Festival Coverage: Moogfest in all its glory
Moogfest is the all encompassing celebration of electronica, creativity, tech, and its combined usage in honor of pioneer and festival creator Robert Moog. It’s a multi-day event, packed with screenings, lectures, workshops, and a crazy line up of artist performances.
Day one of Moogfest gifted me unintentionally with back to back performances by several talented women that you NEED to familiarize yourself.
Despite the rain, which will plague the festival all weekend, the crowds were present. I asked a few people, as we huddled at the corner wrote to the next show, who they most looked forward to tonight and I got a different answer from everyone. Some admitted they were not really familiar with many of the artists but wanted to experience new music so were along for the ride for pure enjoyment.
My first stop was to catch Emily Sprague. In addition to being a singer-songwriter of the Brooklyn-based Florist, she is also a producer and recently released a project called Water Memory. Truthfully, this performance was my first formal introduction to the synthesizer. I thoroughly enjoyed Water Memory but I wasn’t sure what a live synth performance would be like. The venue itself, a Presbyterian Church, perfectly matched the mood. It was filled with blue lights while abstract images and waves played on a huge screen at the pulpit. It felt like we were sitting at the bottom of the ocean, watching a concert at its dark bottom. Seeing Emily stare at the synth, then twist a knob; lean over and move a chord then look thoughtful was mesmerizing and soothing all in the same breath.
It was like praying to water, watching the crowd sit in silence, some watching her, some listening with their eyes closed. This was far from what I expected, having enjoyed Water Memory beforehand.
Never did I think electronic music could be so soul stirring and impactful.
I then sprinted over a few blocks to catch Bonaventure at Pinhook. Soraya Lutangu began channeling her emotions into music a few years ago, naming herself Bonaventure after her nephew that died and inspired her to start creating. Her music is warrior music, created with the notion of sonically fighting social injustice. It’s electronic protest music. Both of her projects “Complexion” and “Free Lutangu” are laced with samples and even titles made to induce critical thinking. Her track “Supremacy” off the latter features samples from the fierce Sister Souljah discussing race over a instrumental that sounds like a haunting alarm bell. With smoke and lights behind, this set was far more upbeat. I could hear snatches of “Field Bitch,” her Missy Elliot sampled track mixed in but the vibe was lighter. Her crowd was a mix of ethnicities, genders and youth all grooving and sincerely having a good, carefree time. She mixed classic 90s R&B like Ginuwine and Faith Evans in with her own unique sound and it’s hard not to start dancing. I tried to stay aloof and professional but after awhile I was bopping around with everyone else. I actually stood outside the venue for a while after I was supposed to be leaving to linger and hear more.
Next was Jamila Woods at Carolina Theatre of Durham, my first time at this particular venue. Jamila is one the artists on the festival lineup that appeals to everyone, being celebrated for her creativity outside of electronica. The R&B singer from Chicago announced a fall tour with fellow singer Gallant earlier this month. Her poetry origins are apparent her lyrics and she is a joy to listen to. Her popular track “LSD” with well known fellow Chicago-native Chance The Rapper, is an ode to Lakeshore Drive and all things loyalty and love for her hometown. Her 2016 release HEAVN is full of blackgirlmagic and protest, in contrast with a voice saccharinely sweet. Don’t get it twisted, her lyrics make sure any listener is aware of how important community and empowerment is to her. First, I loved her set design, it was minimalist but gorgeous and I love how the huge wording HEAVN (for her album of course) had her literally surrounded by: heaven. It’s the little things like that that make a performance that much better. The crowd was already cheering as soon as she started singing. She performed “LSD” of course and one of my favorites, “Breadcrumbs” and “Giovanni.” A serious measure for me is when the artist sounds just like their record.
It makes all the difference when you are hearing their authentic voice.
The band was great, the set was perfection and so is Jamila frankly.
Now I unfortunately got to DJ Haram’s set back at Pinhook late and it was already super packed and hot as the ninth level of hell. I managed to squeeze in to get a few shots then retreat to the back to enjoy the rest of the show. Haram is a New Jersey DJ, producer, and composer living in Philly. Her set was bounce music and she had the party lit. It was interesting to see the venue jumping because she herself was pretty reserved. One or twice she would crack a smile off of a comment a fan would yell. With a black cap pulled low and curtain of hair she was a little hard to glimpse but who cares in the end because she can move a cross like nobodies business. I love seeing the contrast between her and the music, it was like watching a a stoic leader, ready to guide her people but her mission was make them forget the day and dance. Mission accomplished!
