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Moogfest 2016 Festival Review: 25 Best Performances

on May 23, 2016, 6:00pm
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Moogfest: the event that never ceases to amaze.

“Event” being the important distinction. Part festival, part conference, part expo — Moogfest celebrates music, technology, counterculture, and always the future. It’s as hybridized as the music genres it highlights and the multidisciplinary creatives presiding over its programming.

Where else can cyborgs and futurists rub elbows with electronic music legends? Better still, where else can forward-thinking fans and creatives go to engage directly with some of the brightest minds on the planet? Moogfest is an experience designed to stimulate creativity. It’s uncommon for any event of this scale to have such altruistic intentions, but that’s the reality. That’s why luminaries like Laurie Anderson, Gary Numan, Martine Rothblatt, Mark Mothersbaugh, Janelle Monáe, Daniel Lanois, and many others left their mark on Moogfest this year — not to mention the legacy of remarkable talent that’s graced the event across its nine iterations.

Nina Corcoran, Crowd 01

Photo by Nina Corcoran

What further sets Moogfest apart are its cozy confines. Since 2010, Moogfest had shared its home with the Moog Factory in Asheville, North Carolina, where it cultivated a relaxed, familial environment of artists, presenters, and patrons co-mingling as they walked from venue to venue. This year, they’ve uprooted from the funky mountain town to Durham, home of Duke University and myriad tech startups. Miraculously, the scenery change didn’t cause any unwanted distortion. Durham welcomed the hybrid festival with open arms, and their wide variety of venue spaces, excellent food, and genuinely friendly people ensured that even with the move, returning to Moogfest still felt like coming home.

This year’s event comes at a critical time, with North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 bathroom law restricting transgender persons from using the bathrooms of their chosen gender and many performers boycotting the state in protest. In response, Moogfest, along with the artists and local activist groups, co-opted the festival as a weekend-long protest of HB2, ensuring that all bathrooms at all venues were gender neutral, speaking out against the bill throughout the four-day event, and encouraging everyone to “Synthesize Love.” No artist declined to appear at Moogfest, and some of the biggest names lent their words to the creation of a powerful statement of defiance on the Moogfest website — a statement embodied in the event itself.

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Photo by Cap Blackard

Future thought, future sound, afrofuturism, transhumanism … synthesis. Moogfest is the festival of the 21st century. It’s an idea too bold to work, and yet, against all odds, it thrives — celebrating humankind’s triumphs in innovation and looking headlong to the synth-scored horizon of where we’re headed. Here’s but a sampling of the amazing things we saw and experienced at Moogfest 2016: music performances, discussions, and all the eye-opening stuff in between.

–Cap Blackard
Art Director

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Greg Fox durational sound installation

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Photo by Jon Hadusek

It takes a certain superhuman physicality to play drums for four hours straight. Then again, Greg Fox has proven himself to be unnaturally gifted in the art of percussion as the drummer of Liturgy. Backed by a group of free-form electronic soundscapists, Fox kept the groove going from 2-6 p.m. on Thursday at the Museum Hotel, where there was a different four-hour durational sound installation each day of Moogfest. His limbs looked like boneless rubber, and he didn’t appear to tire — physically or mentally — at any point in the performance. I even saw him later that night at another set, and he was totally awake, aware, and unfazed by the insane task he’d just accomplished. –Jon Hadusek
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Neil Harbisson and Pau Riba’s “A Cyborg’s Synaesthetic Pedicure”

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Photo by Cap Blackard

In a list of “only at Moogfest” moments, this has got to be at the top of the heap: a duet between an acoustic guitar player and the colors of this toenails, as read by a cyborg.

