Moogfest 2014 – An International Event On An Intimate Stage

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Moogfest 2014, held in Asheville, NC April 23-27, was an ambitious, audacious and ultimately successful electronic music festival that transformed Moogfest into an international event that may be the yardstick by which other events are measured in years to come.

Moogfest began its life in 2004 as one-evening event, based in New York. The initial subsequent Moogfests were basically ‘dream concerts’ that featured a who’s who of Moog players.

In 2010, Moogfest moved to Asheville, North Carolina, the home of Moog Music. Moog partnered with event producers AC Entertainment, and Moogfest scaled up to a three-day festival. In 2012, Moog & AC Entertainment went their separate ways, with AC organizing the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit in fall 2013 and Moog Music planning an even more ambitious 2014 Moogfest.

Moogfest_Future_of_Music_Robert_PlumaOrganizers billed this year’s Moogfest as “The Synthesis Of Technology, Art & Music”, which highlights their intention of transforming the event into more than an electronic music festival. It also emphasizes the concept of ‘synthesis’ being more than creating new sounds, but combining all types of things – music, visuals, technology and ideas – to create something new.

The Moogfest 2014 schedule included 5 days of densely packed night and day programming. Synthtopia was on location in Asheville for the event, and we’ll be following up with videos, interviews and more. In the meantime, here’s our take on this year’s Moogfest:

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The daytime programming at Moogfest 2014 explored music synthesis, but also topics like sonification, cybernetics, music visuals, new technology for music and how these art + technology mashups are important for economic development.

moogfest-malcom-cecilThe Moogfest daytime lineup was geektacular. It featured pioneers of electronic music instruments, like Dave Smith and Roger Linn (above); innovators like Herb Deutsch (below), Malcolm Cecil (right) and Giorgio Moroder; researchers like sonification guru Professor Bruce Walker; alternate interface explorers like Yuri Suzuki and Geert Bevin; and innovative musicians like Janelle Monae & Nile Rodgers.

The daytime programming at Moogfest also included workshops, performances and installations. One installation, Odd Harmonics, featured the unique theremin designs of François Chambard and performances by Dorit Chrysler. A ‘makers’ day included a circuit-bending contest and presentations by DIY pioneers.

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One gallery was devoted to immersive audio + visual ‘durational performances’. There were in-depth sessions on Ableton Live, Creative Coding with Max/MSP & Processing and showings of electronic music documentaries

For Moogfest attendees, there was an ‘Engineer VIP’ option that offered two 3-hour workshops in which synth geeks could build a new synthesizer, the Moog Werkstatt, with the help of Moog engineers. (See our interview with designer Steve Dunnington for more on the Werkstatt.)

The nighttime programming at Moogfest was equally ambitious.

Performers included electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, presenting three audiovisual performances in 3D; synthpop duo Pet Shop Boys; super producer Nile Rodgers & Chic; synth funk pioneer Bernie Worrell and his orchestra; producer Craig Leon performing his quirky electronic classic, Nommos, live with a string quartet; Keith Emerson; Giorgio Moroder performing a DJ set; El-P; Flying Lotus; vocal synthesis artist Holly Herndon; M.I.A.; Machinedrum; Moderat; A.D.U.L.T.; Sasha; and many others.

While the performances were spread over 5 days, the majority were scheduled for Wed-Sat evenings. The performance schedule was jam-packed, so you could get in 8-10 hours per day of performances, if you wanted. And, because there were performances happening in several locations, attendees had lots of options to choose from.

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We tried to catch as many performances as possible by electronic music pioneers at Moogfest. Some of these artists are in their sixth, seventh or even eighth decades, and Moogfest offered a rare opportunity to see these masters in action.

moogfest-herb-deutschHighlights included Keith Emerson (above), who delivered classic prog with his band and gave the new Emerson Moog System a workout; Bernie Worrell, who showed how funky a Minimoog can get on originals and songs by P-Funk and Tom Tom Club; Herb Deutsch (right), who gave a performance that combined his stories of the creation of the original Moog modular, a performance of the first composition for Moog synthesizer and an improvised jam session with Thereminist Dorit Chrysler (below); and Kraftwerk, whose 3D performances demonstrated that the man-machine is still as relevant as ever.

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There were always multiple performances overlapping at Moogfest, though. Attendees could just as easily focus on indie electronic musicians, DJ performances or experimental artists.

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giorgio-moroder-moogfestMoogfest events were spread over 10 venues. This really showcased Asheville, which is a gorgeous mountain town, full of wonderful restaurants, local brew-pubs and one-of-a-kind stores. Asheville is very pedestrian-friendly and the weather was beautiful, so walking from one venue to another offered a pleasant break, some sunshine and a chance to meet and talk with other attendees.

