Moogfest 2014: A Recap

Moogfest is an annual, multi-day festival now held in Asheville, North Carolina that consists of daytime panels and nighttime concerts, with programming for both reflecting the ideals of inventor Bob Moog and representing the synthesis of music, art, and technology. Radio UTD covered this year’s festival, which took place between Wednesday, April 23rd – Sunday, April 27th, 2014.

Our Moogfest experience began slowly, with a 15-hour drive from Dallas to Asheville along I-40. The road trip mostly consisted of tunes being jammed, gas station pit stops, and a particularly unsavory 5-hour Energy Shot, so I’ll skip most of that and we’ll start the story with me waking up from a neck-straining backseat nap to the sight of blue sky, bright sun, and verdant mountains surrounding our car on a winding pass. We were in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which serve as a gateway to Asheville. It was beautiful even through bleary eyes, and even better set to a compulsory playing of a very fitting Fleet Foxes song.

We got into town early on Wednesday, checked in to our hotel, and promptly picked up our credentials — wait, no, we promptly took a nap (it was a long drive, c’mon). Then, we picked up our credentials at one hotel and headed to another for a Moogfest kick-off party DJed by Brainfeeder’s Thundercat. It was our first taste of Moogfest, and I immediately took note of the professionalism of the staff, politeness of the crowd, and that rad Moogfest logo on everything from massive banners to engraved wooden drink tokens.

Flying Lotus
The sun set and, despite our exhaustion, we caught a couple of shows this first night, ending up in a packed mid-size venue that hosted beatmaker Flying Lotus. As strange as it is to stay, for me personally, the festival peaked early on with this show (not that the subsequent acts we’d see over the rest of the week weren’t all fantastic; they were). Two screens showing psychedelic visuals — one behind FlyLo and a semi-transparent one in front of him — created a simple but powerful 3D effect; it was as immersive as the producer’s breathless onslaught of head-spinning beats and infectious rhythms. I heard interpolated pieces of some of his biggest hits throughout, before a surprise guest appearance by Thundercat. The crowd devoured it and Flying Lotus looked like he was having the time of his life. The same could — and would — be said of many other acts we saw throughout the week.

One of the most impressive themes that permeated Moogfest was the connection between pure entertainment and a genuine, geeky interest in technology, music, and art. The video jockey and multimedia artist responsible for the amazing visuals at FlyLo’s show explained the process later in the week in a panel on the future of music visuals; at a different panel, Claire Evans spoke passionately about how music would sound in the future merely a night after melting faces in a performance with her outfit YACHT. Interactive exhibits with playable theremins, synths, and software abounded. It really, truly felt like an opportunity to learn as much as it did an opportunity to experience phenomenal live performances.

Dan Deacon
Oh, and back to those: on Thursday, we left the Ghostly Intl. showcase early after seeing a series of tweets that led us to believe Shigeto wouldn’t make his set due to a flight delay. (It turns out he did make it there, much to our disappointment.) The extra time allowed us to get good spots for two full sets from Dan Deacon and YACHT, however, which more than made up for it. These two shows — as dissimilar as two shows could be — were the highest-energy sets of the week. Dan Deacon toyed with the crowd as always, creating a dance-off, a conga line through the balcony, and, at one point, getting the entire audience to take a knee in a half-cathartic, half-awkward moment of communal belonging. Interspersed with his gleefully unfiltered audience interaction was his music, which was a force all on its own. You’d think there was an army on stage, but it was just Deacon, looping, sampling, distorting his own music to create a frenetic maelstrom of sound that had me letting loose in a mosh pit for the first time ever (which was a hell of a lot of fun, despite an elbow to the back of the head). His set was a joyous, raucous party, and it easily won the distinction of being Loudest Thing at Moogfest 2014.

I wondered how a band could follow his energetic set successfully. I wondered it again when YACHT took the stage with the bright white stage lights on, no other visual accompaniment, and a fairly traditional stage set up. Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans showed me exactly how: the dual spirits of punk and funk. The two leads got the crowd hyped with very punk attitudes, complete with mic-swinging, powerful singing, and jumping into and onto the crowd; their music achieved the same effect with groovy, disco-inspired jams. There was a certain religiosity to their all-in performance. In truth, I wasn’t very familiar with YACHT before their set. Now, I’m still not sure whether I became a fan because of the great live show, or if I’d been spiritually converted when Claire Evans grabbed me by the collar and sang the chorus of their hit “Dystopia (The Earth Is on Fire)”.

Friday’s show schedule was packed: we caught parts of Kraftwerk 3D, Lapalux, Darkstar, TOKiMONSTA, and ended the night with a full performance from Moderat. Kraftwerk’s 3D performance was a spectacle — the stoic musicians filled the huge performance hall both aurally and visually, the bass from classics like “Numbers” was almost as tangible as the looming visuals. The Brainfeeder artists, Lapalux and TOKiMONSTA, performed admirably as expected. Moderat drew a larger crowd than I’d expected, and they delivered tenfold. Their immaculate and impressive light show was effectively minimal, perfectly mirroring and complementing their music, which was at times sparse, uplifting, powerful, and dancey.

As we walked all across the small downtown area of Asheville on this night especially, we alternatively got vibes of culture-loving Austin and the toned-down nature of downtown Ft. Worth. The town is certainly small, but it didn’t necessarily feel that way, as there was plenty of excellent restaurants and little shops and a surprisingly large number of well-run music venues. It felt like Texas, really.

Washed Out DJ set
Our last night there, we were lucky enough to be the last group allowed entry to a secret show with Washed Out’s Ernest Greene performing a DJ set in a small auditorium. Following this, we caught Les Sins, a side project of Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick, as he laid down an impossibly smooth set and we later saw KAYTRANADA bump his beats. We ended Moogfest with a late night dance session with Factory Floor performing in a fittingly large, concrete underground basement. We saw Ernest Greene and Chaz Bundick dancing and talking casually off to the side, but exhaustion prevented us from actually saying anything to ’em. After such a satisfying week of live shows, it was hard to be upset at the missed opportunity.

In fact, now that I think about it, no one else bothered them either. The crowd was too busy dancing. It summed up what I think was my favorite thing about Moogfest: the attitude. The festival didn’t have the same draw as the more well-known SXSW nor did it take place in an on-the-map city such as Austin. As a result, the people attending the fest were die-hard music, arts, and technology fans that showed more patience, kindness, attentiveness, and reverence than I was used to seeing at music festivals. It was refreshing and it was contagious. This festival wasn’t about “the scene” and it wasn’t about money (I was grateful I didn’t have to attend any shows in a Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos Auditorium or a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Stage); it was about dancing to music. Specifically, music made my contemporary visionaries. More specifically, music made by contemporary visionaries whom have taken a device over 50-years-old and let their imaginations run wild with it. Moogfest is about never letting innovation or passion die out as we bridge the past with the future.

(Seriously, though, a hell of a lot of fun, too.)

Stay tuned for a continuation of our coverage of Moogfest. All photos by Trang Nguyen