My last foray of the night was Kelela. The theater was filled early for her and there were folks still pouring in after her set started. I don’t know if Carolina Theatre does the stage design for these festivals themselves (if so, props to them) because, once again, it was simply dramatic, much like Kelela herself. I discovered the Ethiopian songstress, raised in DC, a couple years ago from her Hallucinogen EP. Her brand is more pop than R&B, and her airy tones made last year’s studio debut Take Me Apart the perfect listen when you want something a little different than classic R&B. I loved her video for the single “LMK,” which paid homage to R&B greats like Mary J Blige. The crowd was exuberant during the show and Kelela definitely knows how to play to the house. She’s engaging and treats the stage like her own personal catwalk.
Thursday night was truly a night for women in the artistry and even though my legs feel like they might fall off from all the walking I’m excited to see what Day 2 of Moogfest will bring me. If you still haven’t gotten your tickets, grab them here and check out the schedule for the rest of the weekend.
I had to miss day two of Moogfest so I tried to accomplish as much as possible on day three. I got there early as I could on Saturday to catch a few panels and screenings before the night’s activities. First, I checked out the Pop-up Factory and Modular Marketplace at the American Tobacco Campus. Not being a synthesizer enthusiast, it was a whole new world for me to experience. I was able to walk around and learn about the different synthesizers and experiment with how to work them.
No synthesizer was damaged or hurt by me during the process.
There were numerous types of setups spread over the space and upstairs Reverb LP had plenty of “crate digging” available at their vinyl fair. They were giving out free tees, coupons, and more so I couldn’t resist the call to action. I nabbed some choice goodies, so broke and properly satisfied it was onto the next mission. The screening for “For No Good Reason” was actually introduced by the subject Ralph Steadman himself by Charlie + Lucy Paul was excellent. Being a fan of his work, watching him create and discuss his process was a can’t miss opportunity. He is most known for his art collaboration with Hunter S. Thompson on the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The film was nicely edited and pretty enjoyable honestly.
I briefly attended the “Building Wakanda” workshop. It was unique and imaginative, focusing on ways that with future-thinking ideas, Durham could become its own Wakanda. There was the “In Conversation” session with Michael Stipe of R.E.M, discussing his photography and book and DJ Stingray, speaking on how he got his start in techno and dance music.
After that I began attending the performances at The Cage. Moses Sumney blew me away in all his Prince like glory. DJ Gudiya (techno) and DJ Ayo Vip (Reggae/Hiphop) both had phenomenal sets . All fantastic openers for the headliners of the night!
DJ Pete Rock then touched the tables. Known as a producer and the other half of the infamous 90s hip hop duo Pete Rock and CL Smooth, he gave a background on the difference between the classic songs artists have sampled by playing the original music before playing the new updated songs while keeping the party going. He of course played his own classics from he and CL Smooth and one of my personal favorite tracks he produced for Tribe Called Quest “Electric Relaxation.”
DJ and producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad of Tribe Called Quest and Lucy Pearl infamy followed, announcing that he wanted to everyone them to dance not just to listen and nod their heads. He of course played classic ATCQ (I mean c’mon it’s his group; one of the arguably best hip hop groups ever formed) and some original R&B classics like Barry White and classic Hip Hop like Snoop Dogg. It was endearing to see all of these DJs play off one another, giving each other dap and cheering their selections.
DJ JRocc was also in attendance and eagerly supported both of his colleagues performances before then heading off to his own amazing set at Carolina Theatre. JRocc is better known as a turntablist from the Beat Junkies and a hip hop DJ pioneer in the art of turntablism.He is extremely energetic and gets into the music; dancing while performing on stage as he played hip hop and house classics.
My last show of the night was KRS-One, accompanied by emcee Freddie Foxx aka Bumpy Knuckles. One of the pioneers of emceeing and hip hop in general, KRS-One is famous for his freestyle abilities, seeing him perform live off the top, costuming concessions with people in the crowd was not only impressive but historical for me.
If you’ve never heard an MC prolifically rhyme over a classical instrumental, it is not to be missed.
KRS-One is one of the greats that should be seen live, bucket list crossed off definitely.
By then I had to end my night so Sunday, the last day of the festival, I used to check out one last screening. I went to see the Michael Stipe dance film which was interesting and odd. It was a young man dancing to a song and what looks like a white warehouse it was being screened in a room, the walls and doorways as well which was really cool because no matter where you went you were able to see the film and see the different aspects that was being shot. It was great yet after watching the gentleman dance for a while I found myself relating to his sweaty tiredness so much so I had to leave.
I’m not sure if that’s what Stipe intended but art hits us in different ways.
After the screening I threw in the towel and headed home.
I must say Moogfest definitely delivers on a unique musical experience, and you can’t beat the price for all that you receive in both entertainment AND education. Even with all I attended, I still missed out on a ton of artists and workshops. Let that simmer because I’m tired just reading my recap and reliving all the running and grooving I did. Regardless off your musical tastes, you’re guaranteed to have a ball so make sure to get your ticket next year. Moogfest will be held April 25th – 28th 2019. I’ll see you there!