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