Nas performing on Friday of Moogfest 2012. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
With Moogfest officially underway on Friday morning, the festival atmosphere was in full swing as Jenna and I wandered out of our hotel room with bleary eyes and ringing ears from Justice’s sensory overload of a set the night before. Compared with year’s past, we could hardly believe that this was the same weekend as before; the weather was in the comfortable seventies with a lovely breeze blowing and jackets, formerly a life preserver and complete necessity, were now optional. We had been talking about getting croissant sandwiches from Over Easy Café for basically three-hundred and sixty-four days, so there was no question about where to eat breakfast on our first morning back in Asheville. It was everything we remembered, somehow living up and perhaps even surpassing the lore we had built up about the delicious fresh-squeezed apple juice and sandwich in our heads, and there was no question of splitting a second, different entrée; we were both having that heavenly croissant sandwich and there was no changing that. One of the great things about Moogfest is the wide array of restaurants at the attendees’ disposal, and despite the fact that there are hundreds of amazing places to eat in just the downtown area alone, we seriously contemplated just eating Over Easy three days in a row. Festivals are all about choice, after all.
Luckily, Moogfest is a festival that rewards you with every choice you make. No matter which way you go choosing an act to see, it’s probably the right choice. The first choice of our weekend was to see Pantha Du Prince, the minimal techno producer coming all the way from Germany to pour his mammoth bass into every pore of the U.S. Cellular Center. Shrouded by a black hood and dark, pulsing lighting, Pantha Du Prince delivered and incredible performance filled with rich melodic texture and chest-cavity shaking bass that would really appease either the typical headphone listener or the dance enthusiast. There was really no wrong way to enjoy his set; standing in awe was just as completely acceptable as putting on a glow poi show in the crowd, becoming a digital brushstroke amongst the sea of people flocking into the arena. Pantha Du Prince played a seamless hour of music, covering his three-album career with most of the material coming from This Bliss and Black Noise. Using ambient interludes and subtle changes, the entire set felt like one cohesive piece of music. The way that Hendrick Weber slowly built sounds atop one another showed his uncanny precision and control over his music; songs seemingly changed before the crowd’s eyes as he delicately moved the mix forward. In that regard, the set felt like it was over before it even really got started, though Pantha Du Prince completely unearthed every grain of soil in his world of minimal techno, giving the crowd everything he could possibly give to start the weekend off right.
Pantha Du Prince by Jeff Pearson.
We rushed upstairs to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium to catch the end of Bear In Heaven’s set, greeted by the sea of familiar plush red seats that, for whatever reason, I associate with the true Moogfest feeling. It could be because two years ago when I first experienced the festival it was from the comfort of one of those seats, but they feel like home to me. When we got there, Bear In Heaven was methodically working through the lovely “Space Remains” from their latest record, I Love You, It’s Cool. The Brooklyn-based band has a unique blend of bubbling electronics and droning krautrock sensibilities, which really shimmers in the beautiful Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. We only caught the tail-end of the trio’s set, but they had a good-sized crowd completely enthralled with material from both of their records. Their fascinating take on indie rock, sandwiched in between Pantha Du Prince’s chirping techno and the diverse acts soon to follow show exactly what Moogfest is all about: diversity.
As if to highlight that very diversity, next up was New York hip-hop legend, Nas. We headed back to a completely packed U.S. Cellular Center—a feat in and of itself—to a practically tangible party atmosphere as the participants eagerly awaited Nas’s arrival. The house lights dimmed to an explosive reaction from the crowd, and it was immediately evident that the energy was going to be through the roof for his set. Accompanied by a full band, Nas came out looking like a wide-eyed, fresh-faced student of the game, still amazed with the support that he has for his music. The appreciative reaction that Nas showed for Moogfest was completely endearing, and only served to wrap the crowd up even more in his set. He and his band tightly worked their way through cuts from all across the span of his catalog, from Illmatic all the way up to Life Is Good, his record serving as a sort of return to form for the legendary emcee. The fact that tracks like “The Don” and “Daughters” from his latest record garnered just as big of an audience reaction as classics like “NY State Of Mind” and “The World Is Yours” speaks to the level with which Nas is still writing and performing, nearly twenty years into his illustrious career. The U.S. Cellular Center was wrapped up in the energy of the music from start to finish, as Nas finally treated the crowd to perhaps his biggest hit to date, “One Mic.” The live band has seemingly reinvigorated Nas; the dusty vinyl crackle of his nineties material was amplified by thick bass and explosive drumming. It was obvious that Nas took his Moogfest headlining slot seriously, and wanted to show the world that he is fully back on top of the hip-hop game.
