This year we attended Moogfest with guest-blogger, Zach Reader. Zach is the Charlotte-based Gemini component of our air sign trifecta. He’s a multi-talented musician who throws Latin-themed dance parties & books shows at our Plaza Midwood neighborhood favorite, Snug Harbor, so check him out if you’re ever in CLT!
Here’s our 2017 festival coverage in conversation.
// DAY 1
ZR: MOOGFEST is Durham, North Carolina’s glistening homage to future sound & future thought through a pitch-perfect weekend of musical, artistic & technological programming. So it may seem unlikely that I’d begin the recount of my third installment at the festival with a mention of my brief, shaky-handed meeting of Michael Stipe (of the little band called R.E.M.), but that’s what made it all so great. There I was just outside Motorco, the festival’s headquarters, having just finished a delicious falafel, tzatziki sauce spilled on my new shirt & all, pacing as I debated how to approach Mr. Stipe as he casually sipped a beer with a friend.
Not only was this chance meeting almost all I could consider as I plotted where to begin my recap, to me, that small instance best embodied the festival’s major defining characteristics. The many ear-bending & mind-provoking platforms provided throughout this weekend create such easily accessible grounds that the line between artist & attendee can become quite warbly, just about non-existent even. I also accepted that this was the universe telling me one must take chances, creatively & socially; that all kinds of strange magic can happen in a nervous blink of an eye, or stroke of a key, twist of a knob or off-beat of a drum. Expanding on that, it was a reminder to expect the unexpected- anything really can happen, especially under the supervision(s) of the mighty, mighty Moog. Also, as I let Michael know, my mom may have never forgiven me if I didn’t at least say hello. I did “borrow” my first R.E.M. CD from her in middle school after all.
Before we make our way to a front row view of Mykki Blanco’s speedy & sweaty grime-time club fits at the outdoor Motorco Park stage, it was unanimously decided that a round of room temperature shots of decent tequila must go down. Like Mykki shouted with his captivated followers, “Hallelujah!”
ZR: He hit climax with an up-close & barefoot dip into center crowd, setting the bar early for what an intimate live interaction can be, just before a wrestle with his wig & disappearing into a sun-touched cloud of smoke.
CG: So good, right?! We saw Mykki Blanco once before, in Miami, opening for Future Islands. This year he opened (again – what the hell?) for Oman Souleyman & Talib Kweli. It was a pretty short set, but with the energy & crowd engagement we’ve come to expect from Mykki. He jumped down into the crowd & stirred up the normal hierarchy of standing at a show. So much love!
ZR: Not yet 8 pm on the first night, I squeezed myself into an already packed Pinhook for a spot of Russell E.L. Butler’s computerized hyper-dance.
Two songs in, the FOMO becomes a reality & it’s time for a return to the Park to witness Omar Souleyman. The sun is now setting slowly but surely, surely as his keyboard player absolutely slays with solos over their brand of Syrian-Iraqi-Turkish-influenced trance bangers with blazing speed & pure effortlessness.
CG: Yes! This was a long time goal for me, ever since seeing reading about him in Apartamento while waiting for a haircut. The Syrian wedding singer brings immense sound for such a small set up. He is from Al-Jazira, in Syria, where he has not been back in six years. We’re big fans of his subtle dancing & major party sounds that transport you. I love reading about Shaabi music, & how it’s more similar to our country music, not exactly as cosmopolitan as we would think. You can’t help but wonder what he thinks of the crowds of white people getting down to his intense beats…
ZR: From Syria to Saturn, deep inside Motorco Music Hall, Mndsgn was set to launch. Mndsgn, aka Ringgo Ancheta- whose low ends bumped deep enough to occasionally remind my body that it never actually left Earth – turned out head-nod power so smooth yet strong one should have packed a neck pillow, perhaps one made of velvet or silk. After this interplanetary funk odyssey, I returned to the outdoor stage for Talib Kweli. The critically acclaimed emcee hit the stage following a surprise introduction from Hannibal Buress & proceeded to deliver a snippet medley of both old & new, with an abundance of tributes to fellow, genre-defining artists. He did touch on a Black Star hit or two as well as Reflection Eternal’s “The Blast” (with video accompaniment), plus paid respects to Durham’s own hip hop hero, 9th Wonder, so I’m giving him a pass.
CG: Bummed I missed that! But also, yeah, sounds like a pastiche of random crowd-pleasers. Last we saw Lonnie Holley at the Bull Pen. I had heard a lot about Holley performing & making assemblages here in Southeast, & had somehow never managed to see him perform. I’m so glad we made time for him here! I immediately fell in love with his keyboard quilt, made of scraps of denim quilted together around a bold “H.” The accompanying trombone & drums, lovingly wrapped around Holley’s incredible vocals & droning keys with samples & layering of the horned instrument & tinkling, jazz percussion.
