic duo led by musical prankster Alex Paterson—offered up its own version, though certainly more informed by mind-freeing Acid-House culture than anything blatantly confrontational (like, say, VU’s “The Black Angel’s Death Song”). But its mad cornucopia of evocative film pieces—deep-sea scenes, silent-film snippets, flexing musclemen, full-on geometric freakouts—seemed to perfectly suit the group’s 90-minute set of beatless burbles, spoken-word epiphanies and ever-building grooves. Compared to the Velvets’ heyday, it was perhaps less grating, but no less musically challenging.

This year’s costume of the festival? We kinda liked the guy who came as The Shocker (if we have to explain…) and, as always, there were a handful of helmeted Daft Punk twins. But this year’s winner wore us down with sheer frequency: There must’ve been 20 Heisenbergs (from “Breaking Bad”) roaming downtown Asheville, all with the requisite shades and pork-pie hat combo—perhaps not entirely original, but certainly tapped into the cultural moment. (It’s over, Mr. White—you win again.)