Neil Harbisson is the world’s first government-recognized cyborg. The Catalan artist was born without the ability to perceive color and took matters into his own hands by installing a device called an eyeborg. It extends like a quail feather over the top of his head and translates colors into tonal frequencies – from infrared to ultraviolet – which he hears via bone conduction. On the opening day of Moogfest, Harbisson teamed up with fellow Catalan multidisciplinary artist Pau Riba for a truly unique piece of musical performance art. After Riba wandered the audience barefoot, singing, and playing guitar, he took an elevated seat, and Harbisson proceeded to paint the 68-year-old man’s toes. Harbisson then scanned the colors he pained with his eyeborg so the audience could hear the tones. Riba improvised guitar and vocals as one beep layered atop another.

The colors, Harbission explained, were specifically chosen because his perception of colors is microtonal. As a result, he had to drive all over New York City and buy the right colors at great expense; otherwise, the performance would have been out of key. They went on to do another duet where Harbisson played hues of orange (f-sharp) underneath Riba’s best known song, “Porcelain Girl”. The two met over Riba’s manifesto, proposing that by virtue of our modern dependence on machines, we’re all cyborgs. While Harbisson has electronic implants, the rest of us augment ourselves with “explants” – cars, watches, and any other objects that exist outside our bodies. –Cap Blackard
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Claire Evans: The Future Is Unmanned

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Photo by Cap Blackard

Claire Evans is the lead singer of YACHT, a major player in Vice‘s sci-tech branch, Motherboard, and a perpetual explorer of the new, the old, and exciting across all the mediums she chooses to inhabit. Her presentation, “The Future Is Unmanned”, set the pace on the opening day of Moogfest as she cast light on one of the most woefully undocumented facets of 20th century history: women’s founding roles in computer sciences and the Internet at large. From the time when “computer” was a job that saw rooms of women crunching complex equations to the digital renegades of the cyberfeminist movement of the ’90s, Evans’ overview was staggering in the wealth of untold history – all of it headed towards a forthcoming book, tentatively of the same title. The audience was treated to stories of computer pioneer Grace Hopper, who had to convince her male superiors that computer programming was even a thing, and the amazing gender-smashing antics of The VNS Matrix, from whom the lecture’s title was derived as well as the lecture/book’s rejected title: “We Are the Future Cunt”. Evans’ research into the feminist origins of the digital age are ongoing, but her goal is clear: “If women and girls can see themselves in the DNA of our planet’s most transformative and powerful technology, then I hope they can see themselves in its future.” –Cap Blackard
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Dawn of Midi

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

If you asked the people sitting on either side of you at the Carolina Theatre before Dawn of Midi began their set, chances are one of them knew the band was scheduled to open for Radiohead later this year and the other person had never heard of them before looking at the festival’s schedule. As seemed to be the case for both types of people, likely neither had listened to them before. The Brooklyn trio couldn’t care less.

Onstage, Dawn of Midi perform a meditative, experimental, ambient-like take on sparse jazz. Drawing on the subtlest influences from their respective countries: India for Aakaash Israni on double bass, Morocco for Amino Belyamani on piano, and Pakistan for Qasim Naqvi on drums. They worked through Dysnomia, their 2013 full-length, with expert focus, pulling on piano strings and burping out syncopated drumbeats with seamless transitions to new tempos. Calling it hypnotic is an understatement. As such, it felt like there could be no end, so the whole set ended somewhat comedically: with the venue itself pulling the plug to keep things on track — even though the band only had two minutes left of a 47-minute album they chose to perform in full. –Nina Corcoran
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Qrion

Nina Corcoran, Qrion 01

Photo by Nina Corcoran

It’s fitting that Qrion hails from Sapporo, the capital of Japan’s northernmost island. It’s both tropical and chilly, snow dusting the city’s circumference in winter whereas its sandy beaches boast a different shade of white come the summer. Live, Qrion evokes attributes of both. Inside the expansive Armory, the 21-year-old worked through cuts off her own EPs, mixing them with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and deep house with sweet-turned-vicious delivery. There’s a tongue-in-cheek acceptance of her heritage that comes naturally when standing in front of a room of, for the most part, white boys. Qrion, who now lives in Los Angeles, projected a tweet in broken English on the screen behind her while pixelated sushi fell over it, burst purple heart emojis on rapidfire, and went so far as to flash the proper pronunciation of her stage name across the screen. If she could mock the way she’s perceived in America, then the crowd could mock themselves too, most of whom eventually followed suit, breaking out of their comfort zones to break into a full sweat come the end of her set. –Nina Corcoran
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Daniel Lanois

