This was Moogfest's first year in the Bull City, so we enlisted Greg Barbera, a local beer and culture writer, to explore the technology, art, and music festival. Here's his report:
Moogfest took place from May 19-22 throughout several venues in Downtown Durham. Part conference and part music festival, the event featured an array of workshops, tech talks, and live performances.
The list of performers couldn't have more diverse. From the anthem-like instrumental post-rock of Explosions in the Sky and the drone metal of Sunn 0))), to new wave stalwart Gary Numan and GZA (from the hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan), there really was something for everyone (not an easy feat to do). Read on for my 10 takeaways from Durham's inaugural Moogfest.
Moogfest (rhymes with rogue) is a festival honoring Bob Moog, the man who created the instrument named after him - a modular voltage-controlled analogue synthesizer - an invention that would change the face of popular music. Known as a pioneer and innovator, Moog's creation has been the backbone of electronic music ever since. Its distinct sound can be heard in songs from The Doors and The Beach Boys, as well as angular new wave acts like Kraftwerk and Gary Numan (who probably had the most easily identifiable Moog-based hit with his chart-topping song "Cars").
This may be obvious for veteran festival attendees - or parents of a toddler -- but it is really important to be prepared. Locals know that the weather can change on a dime. Sun can turn to rain and rain can turn into rainbows. So with that in mind, slickers and sweatshirts are a good idea. Easy access to a change of clothes, some water, and snacks are elemental survival tools for day-long festival action. Staying hydrated and keeping hunger at bay will have a great impact on your Moogfest experience.
Speaking of experience, there were several public art installations scattered throughout downtown. From the Microsoft-sponsored REALiTi: Inside the Music of Grimes, located by the Convention Center, to the geodesic domes on the lawn outside the Aloft Hotel, these hands-on, interactive exhibits gave attendees an added experience, reinforcing the symbiotic connection between technology and music.
Moogfest's layout was very walkable. Southern urbanity is unique unto itself. But why walk when you can get in your car and drive to the other side of town? Or take Uber? Or a pedicab? The beauty of walking, and what the festival imparted on me in all my steps, is that walking encourages you to explore and stumble upon things you might not have had you zipped from point A to point B. Plus, you got to stroll past, touch, and Instagram all that public art, right? #moogfest
Seriously, there's so much to take in and so much going on that coming up with a pre-game plan of attack is crucial. This was all made easier by the festival's website and mobile app, which allowed you to create a schedule and receive alerts. Because I can tell you that you will forget what was next on your agenda when you have gone down the worm hole of oscillation and modulation.
There was one point during the performance by drone metal band Sunn O))) - on the main stage fabricated in Motorco Music Hall's parking lot - where there was so much smoke billowing out from the stage that I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. And, oh yeah, it was loud, which ties back to No. 2 and brings us to No. 7.
Outside-festival-loud is a whole different level than inside-loud. I've been a music critic for decades, and I've seen some loud bands. I always have a pair of earplugs in my car. And I know some who frown upon it and some who swear by it. It is a choice you should be able to exercise. Or is that exorcise?
As soon as you can. Space for these things filled up quickly. For all the live music at Moogfest there is also a conference aspect, a heady one at that. Just take a look at some of these topics up for discussion: technoshamanism, afrofuturism, and the art of artificial intelligence. Add to that workshops on Rube Goldberg machine constructions and how to play the theremin. Again we are going back to No. 2 and No. 5. Verbular modulation, if I might say.
When it comes to synthesizer-based music you simply cannot overlook the influence of technology. And one thing Durham has, outside of great music and foodie scenes, is a tech culture that is now rivaling Silicon Valley. From exploring the synth design process and Arts & Smarts Google Doodle to live streaming Gary Numan's performance of his classic album "Pleasure Principles," there was no denying the tech aspect of the festival.
American Underground even had a dedicated "Recharge" Lounge where you could sit down, recharge your smartphone/laptop, secure a wi-fi hotspot, and sip on some complimentary, locally made MATI energy drinks.
It's the nature of the beast. Festival veterans know this, but for rookies it just might come a as a shock. Any time you have thousands of people descend upon a town, there are going to be lines. And in the case of festival land, there is a line to check your ID, so you can get into a line to get your wristband, so that you can get into line to buy your drink. It's called protocol, people. And yes it all goes back to No. 2 and No. 5 again. You see how this works now?
Greg Barbera is a Durham resident who was written about craft beer and local music for a long, long time.
Take a peek at some of our favorite photos from the weekend, and start gearing up for Moogfest's return to Durham on May 18-21, 2017. read more