Nas by Jeff Pearson.
The plan was to book it back over to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium to catch the end of Miike Snow, but we—or I, rather—seemed to underestimate the group’s popularity. When we got close, we hit a wall of people waiting to get in to the at-capacity theatre. Once we finally got in and to some seats, the Swedish trio was finishing off the ridiculously energetic “Animal,” the crowd completely in a frenzy. Though we only saw about a minute of their set, it was pretty obvious that we would be making an effort to see them in the near future.
There was a mass exodus and refilling process in which we worked our way to the front for the English electronic legend, Squarepusher. Tom Jenkinson came out to one of the most energetic and excitable crowds of the evening, a packed theatre of devoted electronic enthusiasts. Placed in the middle of an LED sea, equipped with a matching LED helmet to boot, Squarepusher performed one of the most intriguing and intensely structured sets I’ve ever seen. Mostly focusing on material from Ufabulum, his latest record in his prolific career, Squarepusher delivered an assault on all senses; blinding visuals surrounded him as his digital sonic assault filled the auditorium. The set held the most “Oh my God” moments, where I hardly knew what was happening, but loved every second of it. Looking around, I saw bodies gyrate in the most alien-like fashion perhaps in my entire life, reacting to Squarepusher’s incredibly forceful music as if his fingers were connected not to his equipment in front of him, but to puppet strings with the audience on the other end. He ripped through “4001,” the dense opener from his latest record, Ufabulum, lighting up the entire venue with dazzling texture and and motion. His set was literally draining, in the best possible way. Just when it seemed the energy level couldn’t get any higher in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, and as if to prove that Jenkinson is a human being and not connected digitally to the music he creates, he showed his amazing bass skills, wrapping a highly affected bassline around his dark production. As he wrapped up his set, I heard the most apt crowd responses of the entire night, as a sailor hat-clad gentleman with a keytar over his shoulder started a “Push my square!” chant before turning to his friend and saying, “Oh, he pushed it.”
Squarepusher by Jeff Pearson.
Up next, in almost a necessary change of pace, was Explosions In The Sky, the Austin, Texas post-rock instrumentalists. They graciously introduced themselves in their soft-spoken manner, and immediately showed that the way they make their noise is with their music. Their set was emotionally stirring and completely enchanting from start to finish; Explosions In The Sky worked the crowd with soft interludes and—I’ll say it—explosive theatrics. As they worked through gorgeously intense versions of classic songs from their repertoire like “First Breath After A Coma” and “The Birth And Death of The Day,” guitarists Munaf Rayani, Mark Smith and Michael James crouched on their knees to manipulate their effects and pull incredible emotion out of their instruments. The lights on the floor projected their shadows onto the wall of the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium like arch-backed giants, worshipping the sounds they were creating from their knees. The way that each soft moment was completely rewarded with epic walls of sound made each note one heard from the edge of our seats. By the time Explosions In The Sky worked their way into “Let Me Back In,” the indelible stand-out from their last full-length LP, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, those in attendance were absolutely amazed by the group’s guitar dramatics. Their set was the perfect culmination of emotions, allowing the audience to feel the immensity of the world we’re in and simultaneously forget all about it, focusing solely on the music emanating from the stage.
Explosions In The Sky by Jeff Pearson.
The way that Explosions In The Sky highlighted the human ability to let our problems wash away, if only for a minute, through the power of music is completely indicative of what Moogfest is all about. The festival is about coming together to celebrate music, forget about what’s waiting for us back home for a little while, and just have a good time. As we wandered back to the U.S. Cellular Center, that concept was made ever the more prevalent by the sea of people completely losing their minds to Richie Hawtin’s set of meticulously structured techno music. This was a group of people with not much more on their minds besides one thing: dancing. Everyone was letting the music wash through their bodies and the techno legend do all the thinking for them. Hawtin, hailing from England and a true visionary among the Detroit techno scene, showed the true power of dance music. To me, coming together and becoming one with each other through the vehicle of music is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, and Moogfest has continued to show that.
Richie Hawtin by Jeff Pearson.
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|JUSTICE AT THE U.S. CELLULAR CENTER, ASHEVILLE, NC||MOOGFEST 2012 – SATURDAY||MOOGFEST 2011 – SUNDAY|