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Photo by Jon Hadusek

You might not know the name Daniel Lanois, but you’ve likely heard one of his productions. Lanois worked with Brian Eno on the Ambient series and produced U2’s most acclaimed records, in addition to working with legends such as Neil Young (Le Noise) and Emmylou Harris (Wrecking Ball).

A deeply spiritual figure, Lanois perceives music as a gateway to the soul — a shared experience through sound. Watching him perform with his band, which includes singer-songwriter Rocco DeLuca, was like watching three musicians fall into a dream together. His late midnight show at the Carolina Theatre affected me deeply, taking me to places I’ve been and places I’ve yet to see. In this moment, I saw family, old friends, ex-lovers, acquaintances, random faces, and we all co-existed in peace — in mutual resignation to our inevitable fate and the belief that our experiences are connected in a poetic way that we may never understand in our waking lives. Lanois played pedal steel through processes that make it sound like an instrument he invented. DeLuca and Jim Wilson followed in fractured harmony, playing harmonized folk hymns that recalled the transcendent work of Bonnie Prince Billy and Scott Tuma. The set also featured a heavy improvisational electronic dabbling that Lanois described as “bringing the studio to the stage” — a theme at Moogfest.

After Thursday’s performance, Lanois hosted two masterclass sessions discussing his artistic process — like a sage imparting wisdom. I feel changed after spending hours in the presence of this man. Whether he was discussing the proper means of capturing a drum sound or the virtues of organic, spontaneous creation — free of inhibition and self-doubt — his philosophical angle on each topic could be applied to any facet of life. Trust in your friends, move with the flow of time, and never fear the future. His words became the motif of Moogfest as I watched other artists express similar themes through their music and discussions. We’re here, in this singular moment, so why not live it and surrender your conscious mind to the beauty of love and chaos? –Jon Hadusek
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Technoshamanism: A Very Psychedelic Century!

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Photo by Cap Blackard

Easily the most mind-opening presentation Moogfest 2016 had to offer – a multidisciplinary monologue that rivaled Brian Eno’s Moogfest 2011 keynote for all the unexpected twists and turns it took. This one-man show saw artist-musician Michael Garfield take a captive audience on a vision-quest through the lands where metaphysics and emerging technology meet. Make no mistake – it was a ramble, but an insightful and fascinating one from start to finish that traveled from the ancient dragon god Tiamat to the Victorians laying the transatlantic telegraph cable to the Manhattan Project giving birth to a new age of fear and awareness. The “psychedelic century”? That’s the here and now that’s just beginning, and the more our technology graduates us to the alchemical act of creation, the closer humanity comes to confronting “the cosmic mystery that we are.” Heavy and heady stuff, and a pleasant counterpoint to the doom and gloom of the average transhumanist cybergrumps whose future-thinking seems improbably grounded in the limited perceptions of the present. –Cap Blackard
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Dr. Martine Rothblatt: The Future of Creativity

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Photo by Cap Blackard

You might have heard of Dr. Rothblatt for a number of reasons. She’s the founder of Sirius Satellite Radio (now SiriusXM), she’s an outspoken trans activist, and perhaps most famously these days she’s leading the charge in humanity’s transcendence from death as exemplified by an ongoing project to replicate her partner’s consciousness digitally. This is a gross over-simplification of Rothblatt’s quest, but it should suffice to say, she’s a fount of crazy ideas and relentless determination. That determination was the subject of Rothblatt’s empowering Keynote speech – as she puts it: “dogged, single-minded persistence.” Her take on transhumanism was shockingly pleasant. Rather than the glum cyberpunk ultimatum of humanity being a biological dead-end, Rothblatt spoke of our technological evolution as human consciousness evolving to “Personae Creatus,” a unified digital existence beyond physical boarders. It seems crazy now, but Rothblatt’s used to being told she’s crazy and then proving everyone wrong, so brace yourselves for a deathless cyber utopia. –Cap Blackard
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EMA/Jana Hunter durational sound installation

