At Moogfest, there was simultaneously praise and denouncement of the current world that we live in today. The beautiful, vast world of electronic music is so easy to escape into, but at the same time, the festival reclaimed and refocused our attention to how the underlying technology of all this music, and the music itself, can help make the world a better place.
Large music festivals, especially those focused around electronic music, seem to have a reputation of hedonism. Moogfest is structured in such a way that it thoroughly assassinates the stereotype. It’s serious in how heady it is. Its whole existence is based on its namesake: Dr. Robert Moog, pioneering technologist that helped create tools for artists to realize their dreams for decades. Not the least of which were his famous Moog analog synthesizers.
Moog’s entire life was lived at the crossroads of music and technology. And for one weekend, we got to live there, too.
The myriad of Moogfest’s talks, performances, and installations, spawned even more conversations; some that will hopefully continue for years to come. Inspiring, provocative, and even controversial, the entire weekend is one that we will not soon forget.
FUTURE THOUGHT – Matt
Most of these events came in the form of talks, panels, and interactive workshops. The key concepts featured by the festival (techno-shamanism, afro-futurism, the future of creativity, post-humanism) may have lofty ideas and can be prone to misfire, but the more established tech-industry professionals of the event seemed to have full control of these heady ideas.
Moogfest was held in Durham, a corner of the “Research Triangle”, the second largest urban area in North Carolina and home to one of the largest corporate research parks in the world. The area has been in media lately as one of the best places to live in the US, and small talk with fellow festival goers revealed that many were expats from the bay area. Durham is definitely on its way to being a great area in the 21st century, but also faces the same problems of low income displacement and gentrification that many metropolitan areas on the west coast are currently fighting. To that end, on Thursday there was a talk hosted by Greta Byrum, Bob Geolas, and Wanona Satcher about the future of cities focusing on what Durham and the Triangle area needs to do to thrive. Bob is the president of the Research Triangle Foundation, Greta focuses on community technology products and local preparedness, and Wanona is an urban designer who focuses on people driven improvements to the community. Durham has been in the news lately for how fast gentrification has taken over. Hearing an individual who could easily be summarized as ‘The Man’ talk about what the RTP is doing to ensure a future that can be enjoyed by all, regardless of socioeconomic status, with two women who are focused on listening to locals and how to create a better society was a happy collision of top down and bottom up creation and change. While the talk left some of the harder questions about Durham up in air — specifically regarding people that straddle the poverty line and how they can have a future that they can participate in — the fact that such a talk is occurring at a music festival speaks volumes about Moogfest’s drive to be in a class of its own.
The theme for the guest of honor keynote speeches was The Future of Creativity. Friday’s speaker was Dr. Martine Rothblatt, one of the most interesting minds in the world today. When her daughter came down with a rare disease, Martine started a drug research company. When the idea of high-fidelity satellite radio struck her, she broke down legal and technological barriers to create the most profitable radio company in the world, Sirius XM.
Her success as an individual who isn’t afraid to get weird to get results makes her one of the perfect candidates for such a speech. Her talk was focused on post-humanism and what she thinks America as a whole needs to do to excel. To her, free college education for every single American was the most important thing we can do to improve the world around us and creativity in the future. She also believes that the meme (ideas and concepts and thoughts in small easy to transfer parts) is stronger than the gene (our anatomical limitations as humans), and that through advances in organ printing and digital signal processing, we can beat death. A lot of the concepts she put forward definitely met the criteria for heady, but the work she has done on this front shows that she’s got the facts to back it up.
Saturday’s speaker was Jaron Lanier, one of Time Magazine’s top 100 futurists and an expert in computing systems, musical theory, and virtual reality. His speech was definitely more stream of consciousness than Martine’s. At times it felt like a boring person at a party namedropping every cool person they’ve fraternized with. This compounded with the unclear thesis statement for his talk and resulted in a somewhat frustrating time. To be honest, I’d probably be a worse speaker and the second half of his talk was worth it. He talked extensively about the unification of music and virtual reality, and his experience with creating cutting edge VR units in the early 1980’s. He helped invent the Data Glove and is credited with many of the first patents for 3D VR interfaces.
