Festival Preview: Moogfest 2012

As an Asheville native, I try to steer clear of the festivals they put on here. Most of them are, quite frankly, pretty bad. They generally boil down to second tier jam bands, scarce parking, and out-of-towners clogging up all my favorite restaurants and bars. Moogfest is different, though. I like Moogfest. And tickets are still available. Hurry.

First off, let’s get one thing straight: “moog” rhymes with “vogue,” not “what a cow says + g.” Got it? Awesome.

Moogfest gets its unusual name from engineer/inventor Bob Moog, one of the original pioneers of electronic sound. Mr. Moog is credited with inventing the first commercially available analog synthesizer, the instrument that essentially made electronic music possible. Without his contributions, today’s musical landscape would look very different. A world without synths? Not a world I’d like to live in.

So how do you celebrate the legacy of a man who pushed music to such exciting new frontiers, whose influence reaches so deep? How about inviting a host of todays current musical innovators to Mr. Moogs hometown to blow minds/shake booties for a couple days? Sounds like a pretty good plan to me.

According to the Moog folks, artists for the festival are “chosen for their role in creating unique and groundbreaking musical experiences that embody the essence of Bob Moog’s visionary and creative spirit,” and it’s pretty clear they stuck to that philosophy as you look through the lineup. The selection of acts is certainly eclectic in terms of genre, but the common strand running through all of them is a reputation for innovative, envelope pushing music. Both nights are packed with an impressive collection of old-school legends (GZA, Squarepusher, Orbital, Primus, Nas) and relative newcomers (Santigold, Death Grips, Buke & Gass).

The “oh-no-three-bands-I-wanna-see-are-all-playing-at-the-same-time” phenomenon is pretty much a given at any festival, and this one is no exception. Luckily, the farthest you’ll ever have to walk from venue to venue is about five minutes, and the show times are thoughtfully staggered in a way that you should be able to catch at least a partial set of any band you’re interested in seeing.

One of the best things about festivals is the potential to be surprised by someone you’ve heard of before. Obviously it’s great to see a band you’ve followed for years and sing along to every lyric, but there’s also something to be said about going to a show with zero preconceived notions about what you’re gonna experience. For me that’s especially applicable to Moogfest, considering I’ve only seen two of the artists previously. I’m certainly excited about seeing so much new music. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on the line up:

Justice is gonna start things with a Thursday night kickoff show. As a rule of thumb, if a band like Justice is playing your pre-show, you’ve probably got a pretty killer festival on your hands. Their debut, , was phenomenal, and I’m looking forward to sweating my ass off to their massive, inescapable anthems (“D.A.N.C.E.”, anyone?). There is some controversy as to whether or not they actually play any of their instruments on stage, but I reckon once the bass drops no one will really care either way.

Once Moogfest proper starts up on Friday evening, I’ll be checking out Buke & Gass first off. The duo play homemade instruments and I’m a total sucker for that kinda stuff. I doubt i’ll stay for the entire set though, I’m also really interested in what the Atlanta MC Killer Mike will be doing next door. I’m a big fan of his aggressive R.A.P. Music LP from this past spring, and I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of energy he brings to his live set. While we’re on the subject of hip-hop music, Friday night happens to be chock full of it.  Nas is playing (I busted out my old copy of Illmatic today in preparation), followed by the venerable NY underground rapper/producer El-P, who has had a hand in several of my favorite underground rap albums from the past decade (including Killer Mike’s latest album, incidentally). Not to mention that GZA is closing the night down with what looks to be like a full performance of his classic Liquid Swords. Awesome. There was some criticism last year about the underrepresentation of hip-hop artists at Moogfest, but there’s no chance of anyone complaining about that this time around.

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Friday night is pretty rap heavy, but there’s plenty of other stuff going on as well. Like Primus. I was a huge Primus fan back in the day (as 15 year old boys are wont to be), and while I no longer listen to ol’ Les Claypool and company these days, I will certainly try to check out at least some of their set. Partly for nostalgia, partly to see what the ‘3D’ concert experience entails (Primus always has trippy visuals), and partly because, like them or not, the band are absolutely killer musicians. Side note: If they play ‘John The Fisherman’ I’m totally moshing.

Local avant-noise-performance art group Ahleuchatistas are also playing. I’ve seen them a few times and can attest that they are an experience you don’t want to miss. Intense, intelligent, and completely out there, this drum and guitar two-piece make wicked free-jazz by way of a building collapsing. Their stage presence is also something to behold, it can only really be experienced first hand. Highly recommended.

Squarepusher and Richie Hawtin are two legendary names in electronic music that I know nothing about. As I mentioned before, part of the fun of festivals is the potential to be surprised, so I’m looking forward to seeing these two artists, despite the fact I don’t know a lick of their music. After all, Moogfest is about expanding your horizons, right?

Explosions In The Sky I suspect could either be incredibly epic or a total bore. Their music has always struck me as more suited to being a soundtrack than something I would actively listen to, but I have heard good things about their live show. I’d reckon earplugs will be a necessity either way.

Saturday is just as loaded with interesting acts, albeit leaning more toward the EDM end of the spectrum. Julia Holter should be an interesting performance to catch, she’s been putting out some really interesting, beautiful music over the past year or so. Four Tet and Prefuse 73 will be playing sets of glitchy, skewed beats that I would definitely not want to miss. Carl Craig and Orbital should bring some old-school house flavor too, if that’s what you’re into.

If all that heady electronic stuff gets to be too much, there’s also gonna be a healthy dose of sexy synth rock for lovers you could check out. The Magnetic Fields (69 Love Songs!) oughta be a good bet for that, as should The Divine Fits. The latter are a brand new supergroup comprised of members from Wolf Parade and Spoon. That’s the only thing I really know about them, but that information alone makes me optimistic.

There’s not much female representation this year, but Santigold should add a little glossy sheen to the Moogfest party with her offbeat indie pop. I loved her debut album from a few years ago, and her live show promises to be high-energy. Definitely gonna be there.

One of the artists I’m most excited to see this festival is Death Grips. Their debut, The Money Store, is my pick thus far for album of the year. Pretty much the definition of “not for everyone,” Death Grips blend avant-garde noise, punk, and rap into an unholy racket. Their music is genuinely fresh and interesting, and defies easy categorization. If their live show is anything like their album, I hope I don’t get punched in the face by someone on PCP (this is both a joke and a genuine concern.)

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The psych/trance artist Shpongle is hosting a masquerade that night too. I have no idea what that means, but I’m sure it will involve some combination of performance art/visual projections/costumes/etc. Your enjoyment will probably depend on your level of intoxication.

In addition to all the shows, Moogfest will also host a series of lectures and exhibits on the theory and history of electronic instruments during the day on Saturday. If you are a music nerd, this should be a great way to learn something while you nurse your hangover from the night before.

Moogfest is not a street festival. It takes place entirely within the confines of the five participating venues. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore some more of what Asheville has to offer. You will be in a small, easily navigable downtown area, and there’s tons great restaurants and bars to catch your breath and refuel between bouts of gettin’ down. Mamacita’s, Rosetta’s Kitchen, The Vault, and The Southern are personal favorites of mine, check them out if you get a chance. We’ve also got a pretty great fleet of food trucks, and (if you weren’t aware) we’ve been named Beer City USA two years in a row. So you should probably get a local pint or two while you’re in town. Just sayin’.

Have fun everyone! – Taylor Rogers