Since this was the first year for the revamped Moogfest, we were not surprised that there were a few hiccups. While the sound was great at the headliner shows, some of the other shows suffered from muddy mixing. Mixing live electronic music presents some unique challenges – including the extreme range of sound and dynamics, and balancing electronic and acoustic instruments – and some performances fared better than others. Also, the fact that Moogfest was spread over 10 venues meant that it was a little challenging to get oriented and possibly physically challenging for attendees with limited mobility.

The biggest frustration we heard from attendees, though, was that there was so much going on that you often had to choose between two (or more) really interesting events happening at the same time.

And that’s a great problem to have.

moogfest-kids-and-SuperSynthesis

All-in-all, Moogfest 2014 successfully pulled off some very audacious goals. It was an extremely ambitious event, and the organizers did a great job of mixing art, music, science and technology into a program that was entertaining, educational and sometimes even mind-expanding. It was an international event on an intimate stage.

Did you attend Moogfest 2014? If so, leave a comment and let us know your take on it. What worked, and what didn’t? Whom would you like to see at a future Moogfest?

16 thoughts on “Moogfest 2014 – An International Event On An Intimate Stage

  1. This was my first Moogfest this year (how could I pass up three chances to see Kraftwerk?) and my first trip to Asheville. I was very impressed by both! I did the $300 all-access pass and it was totally worth it.

    For me, it was really a chance of a lifetime to see that many synth gurus and performers in one week. All of the Asheville venues are moderately sized, so if you got to concerts a little early, you could get fantastic seats. I had seats in the first few rows for Kieth Emerson, Kraftwerk and Chic. I had never seen any of them before, I had great seats and they all put on killer shows!

    Most of the stuff I went to was at three main venues – the Masonic Lodge, the art museum theater and their indoor arena – and they were all within a few blocks of each other and also walking distance from my hotel. Next time, I might skip renting a car, because you can walk everywhere pretty easily.

    I had a blast at the Modular Marketplace – which had a bunch of modular vendors and also some audio gadget vendors. Richard at Brand New Noise was super cool and I picked up one of his mini samplers. Switched On had a bunch of cool vintage stuff and Make Noise and several other companies had tons of Euro stuff.

    I did not do the VIP Engineer option this year, because it seemed pretty expensive to me. (That was the option where you got to spend a couple mornings building a synthesizer). I talked to a couple of people that did do the Engineer option, though, and they both raved about it. I may have to do that at Moogfest 2015!

    The only suggestion I’d have for future Moogfests is that they shouldn’t schedule speakers in the same room and at the same time as the Modular Marketplace. Guys like Dave Smith, Roger Linn and Tom Oberheim ended up competing with the sounds of a dozen Eurorack synths, which kind of annoyed everybody involved.

    tl;dr version – Moogfest was cool!

    1. Does anyone remember the name of the earplug co. Selling in ear monitors and earplugs during the day at the Masonic church where alot of the forums were? Thx

  2. I had a similar experience – I loved it and kinda wished I’d ponied up for the Engineer ticket.

    I got to play the new Keith Emerson modular at the Moog factory. They had it on display in their store. Yes, I attempted the ‘Lucky Man’ solo, like just about everybody else that walked up to it. Yes, it was a synth nerd fantasy. No, I did eventually step away and let the little kid in line behind me have a go at it.

    I also talked with a guy named Gene who works for Moog. He’s the one that actually built the new modular and he knows Emerson’s Moog inside and out. Really nice guy. Apparently, he had rebuilt Emerson’s modular several times, and keeps it in his kitchen when he’s working on it. He was talking about all this like it was no big deal.

    Asheville is a great town – kind of funky/artsy like Austin, but in the woods on a mountain.

    If they do this again next year, I’ll definitely make the trip down again.

  3. Jealousy and envy wash over me like so many deep filter sweeps from a large scale Moog modular. Looking forward to more comments from attendees this year to fuel my rationalization for going in 2015!

  4. First time Moogfest, first trip to Asheville and really enjoyed both. Asheville has a whole lot of things going for it; breweries, clubs, coffee shops, good restaurants, shops, and all within about 5 square blocks. Music was happening in 8 or 9 different venues on Fri-Sat nights and you got to choose between Kraftwerk or Flying Lotus or Moderat or Huckaby, etc etc.. I loved all of the tech workshops and talks especially Forrest Mims, Jay Silver, Drew Blanke, Brian Crabtree (Monome), and Jesper Kouthoofd (Teenage Engineering). The NIN tech (can’t remember his name) had some interesting stories too. My only complaint was that the volume in the some of the smaller venues was too far over the pain threshold, the Holly Herdon set in particular would have sounded a lot better at 100db instead of the 120-130 it felt like. Couldn’t afford the VIP package this year but maybe next year….

    1. The Holly Herndon show was loud and distorted. I wasn’t sure if that was an artistic decision on her part (to assault the senses) or if it was just a bad sound job. Where I was, the bass was really distorted and overwhelmed her vocals.

      1. Yeah, her vocals were completely lost in the mix. The guy running the board seemed to be oblivious, sure loved his bass though. I tend to blame the sound guy rather than the performer, he’s the one controlling the house levels.