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Photo by Jon Hadusek

There was a different durational sound installation every day at the Museum Hotel, and Friday’s featured collaborative improvisation from EMA and Jana Hunter of Lower Dens. These sets were unrehearsed — planned the night before on a whim and executed on the spot — though you wouldn’t have been able to tell on Friday. Hunter led a small band of collaborators through ambient explorations that were airtight, structured by droning pulses and two-chord drones, while EMA read memoirs about past boyfriends. Seeped in eerie nostalgia, her stories were creepy and honest, giving the otherwise drifting sounds a narrative thread … and no doubt helping pass the time for the performers involved. –Jon Hadusek
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Grimes

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

The great thing about Moogfest is that it brought together musical innovators from all harmonic spectrums, from the most dissonant drone to the poppiest pop. Grimes represented the latter, injecting some liberating dance pop into the headiness that presided over much of the festival. The crowd at the large Motorco Stage unleashed all of that bottled-up energy in a vicarious reaction to the ecstatic stage presence of Grimes herself. The months of touring and playing the festival circuit have turned her and her troupe of dancers into a machine of visual and aural entertainment. She went into a rage during “Scream”, falling on her back, unleashing a scream that would make any black-metal vocalist proud before thrusting the mic into the monitors to create a spike of terrifying feedback. On “Kill v. Maim” and “Realiti”, she darted around the stage in a frenzy, but never so far away from her gear as to miss a sample cue or triggered change-up in the song. Once a shy bedroom popsmith, Grimes has become a full-on pop superstar worthy of headlining a festival like Moogfest. –Jon Hadusek
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Grouper

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

By now, Liz Harris is less of a cherished obscurity and more of a shared solace. The Oregon-via-California musician brought her experimental ambient work to the Carolina Theatre, but those expecting the soft layers of Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill were surprised to hear takes far harsher than that. Harris sat crosslegged on the center of the stage, an array of pedals and knobs around her on the ground, pushing her music into the depths of drone and the peace of mind that comes with it. Harris has perfected the balance of tones, though, her classic Grouper lyrics floating above the scratches and pops while still being too muddled to understand clearly. Yet despite the volume, the tracks felt nostalgic and warm, bleeding into one another as the screen behind her projected flashing lights, withered trees, and a girl running from her own shadow on the beach. Dressed in white, Harris looked and sounded like a ghost visiting Earth to relive its own memories, presenting herself as expectedly calm and sedative until she darted off the stage at the end — a child still awake at midnight from an active imagination, scurrying to their bedroom when they hear their parents come home and the spell is broken. –Nina Corcoran
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Gary Numan performing The Pleasure Principle

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

Of all the legendary names and figures at Moogfest, there was none greater than Gary Numan. Booked for a three-night residency, Numan played the entirety of his “machine trilogy”: Replicas on Thursday, The Pleasure Principle on Friday, and Telekon on Saturday. But it was the Friday night performance of Pleasure Principle that stood out, both for the strength of its material and the intensity of the performance. Numan brought his ’80s masterpiece up to speed with modern sound production. In a word, it was heavy, as if the very artists Numan has influenced (specifically Trent Reznor) had seeped back into his own creations. He played the role of frontman brilliantly, exploring the full breadth of the stage, dancing vividly, wielding the mic stand like a pronged spear. Sonically, I can’t imagine these songs sounding any better than how I heard them that night at the Carolina Theater. For all of his work as a forerunner in bringing synthesizers into mainstream pop, Numan was given the 2016 Moog Innovation Award, joining a select class that includes Devo, Brian Eno, and Thomas Dolby. Our very own Cap Blackard had the honor of presenting the award and hosting a Q&A with Numan on Saturday. –Jon Hadusek
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Hidden Figures: Women & Afrofuturism with Janelle Monáe