As a surprise, he had a recording of a tech demo from 30 years ago. In the video, the user had a tactile glove and could float around a 3D (In 1982!) space, and play music on a saxophone, a weird torus shaped synthesizer, and a slide whistle. Seeing the whole thing in action really convinced me that he knew what he was talking about just as well as Dr. Rothblatt. Jaron’s closing statements espoused much love for recently released consumer VR units that are enabling a new generation to further his weird, ephemeral experiments that unify music and technology. Ultimately, I left the talk with a new sense of how weird technology can and should be.
FUTURE MUSIC – Ben
The musical acts at the festival were splendidly diverse: house, club, trap, footwork, metal, drone, 80s synth pop, hip hop, ambient, post-rock, experimental electronic, and so much more. And even better than that: there were a ton of female performers! From the dizzying, creepy, screeching footwork of Jlin to the choral, pastoral tones of Juliana Barwick as well as the wild and self made power pop of Grimes, the feminine side of electronic music was dutifully represented. In addition to that, Moogfest did its part in supporting the local scene as well with a few Durham electronic and hip hop acts: Trandle, Well$, and Professor Toon. The aggressively diverse lineup brought out an equally and refreshingly diverse crowd to each and every show.
It’s so hard to say which performance stood out to me as the best, but my personal favorites of the weekend were UV Boi, Ben Frost, and Grimes.
UV Boi فوق بنفسجي (ultraviolet in arabic) is an Australian based electronic producer and DJ. He’s only been active on soundcloud under this name for about 2 years and he just turned 20 last week. Needless to say, he’s still very new to the game, but then again, the game is very new. Moogfest marks UV Boi’s very first show in the USA, so it was pretty incredible to have the opportunity to see him in North Carolina of all places.
He watermarks all his songs with “UV Boi Ultraviolet.” I usually hate watermarked tracks, but his are just soooo good! He’s a true 808 bass magician, his timing is impeccable, the hi hats are free flowing like wine at a Roman feast, and he makes me wants to dance my ass off every time I hear his beats. Matt and I actually got recognized three different times by other people at the festival for dancing so hard at UV Boi. I waited outside the venue to hear more from him, and he’s got a Lookbook in the works for some of his merch as well as some more shows in the states once he makes some good contacts over here. boiii boiii
The first time I saw Ben Frost, his visuals consisted of four or five intensely bright strobe lights that he kept on the whole time with no breaks. I was at the show with Garrett Burke, former WSBF General Manager, and we were both pummeled into sleep by our inability to watch and the visceral sonic blasts our bodies were enduring. However, Ben has *really* stepped up his game since I last saw him. His set was tight, very well put together, and the visual aspect of the show was stunning. Jaw dropping, frisson inducing amounts of fog, lasers and bass created an awe-inspiring combination both heady and brutal.
Claire Boucher, more commonly known as Grimes, is one of those weirdos like Prince who takes a look at pop music and goes “no no no, it sounds like *this*” and everyone else just kind of says “ok”. She built her pop empire from the ground up without that intention in mind. And even still, watching her perform still feels like that isn’t even her end goal. Even with the incredible access to resources to make new music, it hasn’t poisoned her spirit. Her friends choreographed their entire performance, and Grimes made it feel like we were in warehouse with about 40 other people instead of watching her on a huge stage with 3000 other people.
Grimes’ new album Art Angels is currently in rotation at WSBF so keep an ear out for that!
We experienced the splicing of EDM and noise rock with a heavy performance from HEALTH. We took the URL to the IRL with soundclouders Qrion, UV Boi, and Ryan Hemsworth. We threw back to the chill wave days with WSBF live alum RBTS WIN. We watched Reggie Watts get epistemological, philosophical, tropical, optical, and off the wall. Endured Greg Fox for about 2 hours. Jammed out dad style to Gary Numan. I could go on.
Cutting edge technology has allowed for truly incredible minds to create beautiful things. The Moog synthesizer was the first domino that led to the explosion of music that lay beyond traditional instruments. It’s crazy to think a couple of transistors and knobs changed music, and the future of creativity, forever. From what I could gather, things were weird, got weirder, and will get weirder in the future to come. And we’re just fine with that.
Lastly, we want to thank Missy at steepin.org for providing some great photos from the weekend! You can head over to her recap of the weekend for some more photos and an awesome recap video featuring some of our dance moves.