Moogfest is the weirdest, most gloriously nerdy music festival in the entire world. For starters, it’s not just a music festival. The four-day event unites electronic music legends and cutting edge up-and-comers with some of the leading thinkers in science and technology. Interviews, lectures, and hands-on courses during the day with music of all kinds deep into the night. Moogfest isn’t just a festival to lose yourself in, it’s also a place to find yourself.
Staged in the heart of one of America’s fastest-growing tech centers, Durham, North Carolina, Moogfest, like many progressive institutions in the state, is a platform for protest. Love of science and the arts, free-thought, and expression are pillars of the entire production – as reflected in the immense diversity of talent and performances. Flying Lotus, Animal Collective, Talib Kweli, and 808 State paired with futurists, technoshamanists, and multidisciplinary creators of all sorts. Keynote speakers included Dr. Steven Goldfarb and Dr. Kate Shaw of the Large Hadron Collider and artist Joe Davis, a biological researcher from MIT, with a penchant for devising new ways to leave messages for extraterrestrials and future generations.
Zola Jesus unveiled new songs and along with KING and Jessy Lanza filled the sweltering nights with powerful female voices. Michael Stipe showcased his first new music since R.E.M. (a fun, slow build techno piece) as a part of his nightly video installation, “Jeremy Dance”. Animal Collective had a rare reunion with actor and mouth sound magician Michael Winslow who opened their set with a red hot guitar solo (sans guitar). Mykki Blanco exploded the stage with punk rock performance art and queer rage in the social battleground of his home state.
Flying Lotus commemorated the return of Twin Peaks by performing his recently-released remix live. Moor Mother and The AfroFuturist Affair‘s Rasheedah Phillips opened minds to representation and new ways of perceiving space and time via their work as the Black Quantum Futurism Collective. S U R V I V E played two concerts, dedicating one entirely to their score for Stranger Things, elevating their compositions into a visceral listening experience in the Carolina Theater.
The list goes on… but all the beautiful strangeness of Moogfest is too much to showcase and too in-depth to elaborate on in full. So, allow us to abbreviate and share our favorite unique experiences this year below….
Hannibal Buress Crashes Moogfest
On the opening night of Moogfest, Talib Kweli got an unexpected opening act. Comedian Hannibal Buress, completely unannounced, took the stage with a short set of tales about dabbling in drugs at festivals and took a census of substance usage from the crowd. (Everyone who cheered that they were on PCP were called out as liars). That kicked off Buress’ presence across the fest, but never where you’d expect him.
He got his solder on at a make-your-own synthesizer class, and led one of the most hilariously baffling conversations in Moogfest history: a discussion with Animal Collective and John Mills-Cockell, aka the lone remaining member of obscure ’70s experimental outfit, Syrinx. Syrinx are in the midst of a much-publicized rediscovery and reissuing of their work, so Mills-Cockell and Animal Collective having a meeting of the minds over their mutually avant-garde electronic performances and improvisations seems like a sound pairing. However, with Buress and DJ Tony Trimm in the mix, the direction of the talk turned into a beautifully surreal jam of its own.
For 15 minutes, Animal Collective and Syrinx shared stories of being bitten by parrots, the expense of parrots (Buress recommended tipping strippers with birds), Geologist (Brian Weitz) working at a parrot rental store (where he experienced parrot theft in a trench coat and getting snapped at by Jimmy Buffet at a private event), and the story of how a testimony from a parrot solved a murder. Other topics included Mills-Cockell’s series of disheartening experiences meeting his jazz heroes like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie as a young man and Animal Collective’s appreciation for “Weird Al” Yankovic and his ability to create musical time capsules with each album. “I’m proud of ‘Weird Al,’” offered Buress in his usual deadpan before asking, “What’s you guys’ take on having sex to your own music?” The verdict: They’ve never done it, not even unreleased tracks.
Buress also hosted a discussion with Flying Lotus and closed out the fest with a surprise stand-up show on Sunday night that opened doors to the general public and festival patron alike, albeit with a $10 entry fee.
Suzanne Ciani Builds Beats with Buchla
At Moogfest 2016, legendary woman of synth Suzanne Ciani participated in durationals and discussions honoring her mentor, Don Buchla. Buchla’s synthesizers, along with Moog’s, led the charge in pioneering electronic music and Ciani became a major player in showcasing just what was possible with the new instruments. She made a name for herself by developing digital accents for music and advertising, became the first solo female composer to score a major Hollywood film, and is a five-time Grammy nominee for her solo records. Now, at this year’s Moogfest, she joined Brian Eno, Keith Emerson, Devo, and other synth luminaries as a recipient of the Moog Innovation Award.
Ciani took to the stage at the Durham Armory where her Buchla belted out wild, quadrophonic audio to a packed house. The process was improvised and televised. A camera positioned over her console projected all her patching and tweaking behind her, while the surround sound traveled dynamically across the dancefloor. A long trance of mellow loops gave way to a train-like undulation that echoed around the parameter which shifted into a terrifying assault of haunting electronic dissonance. Hearing is easy, but experiencing music in 360 degrees another thing entirely – and being able to see a master at work at the same time is pure synthesist bliss.