Asheville’s premiere electronic dance music festival, Moogfest, switched homes this summer to Durham, leaving local music fans with no hometown access to such an innovative and unique gathering of musicians and technicians alike.
After taking a year off in 2015 to reorganize and regroup the festival, composed by Moog Music located in downtown Asheville, Moogfest returned May 19 through the 22, keeping its roots planted firmly in North Carolina.
According to Moogfest’s Web page, “Durham is one of the fastest growing and most exciting cities in the country, built on a unique blend of diversity, authenticity, world-class innovation and culture.”
Moogfest is not your typical music festival, combining live music and conference-style workshops and presentations, creating a coalescence of music and technology.
Many Ashevillians were considerably upset to learn of the move. Why would Moog Music turn its back on its hometown, choosing a city over 200 miles away to host such a profitable event instead of contributing to its homestead’s economy.
Profits obviously come into play considering the move to Durham. In 2014, Moogfest reached out to the city for a $250,000 grant for sponsorship, but organizers’ request was not met, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.
2014’s festival also saw a one million dollar loss in revenue considering Moog Music generated two million in ticket sales while pumping three million into the festival itself, according to Billboard.
Asheville’s “Buy Local” scene is not congruent for a festival of such caliber, especially one seeking corporate sponsorship. Moogfest simply outgrew the city and a lack of financial backing certainly did not help.
The festival retained its multi-venue platform this year, utilizing spaces sprinkled throughout downtown Durham for over 7,000 music fans, including Motorco Music Hall, Motorco Park, Carolina Theatre, Pinhook and The Armory.
Over 100 artists performed at the festival, including popular acts such as Grimes, ODESZA, Blood Orange, GZA, HEALTH, Miike Snow, YACHT, Gary Newman, Laurie Anderson and Explosions in the Sky.
Blood Orange, YACHT and Grimes gave three powerful and astonishing performances of the weekend, each act displaying their own unique sound and image for die-hard and new fans alike.
Devonte “Devon” Hynes, aka Blood Orange, performed a mix of singles from his repertoire, as well as previewed tracks off his latest album “Freetown Sound”.
A six-piece band accompanied Hynes on stage, as well as two backup singers and dancers.
Hynes displayed footwork and dance moves reminiscent of Michael Jackson during his rendition of “You’re Never Good Enough,” even flawlessly executing the King of Pop’s signature move, the moonwalk, gliding effortlessly across the stage with an ease of finesse.
Dressed in a black button-down tucked into oversized tailored black pants with a fuzzy red bucket hat and single gold chain, Hynes appeared to epitomize ‘90s fashion.
The London-born singer flashed visual displays of his new home, New York City, on three large video panels throughout his appearance, paying homage to his Brooklyn roots through a haze of weed smoke.
During Hynes’ set, everyone had a smile painted across their face, seemingly having a genuinely great time as they bounced and swayed back and forth to the smooth jazz and rhythm and blues arrangements.
While sharing new material, Hynes incorporated Chic and funk-inspired bass lines, causing him to lose himself in a collection of sensual spins and fancy footwork, exemplifying his stellar dancing capabilities.
Throughout his set, Hynes alternated between playing several different instruments, including the guitar, piano and saxophone, showcasing his well-versed instrumental talents.
Futuristic pop trio YACHT, featuring Jona Bechtolt, Claire Evans and Bobby Birdman, turned the Motorco Music Hall into a disco frenzy equipped with extraterrestrial arrangements of synth, guitar and bass.
Evans sang with confidence and conviction, wrapping a red microphone cord around her neck and arms as she sonically seduced the audience like an intergalactic temptress.
“Every night, I make a sculpture,” Evans said between songs. “This one’s called Moogfest 2016 because I feel upside down and tangled.”
Clad in flared, high-waisted buttondown jeans and a white crop top, Evans bounced around the stage atop monitors and amps, performing classic YACHT tracks such as “The Afterlife,” during which Evans entered the crowd, inciting an avant-garde future pop riot within a flock of followers.
“Dystopia (The Earth Is On Fire),” “Psychic City” and “Le Goudron,” which she sang in French, were also performed during their hour-long set.
The band also shared songs off their latest album “I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler,” including the album’s aforementioned title track, “Hologram,” “I Wanna Fuck You Till I’m Dead,” and “Ringtone.”
Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, began her highly-anticipated headlining set with “Realiti,” perhaps the theme song of this year’s festival.
Microsoft sponsored an art installation titled “Realiti: the Music of Grimes” at the festival.
Using four Microsoft Kinects and a surrounding wall of black mesh netting, participants were given the opportunity to remix a version of the song based on the movements of their hands and arms, pushing through the netting as different sound stems and bites were produced. The installation created a unique technological and musical multi-media experience for attendees.
She was merely warming up for the hour of insanity she was about to bestow upon the crowd.
With two hype girls dancing their hearts out and artist Hana playing synth, percussion and guitar throughout the set, Grimes delivered stunning renditions of fan favorites such as “Oblivion, “Flesh Without Blood,” and “Genesis”.
Roses and other flowers decorated instruments and microphone stands, which were later given out to a few lucky fans in between tracks.
With ear-length, choppy pink hair, green finger lights, high-waisted camouflage pants and orange armbands, she was dressed the part for the rave she was creating.
“This song is a little controversial,” Grimes prefaced before playing the beginning notes of “Go”. “Maybe some of the crowd hates it.”
They thought quite the opposite, coming together as one huge and writhing mass of chaotic dancing.
The recorded version of “Scream” features Taiwanese rapper Apostrophe, who sings vocals on the track. Considering she was not present for the performance, Grimes took it upon herself to replace Apostrophe’s vocals with her own, singing the song in Russian.
She maniacally danced and grinded on stage, spurting into fits of pure rage and insanity as she literally screamed for the entire chorus of the song in perhaps the most intense yet joyful moment of the festival.
Moogfest is surely in a league of its own. Such an eclectic and inventive event, the festival acts as a catalyst for the future of contemporary festival designs.
In comparison to the hoards of tens of thousands of fans flocking to major festivals such as Coachella and Bonnaroo, Moogfest provides equal caliber entertainment on a smaller scale, alleviating the claustrophobic confines felt at most conventional music festivals.
Moogfest will return to Durham May 18-21, 2017. The lineup is still unannounced. Presale tickets are available for $199 for a limited time only before increasing to $249.