Simply put, MoogFest made for a scary-good Halloween

by Ryan Snyder

MoogFest brought tens of thousands of costumed ravers and revelers to downtown Asheville. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

This year, Halloween fell on a weekend, and to rephrase Bushwick Bill’s most apt verse, everyone came to Asheville for trick-or-treatin’. MoogFest brought tens of thousands of costumed ravers and revelers to downtown Asheville for a weekend of informed discussion and practical application of Bob Moog’s illustrious legacy. To state it not so politely, it was a massive, debaucherous party with tons of amazing electronic music spread over five stages, but mostly a commemoration of the man who lived his life as one of the greatest of all resources to the touring musician.

There’s also valid argument to be made that the entire weekend was a subliminal corporate identity program (even if Matmos were rocking Rolands) with an almost repertorial cast of artists at its disposal. New Moog products were showcased and sometimes unveiled onstage every night. Disco Biscuits went heavy on the new Moog Slim Phatty synths for the first half of “Helicopters” on top of their preferred Voyagers. El-P and D’m Funk strapped on the Moog Liberation keytars for their respective styles of alt-hip hop and exploratory G-funk. Brian Kehew’s Projek Moog was a veritable showroom of new keys and pedals, but J’nsi possibly made the biggest splash in the gearhead world this week, as his raved-about set made for ideal product placement for the unveiling of the Moog Lap Steel. To the vast majority, it was strictly about the music.

Of the so few disappointments of the weekend, the last-minute cancelation of Devo made for a lot of irritated people, but guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh having his hand split open was a far more acceptable, though unfortunate, reasoning than Cee Lo Green’s unrepentant paper chase. Mark Mothersbaugh made good for the most part, bringing on the Octopus Project to back up he and Gerald Casale for a set of Devo-inspired instrumental post-rock. For some idea as to how few actually saw it, a quick breeze through the MoogFest Tweets during their set give all of one positive return.

Given the sudden change in programming, all the players came from far and wide to the opposing set by Andre 3000’s crunker half, the lone representative of hip hop, a circuitous result of Moog’s legacy. There wasn’t a single synth, let alone a Moog onstage for his set, but Big Boi didn’t disappoint. Andre may have gotten all of the ‘kast love in the early days, but after so long off the grid, Big Boi has retaken live ownership of some of the duo’s best material. Hardcore fans can’t expect the cream of the deep cuts like “Mamacita” or “Wheelz of Steel” from Big Boi alone, but he did drop plenty of that good cadillacmuzik. Classic Outkast like “Player’s Ball,” “Elevators,” “BOB” and “Rosa Parks” punctuated his new solo material, with sideman C-Bone on mic support. Big Boi brought out guests like Cutty for a totally solid “Shutterbug,” which picked the show back up after the utterly lame Vonnegutt nearly emasculated every ounce of momentum on the aggravating “Follow Us.” All was forgiven when Big Boi dipped into the completely underappreciated Purple Ribbon catalog and blew the Civic Center up with “Kryponite (I’m On It),” an anthem to which most in the room could immediately relate.

While the costume-to-contraband ratio was more in favor of the latter on Friday night, Girl Talk did everything possible to inject more data points on both sides of the equation. The hyper-kinetic mashup artist Greg Gillis arrived on stage in full Freddy Kreuger attire with an army of costumed crazies in tow. Two were equipped with leaf blowers fitted with toilet paper roll attachments on the end, and another dove into the crowd with a baby doll, which produced a geyser of fake blood after being decapitated. It was as much fun as it sounds.

Unlike so many DJs and producers at MoogFest, you don’t go to a Girl Talk show to experience deft turntablism or even vaguely interesting knob turning; you go because it’s the rowdiest party you ever imagined, and Greg Gillis is an almost unparalleled master of ceremonies. Gillis seems like he’s ready to explode into a burst of confetti and a spray of purple drank at any given moment. He hunches over his laptop with his lower half moving independently of the brain, prepping the mix that will ultimately induce a horde of flailing bodies on the floor. He explodes into the air from all fours, and finds himself towering over the audience pulling the strings of the dozens of partiers he keeps on stage, setting the pace for the rest of the room.

Some joints from his two signature album’s were given fresh live treatments; the money verse to Eminem’s “Shake That” was expelled from the Yael Naim hook that it paired with on Feed the Animals in favor of an unidentified smooth R&B riff, but others were custom fitted for Halloween weekend. He slowed down Big Boi’s a capella verse to “Kryptonite (I’m he On It)” for the Michael Myers theme, alongwith the Geto Boyz intro to give the show somethematic flavor. In classic Girl Talk fashion, youend up liking songs more than you otherwisemight, Cali Swag and even Bieber in this case.

As much sensory-taxing music as there wasto hear, the thousands upon thousands of costumeslent an entirely different dimension to thefestival. Though some of the best were entirelyindividualistic — the hairy, slovenly-lookingguy crammed into a two-sizes-too-small Hootersoutfit is forever etched in my mind — it wasthe group efforts that stuck out the most. Whereone might still find authentic “Double Dare”T-shirts is a mystery, but the kneepads, gogglesand cups strapped to the heads of one duo werea nice touch. The best of the weekend? Thecrew of four dressed as “The Gang Wrestles forthe Troops” episode of “It’s Always Sunny inPhiladelphia.”

