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Festival Review: Moogfest 2014

Lotanna Obodozie & Joey Giaramito//

Music festivals can get too caught up in themselves, either from their overly strict security procedures, excessive focus on thematic content, or ridiculous attendees who make the experience a challenge to endure rather than an enjoyable experience. Moogfest most certainly was an exception, and rightfully so. The five-day long electronic music-technology expo, featuring a cavalcade of speakers, futurists and generally interesting individuals with a concerted stake in the future of music ran like a well-oiled machine. Acts were spread across the town’s numerous venues, featuring a wide variety of speakers, workshops, and performers from noon till the wee hours of the night. Despite the hellish, 15+ hour long urine-scented Greyhound pilgrimage we made through every major city in North Carolina to make it to this tiny hippy town, the festival perfectly encapsulated its stated intent, showcasing some of the most interesting, forward-thinking individuals currently involved in electronic music.

A few acts in particular spoke volumes to the variety and quality of acts Moogfest offered, many of which included some of the biggest movers and shakers responsible for moving forward electronic music. These include long-time electronic pioneers Warp Records, LA beat-scene patriarchs Brainfeeder, and forward-thinking Brooklyn-based electronic label Rvng International to name a few.

Arriving two days late thanks to the demands of being a college student, many speakers, presentations and acts were regretfully missed–among them German electronic relics Kraftwerk, Brainfeeder chief Flying Lotus, and a showcase featuring music label Ghostly International. Despite this, we were able to experience the tail-end of the festival which was well worth the trip.

My first priority was the Warp showcase, the well-known English electronic label responsible for giving the world legends such as Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Bibio, and many, many others. (Chris) Clark, an English electronic artist whose work speaks for itself in its technical complexity and professional craftsmanship, was perhaps the most representative act of Warp’s legendary reputation. His set was perfectly synchronized with an impressive array of lights, constantly reforming themselves into a variety of shapes, all in perfect symphony with every shifting note of his set.

To simply say that I like Brainfeeder would be a gross understatement. The FlyLo-founded, Los Angeles-based record label is one of the most influential within the LA beat scene. Brainfeeder is constantly churning out top-notch releases from a solid lineup of musicians, so it made perfect sense to check out their showcase at the Orange Peel. One prominent Brainfeeder signee, TOKiMONSTA (Jennifer Lee), stood out from the other sets of the evening, drawing a sizable crowd to the venue. Her set began with a fun mix of hip hop and rap songs, before she changed the pace and dropped some of my favorite deep house bangers, including Motez’s “Ride Roof Back” and a classic–“Jack” by Breach. I thought that her set would continue in this fashion but as it turned out, I was completely mistaken.

As she transitioned to GTA’s “Booty Bounce”, she was met with screams and cheers from the crowd who only wanted more. TOKi continued dropping serious crowd-pleasers, including a few songs of her own, and seemed to have as much unadulterated fun as everyone else was. TOKi ended her MASSIVE set with a few more hits, even throwing it back to 2012 with TNGHT’s “Goooo.” Body-shaking bass vibrations (the walls of the venue were literally shaking, startling some of the older show attendees) were enjoyed by all.

As someone fortunate enough to be geographically situated in a region where visiting Los Angeles’ Low End Theory is but a short drive north, I was more than familiar with the beat-focused, refreshingly creative aesthetic that has been professionally delivered consistently by Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder Label. Though catching only the end of Lapalux, Daedalus, and Tokimonsta, William Benjamin Bensussen, better known as ‘the Gaslamp Killer’ is perhaps one of the funnest DJs to experience, primarily thanks to his attention to delivering only the most recent, eardrum-killing bass tunes and his own engagement with the music itself–in many ways a reflection of his own natural love of music. His set incorporated tracks from such bass staples as Rustie, Death Grips, DJ Rashad (rip), EPROM, and Flying Lotus, showing a particular degree of love for his fellow LA producers. At one point in the midst of his set, he casually produced a large joint from his pocket and after borrowing a quick light from an attendee, defiantly smoked said joint (one could say in perfect West Coast fashion), never taking attention away from the turntables.

After a long Saturday afternoon of walking around downtown, checking out talks, outdoor performances, and even getting to play a theremin (or three) at the Moog Factory Store, we finally headed over to New Earth to kick off our Saturday night marathon of performances.

The New York-based rapper and producer known as Le1f (Khalif Diouf) brought a healthy dose of twerking and vogueing, vogueing and twerking to Moogfest, something that probably wasn’t seen at any other performance in the festival. Le1f has made a name for himself in the alternative rap world, spitting his slinky raps over captivating experimental beats. His short but insanely energetic set was not simply him performing his songs, but a performance in and of itself. Visually, the set rocked; Le1f, clad in an old Janet Jackson tour tee, patterned leggings, and cutoffs, captured the entire room’s attention, bouncing up and down the stage, striking poses, and of course, vogueing away. His music sounded even better on an amplified sound system and he kept asking the venue’s tech crew to make it louder and louder. With the help of a DJ, Le1f blazed through his repertoire of songs, playing a healthy mix of songs spanning from his first mixtape all the way to his most recent EP. At one point during his set, he kindly asked the crowd to bring him and his DJ drinks and one fellow-concert goer happily obliged. Surprisingly, his set ended rather abruptly and I, like many others in the venue, wanted it to go on longer.

Experimental producer Holly Herndon sounds like the future and the future is here. Herndon’s set was going on at the same time as everyone’s favorite revolutionary, M.I.A., and luckily for me, I left early and headed over to the RVNG INTL showcase to see her. Having been introduced to Holly Herndon’s music only hours before, through her video for “Chorus,” I only had the faintest idea of what to expect, but was excited nonetheless. When I entered the theatre, the audience was hushed — truly appreciative of the sounds and textures that filled and engulfed the auditorium.With visuals by Akihiko Taniguchi projected on the screen behind her, I immediately drew audiovisual connections between Arca and his work with Jesse Kanda and Grimes.

For me, one of the most engaging moments was when she performed “Breathe,” which involved her breathing sharply into the microphone and having it reverberate and echo around the room. Although slightly unsettling at first, the song crescendoed as she looped and layered her vocals over and over again. Sadly, her set had to end, but not before she projected a little message on the screen asking everyone to stick around for a set by her fellow labelmates, Blondes.

Asheville is in many ways a shining gem of counterculture in a vast bible belt, a divergent voice unapologetically existing within a region that tends to find itself stuck in the past. Though one could say there are far too many street performers, almost to the point of being ridiculous, the little mountain town boasts a rich music culture, home to a number of great music venues, great restaurants, and a seemingly endless supply of friendly people. Ultimately, the well-organized nature of the festival, quality and variety of its lineup, and generally welcoming nature of the town it was hosted in made it an event worth coming back to for the foreseeable future. Moogfest posits itself as the premier American showcase of electronic music and technology and it most certainly lived up to its name.