ZR: Getting to see 808 State’s live band performance at Moogfest’s flagship DJ venue, The Armory, was a welcomed change & brought back now distant memories of the hours I’d spent reading URB Magazine & daydreaming about when I’d see my name on one of those sampler discs. Nostalgia quickly sets in, now I’m feeling old- time to change up & take a friend’s recommendation to catch Deantoni Parks back at Motorco. A true hip-hop conductor, Parks elegantly balances live drumming, often with one hand, while triggering a platter of sample pads & thick synth lines with the other. My Thursday night closes out just right with a front & center retrospect from Peanut Butter Wolf. The Stones Throw Records mastermind kept it classic & classy, digging from Mobb Deep down to Kool & The Gang’s apt “Summer Madness.”
// DAY 2
CG: I started off the second day with Witchcraft & Coding workshop. This was hosted by Krista Anne, a North Carolina-based artist interested in giving soul & heart a hospitable place technology. She encouraged participants to approach coding in an expressive way, less concerned with the end goal. Students were instead taught to approach coding with intuition & playful intention. She created this class with women & non-binary folks in mind. There were a few people in the class with extensive coding experience. I, on the other hand, had made one basic html website in college, which was my only experience with coding, but I felt supported & was really encouraged to explore coding again. We started by downloading some open-source software for programming.
Krista shared some simple code to visualize the sound waves of “Sycamore Tree” by Kali Uchis, a song I love. This was awesome, & also a funny thing to hear a million times, as participants manipulated the code & tested it. So just imagine that as the soundtrack to the code she produced with Obama’s face visualizing the sound waves, pictured above. She explained some concepts that could be pretty dry instead in relatable, down to earth analogies, as well as offering some resources that approach coding in an artful, free-form, explorative way.
ZR: To start my Friday, first thing’s first – I hit Carolina Soul Records. Guess who shows up? Last night’s highlights Mndsgn & Peanut Butter Wolf! I try, for an unmentionable amount of time, & successfully keep it cool enough to check out with my finds & exit the cozy but jam-packed shop without geekin’ on ‘em.
CG: I loved your semi-creeper, but ultimately respectful Instagram post of them looking through records. Haha.
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ZR: Aside from Michael Stipe’s six-hour ‘Jeremy Dance’ mirror screen public display, the most notable Moogfest landmark may have been the collaboration dome. A visually intriguing structure, this temporary home in downtown Durham hosted strangers of all kinds & afforded the opportunity to improvise, connect & speak to each other & on-lookers through drum machines, synthesizers, pedals & distorted microphones. This was…so awesome!
Next, I decided to keep my visit to Haxan Cloak & Nick Zinner’s durational sound installation at the American Underground short & sweet, mostly out of worry that their wash of electric relaxation would lull me into too deep a trance. And then – Surprise! Hannibal Buress strikes again for an unannounced “In Conversation” interview at Carolina Theatre with Animal Collective & prog-prodigy, Syrinx’s John Mills-Cockell.
Talks here swerved wildly from John’s experiences sharing the stage with Miles Davis, who threatened to cut him, Geologist getting bit by the parrot from the original ‘Doctor Doolittle’ while filming AC’s ‘ODDSAC’, to the group getting denied by Stevie Wonder’s manager after a request to quote “I just called to say I love you.” Moving on, I checked in for a quick outdoor dub session at the Riddim Macka Sound System DJ party, which thankfully couldn’t be stopped by a little rain.
CG: I headed over to the Presbyterian Church to hear Sudan Archives next. Last year, we were lucky enough to see Julien Baker & Juliana Barwick in this beautiful space. Sudan Archives is a self-taught violinist who layers masterful violin, lap top beats with her gorgeous voice to build songs you want to dance to in your room, & also blast at the party. Also, so many heart-eyes for this two-piece Ankara print outfit.
ZR: Sudan Archives at Moogfest’s warmest venue, the First Presbyterian Church, was equivalent to an angel of chill giving blessings from her violin & meditational vocals. Forcing myself to leave this heavenly bliss, I hustled back to Carolina Theatre only to grab the last seat in the last row on the top floor for the ‘Stranger Things’ live score with Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein of S U R V I V E. Their sonically & visually dark presentation mixed with the heat circulating through the giant room could have easily induced a sleep packed with dreams of the bizarre for some. Accordingly, I nodded off for a few, but made it out alive.
CG: Next up, we headed to Motorco Hall to see Tasha the Amazon. Her DJ played a lot of Drake to set the stage for this Toronto-based artist & producer. Her Jamaican bad gyal’s flow & tight aesthetic made me really want to go to warehouse parties up north.
ZR: Unfamiliar with Tasha the Amazon, I thought I should check her out based on name alone. She prefaced her party rap anthem, “Watch It Burn”, with a story of the $30,000 price tag for pyrotechnics & explosives attached to the song’s video. While waiting for Princess Nokia’s Massive line to shrink, I spaced out with Animal Collective’s always evolving frenzy of trippy cartoon pop. My brain is still a little damp from that one. Finally getting into Motorco for the tail end of Princess Nokia, it was here that I likely caught the weekend’s most humbled & hungry performance. Her blend of raw but accessible & danceable hip hop presents a tough & hard-edged exterior, but she tugged at the heartstrings of all as she brought her nieces on stage to showcase their dance moves for her final song.
