Sound Tribe Sector 9 performing on Saturday of Moogfest 2011. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning, greeted the fall day by swinging open our hotel curtains, and quickly closed them again as I realized the Occupy Asheville participants across the street could probably see me in my underwear. With that small setback out of the way—I’m pretty sure one of them made eye contact with me—we got our day underway. Jenna doesn’t function without her daily Starbucks Frappuccino, so we high-tailed it to the closest one we could find. We stopped into Mayfel’s for brunch, where we immediately noticed the neighborly festival spirit alive and well. As we took our seats, we noticed some delicious pastries on the table next to ours, and I excitedly asked the three guys sitting there what they were. They replied that they were beignets, they were fantastic, and since the guys were completely stuffed, we could have them. We did the classic, “Oh no, we couldn’t,” as we simultaneously reached over and grabbed the lightly powdered treats, thanked them graciously and dug in. It turns out our saintly new friends were also from Georgia and we struck up a conversation about the acts we were excited to see that night at Moogfest.
For Jenna and I, first up was The Naked And Famous. Both of us were unfamiliar with their music but immediately won over with their hook-driven, hard hitting electro pop. Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith exchanged vocals throughout the set, over the top of songs that had both a thick, grimy backbone and a well-oiled sheen to them. Though hearing The Naked And Famous’ music for the first time that sunny afternoon at the Animoog Playground, songs like “Young Blood” and “Punching In A Dream,” with fat synthesizer lines and hook-laden joy, sounded instantly recognizable. The New Zealand-based band had captured something that only the most instantaneously rewarding pop music could; the first listen sounded like the hundredth. I felt I had known this band, these songs, for years and years.
The Naked And Famous by Jeff Pearson.
Just before leaving the hotel room that afternoon to head to the Animoog Playground, we had seen on the internet that Yacht was going to have to cancel their performance that afternoon at the Asheville Civic Center. As with the day before, it wasn’t too hard to find a set to replace the act we had planned to see, and we stuck around the Animoog Playground to see Dan Deacon. The Baltimore native set up his equipment in the crowd, just in front of the barricade so he can take part in the party atmosphere he cultivates with his shows. The vibes at Dan Deacon’s set were somewhere in between a blissful rave and a slam-dancing punk show; as he built a huge, somewhat abrasive yet danceable wall of sound with his makeshift equipment, the Animoog Playground was practically bursting with energy. Deacon is an enchanting figure on stage—he directed the crowd to all take a knee and pinch the sun in between our two forefingers, calling out whoever decided to not take part. As he built a beat while leading the crowd in this ritual, the music reached a crescendo and the entire venue exploded in glee; everyone jumped from their knee and rejoiced, arms flailing. It’s Deacon’s tradition to have the crowd form a giant circle surrounding two participants to have a dance contest, and though by the end of the set, the circle resembled more of a mosh pit than a friendly competition, every bump and light shove was done in complete fun and unity—two of the main things Dan Deacon promoted during his live show.
Dan Deacon by Jeff Pearson.
Next up, in the Asheville Civic Center, was SBTRKT. Namely the project of producer Aaron Jerome, as a live touring show, it consists of both Jerome and vocalist Sampha. In fact, in the midst of a blistering set of incredible dance music from all over the world of electronica, Jerome introduced themselves by saying, “We are SBTRKT.” Perhaps the crawl across the globe, captivating audiences worldwide as a duo has given Jerome the sense that the current setup is the one that best suits his project. It would be hard to argue with that logic given their set on Saturday at Moogfest. From the opening notes of “Hold On,” all the way to the close of the show, SBTRKT wowed the electric Civic Center. As Jerome handled both sequencing and loops along with playing live drums and working them into the mix, Sampha provided the vocals and sampling, looping his vocals on the spot and weaving new parts around them. The two masked musicians tore through a set that ranged from drum and bass to funky house, even bringing the UK garage sound to the arena slightly resembling a warehouse itself. Those that attended were treated to one of the best sets of the weekend, a non-stop dance party while the action on stage probably lent itself more to standing still in awe. That is perhaps the most stunning aspect of SBTRKT’s set; the artistry and talent level taking place onstage deserves the closest inspection to truly appreciate, yet the music itself is so infectious and propulsive that you can’t help but lose yourself in it.
SBTRKT by Jeff Pearson.