  5. Had a blast, did the engineer package. I kind-of missed the smaller Moogfest of 2010, though. That was more manageable, and I didn’t get quite so run down by the end. Fewer this-or-that decisions.

    Highlights

    – as with most travel stories, it’s the people you met that are the jewels.

    – seeing how hard Ralf was playing. I thought Kraftwerk’s sets were more playback oriented. Ralf was really playing a lot, two handed, a great deal of the time, and the fellow next to him (sorry, name escapes) was playing a lot of the basslines in real time. Much more of a live concert than I expected.
    – Malcolm Cecil. I love it when jazz cats start talking about wild and crazy times. I could listen to those kind of stories all night.
    – The I Dream Of WIres theatrical cut was a real surprise. It makes a very good two hour movie, excellent editing. It really shines in that format. I dig the 4 hour version, but it’s a bit of a trial. The 2 hour cut was very tight, focused, excellent. My wife would like it!
    – The workshop, and stuff at the Moog Factory. Very nice people, all around. Moog staffers, the workshop folks, a wide spectrum. Ponytails to shaved heads, some into modular, some into prog. All good and interesting people, happy to be there.
    – Oh yeah, Egyptian Lover == new favourite.
    – Running into various members of Freezepop! Wish they’d been playing.

    Lowlights
    – didn’t get to enough small venues. Looking at youtube, I would have liked to have caught Yacht.
    – Funny to say, but it would have been easier if KW had played just once. The paradox of choice.
    – Shin splints. Wrong shoes.
    – Asheville needs a downtown Starbucks. I appreciate the whole local thing, but sometimes it’s cutting off your own nose to spite your face, dudes.

    1. Were the three Kraftwerk shows different or the same basic show?

      I only caught one Kraftwerk show (excellent) but had to wonder how much changed from one set to another.

      1. I caught the first two, and they were the same with maybe one or two exceptions. I’m not sure about the third, and the first two might have been identical due to the entire FOH going out for about 25 min at the end of Computer Love. They definitely killed it though

  6. Agreed, we all enjoy loud music but SOME OF THE VENUES WERE SOOOOO LOUD that my drink vibrated off of the bench on to the floor.

    Even with earplugs in I had to leave some shows. And as my ears would say…eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

  7. There were some nights where you could hear the subs from inside The Orange Peel 3 blocks away INSIDE a restaurant!
    BTW, The day side of Moogfest was just amazing and I hope it stays “Geektacular” as Synthhead says. The workshops and panels alone were worth the trip.
    Also, I didn’t like having people talk in the same room as the marketplace either but if I’m sure vendors got some business from the crowds.

  8. Overall it was even better than I expected. I did the engineer package and building the Werkstat and chatting with Moog engineers was awesome. Totally hope they do that again. The paradox of choice was my biggest issue too but I don’t know that I’d want them to change that. Next year I’d just try to go to a different set of workshops/acts. Also agree with the comments about having the modular marketplace in the same room with the talks. It was really hard to hear sometimes but I still managed to enjoy hearing Dave Smith, Roger Linn, Ezra Buchla, the Dubspot folks and others who were in that space. I really enjoyed the interview with Giorgio Moroder. I hope they do more things in that format again. Hearing clips of many of his songs and having a retrospective of his career was a lot of fun. Asheville is a great town. People seemed to warmly welcome all of the visitors and I had some great food and beer at a number of different places. Heartily recommend anyone to go next year.

    1. I am fortunate to live in Asheville, and have attended most of the Moogfests since they moved it here from NYC. This Moogfest was the most enjoyable and exciting one for me. Mainly because of the expanded scope and daytime events. I really got into the Ableton Live and Dubspot workshops. Hearing Herb Deutsch speak and perform was awesome. Roger Linn and Dave Smith gave really interesting talks. I agree that the modular marketplace was noisy during the workshops and talks, and would have been better located elsewhere. Dorit Chrysler was very engaging while giving an intimate performance on theremin and Taurus bass synth.

      Too many choices! Some performance highlights for me were Com Truise, Shigeto (one truly skilled drummer/ electronic music artist), Chic and Nile Rodgers (the band was tight and funky, great female vocalists), and MIA. One thing that I appreciated was the venues I went to shows at were nonsmoking. Seeing Pretty Lights at last year’s Mountain Oasis music festival, I had to move to the back of the civic center floor to avoid being smoked out by the those firing up. Earplugs were a must at some venues. My one disappointment was missing Don Buchla’s modular synth performance. I hope he comes back again.

      I will definitely get a full daytime/night time pass for next year’s Moogfest.

      I picked up a minifooger Drive recently for use with my synthesizers. One thing that I noticed is that the Moog music store is no longer limited to Moog instruments. They are sharing the synth love with floor space for Criiter and Guitari, Teenage Engineering, Bleep Labs, Elektron, and other companies gear.

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