CG: So… Princess Nokia – ~*MI REINA*~ ::prayer hands emoji:: Holy shit, where to start here. I got a prime spot for this. She jumped out & immediately started with “Tomboi”. In quick succession after this – all the hits from her 1992 album – which she is re-releasing with more material! I thought Mykki Blanco might join her for “Brujas” but nonetheless felt blessed. She wore a Mickey Mouse Tank top with a lettuce edge trim. I mean… GUTTED.
She brought out her nieces, & talked about how seeing them grow up has taught her about womanhood, sisterhood, & how to raise strong women. This was precious, & also incredible to see these two young queens who are the future, in the spotlight & unafraid.
We caught the tail end of Animal Collective, who had played in Charleston a few weeks prior. This sounds trife but I saw them at Pitchfork in 2008 & I’m like, good, you know?
We ended the evening at The Armory with the homies & Derrick May. May pioneered techno back in the 80s, so naturally this ended in more dancing.
// DAY 3
CG: After a day at the pool with my friend, Stefanijia (check out her band SLIME!) we went to the Durham Hotel, a mid-century dream world that I would love to live in. There we drank rose on the patio to the sounds of DJ Play Play, a Durham-based DJ & producer (also shout out to that salad ;P). They taught the DJ 101 Workshop for Women & Gender Non-Conformers that filled up immediately, & I wasn’t able to attend, but that is basically my dream! Hope to catch a workshop next time, & definitely some parties next time we’re in Durham.
After this, we headed up to the rooftop, which reminds me of the rooftop of the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. Great drinks, amazing food & views of the growing & changing skyline of Durham.
ZR: Colleen, my greatest discovery from the weekend, filled the First Presbyterian Church with echoes of her delicately looped vocals & signature instrument, the treble viola da gamba. With her cooling French accent, she commented in between songs “no disrespect to North Carolina, but this weather is awful” as the unseasonably high heat of May caused her fragile viola to de-tune repeatedly. She closed the soothing set by treating listeners to a piece from her upcoming material, in which she temporarily trades in her acoustic goods for an entirely electronic setup.
Following her were Canadian cult classics, Syrinx, & the Mallarmé Chamber Players – think Kronos Quartet on an acid trip with a lucid trio of prog-rockers. This synth-laced run might have paired best with a tab or two, but I’m pretty sure dosing isn’t allowed in church. I could still dig it though. Afterwards I made good on my commitment to seeing Suzanne Ciani’s circuit wizardry, emitting equal parts pleasing sounds with the disorienting & sometimes downright dizzying. Backing her were a larger than life projection of her “hand-cam” & a most radical show of lights.
CG: Suzanne Ciani was pretty incredible to see live. The projections of her manipulating all these tangled cords was a cool access point to what was happening on stage to create these amazing sounds coming from this award-winning pioneer of electronic music.
DJ Premier – We went to this at our friend’s Mel & Harry’s suggestion. He played so many hip hop classics with a ton of crowd engagement, & playing tracks of our fallen, Fife Dawg. So fun!
Next, we back to Motorco Hall for Pharmakon, industrial noise project of Margaret Chardiet. This was the most visceral performance from the whole weekend. Her music transports you to a sweaty dungeon. She walked around powerfully throughout the audience & commanded attention through distorted vocals over a heavy drone of synths. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we connect with technology & use it to communicate our analog experience more precisely, & share more widely, as well as the limitations of our bodies. This performance spoke to a more corporeal experience, & contrasts with a sanitized electronic future world of tomorrow.
& then… Flying Lotus. Damn. This was a masterful combination of powerful instrumentation & amazing projections for a live show that feels personal, even in a huge venue.
ZR: Having to return home earlier than expected, I made sure to get a good seat for my send-off at the much-delayed “In Conversation” talk with Flying Lotus, hosted again by (surprise!) Hannibal. Again the dialogue varied widely between topics like coffee shits, who did the “meow meow” dubs on Thundercat’s “A Fan’s Mail” (FlyLo did ‘em), & his disinterest in the analytics of his own music. When speaking on how he taught himself animation via YouTube tutorials, he said with great conviction, “first you have to be obsessed.”
That idea is what sets Moogfest apart from the flooded pool of music & art festivals, it is reflected in every bit of the programming- workshops, films, installations, music & beyond, assembled & attended by the devoted & obsessed. Much respect & many thanks to the artists & organizers alike for the meticulous attention to detail, & encouragement to step (way) out, discover & experience, & to keep pushing those boundaries.
CG: Agreed! Moogfest is such a thoughtfully organized festival that demonstrates the breadth of innovation in past & present usage of these amazing instruments. I am so thankful for these experiences, & my time in Durham. Until next year, Moogfest!