The Flaming Lips, perhaps the festival’s headliner for the year, was up next back at the Animoog Playground. The atmosphere surrounding the show, as is usual for a Flaming Lips show, was appropriately weird. Costumed attendees swarmed the venue, all buzzing with anticipation for one of the most adept festival bands around. Singer Wayne Coyne was equally buzzing with anticipation; he would repeatedly come onstage and scan the crowd, practically jumping out of his skin with excitement for the show. It’s refreshing to see an entertainer who has been doing this for years and years, but still approaches each show with a child-like wonder. As the Flaming Lips finally emerged from between the legs of a giant woman on their LED lighting fixture and Coyne rolled out onto the crowd’s collective outreached arms, the band firing through Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf,” it’s easy to see why he loves it so much. The Flaming Lips poured a steady output of confetti and strobe lights and overwhelming joy onto the eager Moogfest crowd as they played through one of their biggest hits to date, “She Don’t Use Jelly.” Coyne constantly urged the crowd to make more noise, sing all the words back at him, and to make that night the most special of their lives. He fully believes in the band and the crowd melding into one—he has a keen sense of the energy flow between the participants and the musicians to create a singular machine.
The Flaming Lips by Jeff Pearson.
Meanwhile, in the Asheville Civic Center, a machine of a different sort was fully operational. Amon Tobin’s already famed ISAM live setup had been one of the main draws for many of the attendees I had spoken to up to that point and its mammoth, worldly scope had its sights on Moogfest tonight. Tobin has been creating game-changing drum and bass music for a long, prolific career, but with ISAM, he completely turned the game upside down. Using a three-dimensional, geometric anomaly of projection technology, Tobin placed himself as but a cog in a machine far bigger than himself or even his music. The show was a gorgeous look into the future—each and every digital blip on the radar that Tobin created was synchronized perfectly to the visual stimulation going on around him. He was practically creating worlds before our very eyes, with a constantly evolving display of how far technology has truly come. ISAM exceeded my personal expectations; perhaps I just didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t to be transported into the inner-workings of some great machinery, and that is exactly what Amon Tobin accomplished in the Asheville Civic Center. I’ve never seen so many people so thoroughly captivated. People even stopped bouncing beach balls to allow the projectors to do their jobs, and for a festival crowd, that’s saying something.
Amon Tobin by Jeff Pearson.
One thing that is remarkable about Moogfest is the level of attention that the attendees give to each performance. If you’re used to festivals, you may be used to a party atmosphere where the music is the catalyst, but at Moogfest, it always seems that the music is all that matters. Sure, there is partying, but when we walked into the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium to see a packed theatre completely riveted into silence as they watched St. Vincent, it was plain to see Moogfest is all about the music. Annie Clark, the mind and guitar wiz behind St. Vincent, had everyone on the edge of their seats, playing masterful guitar lines while somehow weaving her delicate voice around them. St. Vincent played through most of their latest album, Strange Mercy, an examination of futuristic electronic atmospherics living cohesively with basic rock principles; Clark’s guitar slices through huge bass and synthesizers on tracks like “Surgeon” and “Cheerleader.” The group closed their set with a ferocious, noisy cover of the Pop Group’s “She Is Beyond Good And Evil,” leaving the crowd bathing in feedback and awe.
Back in the Asheville Civic Center, we met up with Conor and Dana again to see Sound Tribe Sector 9 together. At the last Moogfest I had gone on and on about how much I’d like to see the Georgia-based band at this festival, and Conor had become addicted during the past year and wanted to see them with us. Sound Tribe Sector 9 is a constantly evolving group, who can adapt to any situation given to them. They can feel out the energy coming from a crowd and take their show in a direction accordingly. Tonight, in the Civic Center, the atmosphere was simple: it was time to party. STS9 wasted no time cultivating a party vibe within the packed venue, opening their set up with a reworked, bass-heavy version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” and seamlessly weaving it into their hit from their When The Dust Settles EP, “Scheme.” From that point on they had the crowd wrapped around their finger, playing a bass-heavy set of tunes that were geared for the mood of the audience. David Murphy matched Hunter Brown’s slick guitar lines with huge MIDI bass drops, filling the space with earth-rattling vibrations on tracks like “EHM” and “Tooth.” Though the theme for the evening was to drop all of the bangers in the band’s repertoire on the crowd, they showed the dynamic level of talent within the band with live drum and bass cuts like “What Is Love?” Murphy picked up the bass guitar and slapped out a funky bassline as drummer Zach Velmer and percussionist Jeffree Lerner masterfully matched the high-octane pace. All throughout the set, keyboardist David Phipps took the band’s sound to outer space with otherworldly synth lines, and as STS9 closed the set with “The Unquestionable Supremecy Of Nature,” the entire building was fully in the atmosphere. As we stumbled out onto Haywood Street, the chilling air was a quick reminder that we were actually grounded on planet Earth, and not tethered to a space shuttle with STS9’s music filling space’s infinite void.
Sound Tribe Sector 9 by Jeff Pearson.