Several other artists got in on the costumery,including Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo, whoseKaneda from Akira suit flew high over theheads of those shouting “Thriller!” at him. Therewasn’t a louder statement from any other costumethan that made by Pretty Lights, though.Producer Derek Vincent Smith is known as a bitof a cocky SOB, and he drove his hubris homeby arriving onstage with drummer Adam Deitchon Halloween night dressed in a shaggy GirlTalk wig and black DeadMau5 head respectively.With the weekend’s best visual displayand some of its dirtiest beats, point goes toPretty Lights.

The freaks came out at night, but daytimeactivities included several Moog expert panelsand a pair of documentaries. On top of a BobMoog biopic, there was Bouncing Cats, amoving if slightly uneven examination of therippling B-Boy scene in southern Ugandathat exists in defiance of the country’s ruinoussocial infrastructure. As tough as it was totake a chance sitting in a dark room with thegorgeous Asheville foliage popping outdoors,the film is certainly worth a watch. The fewwho caught the discussions were made awareof a history-changing design flaw in the originalMoog Voyager. It was alluded that funkmusic, and concurrently hip hop, might nothave been possible at the time if the Voyagerdidn’t go into production with incorrect filterspecifications, amping its bass capabilities byabout 15 decibels.

Some of the more plainly labeled exhibitionswent off with slightly more hitches, however.The Abominatron 2 presentation by sounddesigner Richard Devine was supposed to be 45minutes of mind-blowing audio collages on oneof the most complex and unique devices in theMoog repertoire, but true to its nature, it simplywasn’t a plug-and-play piece of gear. The festivalwas running on remorseless timetables, andevery minute that was spent double-checkingconnections and syncing the beastly lookingmachine to a MoogerFooger and Devine’smixing board meant one less minute of actualmusic. Still, he looked unpleasantly surprisedwhen he was cut off after a short but intense 15minutes after his laborious set-up. It soundedcool enough and didn’t look as visually stunningas it was made out to be, but some kind ofexposition as to what exactly made the soundcoming from that particular piece unique wassorely lacking.

Thievery Corporation didn’t bring the entireband along on Saturday night, but that didn’tprevent them from putting on one of the tightest,most entrancing sets of any of the live bands allweekend. Naysayers will say that their groovedependentshows can become repetitive at times,but it’s on point for an auditorium full of heavilyself-medicated and costumed celebrants. BassistHash Vyas had the Civic Center entrancedfrom the moment he two-stepped onto thedark stage, laying out dub as thick as hummuson “Lebanese Blonde,” and the band’s everrevolvingcast of vocalists were enough to keepthe vibe alive. As good as they Thievery were,Saturday night belonged to their current touringpartners in crime, Massive Attack.

Beautiful, hypnotic, inspiring, destructiveand simply amazing are only a few of thewords that can describe what Massive Attackcreates onstage. Just when you think MartinaTopley-Bird’s profoundly expressive vocalson “Teardrop” can’t be outdone, Daddy G’slead-in to “Angel” shows just how emotionallydevastating a piece of music can be. I’dlove to say that I experienced what was by allaccounts a transcendent 2 a.m. set by Ikonika toclose out Saturday night, but too much of thatDrankenstein led to an aberrantly early exit afterMassive Attack’s set.

There were few sets that I anticipated morethan Sunday evening’s Headtronics show at theOrange Peel, and sitting down for an hour withthe legendary Bernie Worrell the day beforemade it all the more so. Worrell is a master stagecommunicator, having shown his improvisationalacumen over decades with P-Funk, theTalking Heads and innumerable Bill Laswellcollaborations, but Headtronics unfortunatelywasn’t one of his finer moments. Not that itwas his fault. He was under the impressionthat DJ Logic would be the one joining he andFreekbass for an hour of psychedelic funk, butit was DJ Spooky instead, who seemed a beatbehind the entire set.

Out of a slew of amazing performances, it’salmost impossible to crown one single artist asthe sovereign of MoogFest, but English electropopoutfit Hot Chip made the most resoundingcase to these ears Sunday at the Thomas WolfeAuditorium. Few bands can simultaneouslymelt your heart with such charming, witty andinnocent lyrics; push your body to explore itsboundaries of movement; and absolutely blowyour mind with unparalleled musicianship.There’s no more of an unexpected genius frontmanthan Alexis Taylor, who looks, sounds andmoves like a combination of Paul Simon, GeneWeen and Bumblelion the Wuzzle. “One LifeStand” is without a doubt one of the best andmost danceable odes to the enduring partnershipsince “Na’ve Melody (This Must Be thePlace).” Twelve hours of dancing spread overthree nights might have made for a sputteringconclusion for many, but Hot Chip would havenone of that.