By Sam Parvin and Eileen Tilson; photo by John Thelan
The timing was perfect for a drive through the Great Smoky Mountains, showcasing a fiery color palette of leaves and small, white farmhouses atop rolling hills. Asheville, N.C. is at the end of the journey, which acts as the ideal canvas for the events of the weekend. Michelle Moog-Koussa must have thought the same, when she and the Bob Moog Foundation decided to move MoogFest to Asheville from New York. Robert Moog, after whom the Foundation and the festival are named, spent much of his later life in Asheville. His inventing the modular synthesizer in 1964 affords him the recognition of being one of the single most important contributors to the exploration, composition, and performance of popular music. Monumental artists such at The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, U2 and Parliament Funkadelic use(d) his products, and recent musicians like Radiohead and MGMT stretch Moog synthesizers’ abilities to new heights.
In addition to concerts by some of the greatest current synth-users, the three day festival included an educational component. Panel discussions and demonstrations took place throughout the day, informing festival-goers of the history and capabilities of the different Moog products. MoogFest’s mission is to honor Robert Moog as a sonic pioneer and to showcase artists who create “unique and groundbreaking musical experiences that embody the essence of Bob Moog’s visionary and creative spirit.” Mission accomplished.
Asheville Civic Center sits atop the highest hill in the small mountain town and is the focal point of MoogFest 2010 goings-on. Its concrete interior affords little intimacy but makes practical sense for the massive musical acts that will almost-constantly fill the venue. I was shocked at the dinginess and inner-city middle school look of the media room, in which we chatted with Andrew VanWyngarden, front man for MGMT (the interview from which will be up shortly), one of the most anticipated shows of the weekend. In a sitcom-like manner, the moment our interview started, high-energy hip-hop started blaring from the other side of the door. The beat sounded oh-so-familiar to this Atlanta born-and-bread girl. OutKast. We had stumbled upon Big Boi’s sound check. His entire crew was set up on stage, playing to an empty concrete giant of a room. It almost seemed a waste to play such sweet tunes to only a handful of ears; but I was certainly glad mine were included.
The sound check proved to be an appropriate prelude to the actual show at 8:00 on Friday night. Big Boi and band played classic OutKast tunes, like “Miss Jackson” and “Rosa Parks,” as well as tracks from Big Boi’s recent solo album, Sir Luscious Left Foot…The Son of Chico Dusty. His use of synthesizers (and songs about them… see “Synthesizer” on Aquemini), horns, electric guitars and vocal harmonies impressed the crowd and set the energy level high for the weekend. It’s going to be a. Fun. Three. Days.
In October 2007, MGMT was named “Artist of the Day” by Spin.com. The next month, Rolling Stone added them to their top 10 list of “Artists to Watch” in 2008. MGMT has hit the top of the charts in U.K., Australia, U.S., has been nominated for Grammy awards, and more. And that’s all just based on their first album, Oracular Spectacular. The band’s second full-length, Congratulations, hit stores this past April, and the accolades are expected to follow it as well.
Needless to say, MGMT was one of the most anticipated shows of the weekend. My new buddy Andrew and crew did not disappoint, making sure to play Oracular Spectacular favorites like “Weekend Wars” and “Electric Feel.” Of course Congratulations was played almost in its entirety as well – a healthy mix of past and present. There was some chatter in between songs, and the audience seemed to like that access to the band. I was expecting it to be more of a show, complete with costumes and stage props, but they just let the rock speak for itself. That was fine though because lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden is adorable, and their music in catchy yet inventive. An MGMT show in New York would have been a whole bunch of hipsters drinking PBR and tapping their feet, but an Asheville-style MGMT show comes complete with a chick doing a 45-minute interpretive dance in a Peter Pan costume (back of the room, stage right). That set the tone for the weekend.
Noah Lennox had some credibility before creating his moniker Panda Bear. As a founding member of Animal Collective, Lennox is very familiar with the synthesizer and electronic space. He uses a Korg M3 synthesizer, Roland SP-555 sampler, and a Boss SP 303 “Dr. Sampler.” As Panda Bear, Lennox mixes his sampler sounds with drums, guitar, bass, and vocals. In Asheville on Friday night, Thomas Wolfe Auditorium was mostly full, with folks of all ages gettin’ weird to the DJ electronica Panda Bear mixes up. The lights show was a totally ambience-enhancing, with images projected onto the Goliath-like wall on the back of the theater stage. He is seasoned in creating a world inside whatever venue he plays, yet he allows his audience to personalize that world. Looking around the room, each listener is completely engaged but has his or her own jive going on, wholly unique to him or her… or maybe it was the hallucinogens.
When you walk into a show with upwards of 80 hot chicks on stage, you know one of two things: the music is so bad, the artist has to distract you with tight 20-year-olds’ shaking it, or you’re about to have a dance-your-face-off good time. Girl Talk’s set was the latter. Wearing no shirt & jeans, Gregg Michael Gillis (his Christian name) samples popular tunes from the past few decades, ranging from Madonna to Biz Markie to Dexy’s Midnight Rider’s hit, “Come On Eileen.” This white dude from the Pittsburgh suburbs has so much fun playing his laptop, and it is contagious. There was not one person in there not dancing his face off.
Girl Talk did not play either of his albums straight through, which I was curious about, since his music is based on how he transitions from song to song. He did include songs from both Night Ripper and Feed the Animals, giving his listeners a sense of familiarity. He is clever with his selection of songs, their order, and the words he emphasizes. He scrupulously chooses each word to loop or scratch, and he makes statements about popular culture in his choices. In fact, the moniker Girl Talk is supposed to be an ode to several pop culture references, according to Gillis. The combination of clever social statements with arms-waving pop mash-ups is a recipe for down-right badassness.
By the end of Girl Talk’s set, it was 2:30 a.m. and I was sweaty. Bedtime for me… and let’s do it all again tomorrow.
Check out more pictures in our MoogFest Picture Book above.