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Photo by Cap Blackard

Janelle Monáe made headlines recently when it was announced that she’s soon to make her lead motion picture debut in Hidden Figures, a film about the seldom-heard story of the black women instrumental in NASA’s manned spaceflight program. Introed by a sharp-tongued poem from Chuck Lightning, Monáe took the stage alongside screenwriter Allison Schroeder and the moderator, black contemporary art commentator Kimbery Drew. The 2017 film, based on a soon-to-be-published book, tells the true stories of three “computers” who rose against adversity to prominent positions in NASA during the space race. Monáe, Schroeder, and Drew discussed the realities of what the film’s main characters struggled through, not just due to segregation, but as black women rising above their place within black culture. As Schroeder puts it, the film “passes the Bechdel test like you’d never believe.” Hidden Figures has an important distinction in the rapidly changing environment of Hollywood inclusion in that it features three black female leads, but isn’t what the business would typically label as a “black film” — it’s a film about NASA. That’s something Monáe is especially proud of and said that she hopes “humans in general can relate to this film.” She also spoke up on how important she felt being at Moogfest was over boycotting due to HB2 – it’s more impactful for an artist to “stand up and say, ‘I don’t fucking support that shit.’” –Cap Blackard
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Afrofuturism panel w/ Janelle Monáe, Reggie Watts, Christian Rich, Hieroglyphic Being

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

It’s 2016 and the definition of Afrofuturism is still just as shaky as it is clear. Coined over two decades ago, the term continues to evolve, and some of today’s finest — Janelle Monáe, Reggie Watts, Christian Rich, Hieroglyphic Being — gathered to discuss what its current state means today. Naturally, the five speakers’ personalities dissected and leveled points being addressed on arts, culture, and politics, all of which was lightened by Watts’ new abbreviation that became frequently used, mostly jokingly, in the discussion: “Cocks” for “Caucasians.”

When the floor opened up for questions from the audience, the real thought-provoking discussions emerged. Chicago’s experimental composer had plenty to say, pointing out that not only do the seemingly slacker styles of acts like Young Thug belittle Afrofuturism, but they belittle African-Americans at large. Monáe then used Hieroglyphic Being’s point to look at how we can work around that, namely by mentoring the youth so they realize the ways in which they can empower their race in the face of constant inequality. Even in the final minutes of the panel, those speaking used the secondhand for good, spreading the width of the conversation topic to include things seemingly out of their reach. “This isn’t just about us, but about the people who don’t hear this — the people on the streets,” said Hieroglyphic Being. “We need to bring the community together.” –Nina Corcoran
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Moses Sumney

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

Word of mouth about a mouth full of words: that’s what desperately tries to catapult Moses Sumney to the fame he deserves. Though most in the First Presbyterian Church showed up to his set to pick a good seat for the acts that followed, all left totally and completely enamored with the Los Angeles-based musician. With only an EP and a few singles to his name, Sumney chugged through an impressive set of looped vocal percussion, fingerplucked guitar, layered handclaps, and, of course, that voice. His vocals soared in the church, catching light through the stained windows during “Man on the Moon” and “Seeds” and reflecting it back on the audience in a way that did nothing but warm them. It’s the type of organic musicianship people dream of possessing. Calling it magical suggests there’s too much glitter, and calling it transcendental implies a lack of communal absorption. Instead, think of it as spiritual, something rooted deeply inside of him that feels compelled to exit his body and take shape in an invisible but undeniably present form which the crowd as a group witnessed. No, Sumney doesn’t claim to be a god, nor is he singing about one, but there’s an outpouring of divinity that stuns in person. It’s why he got two enormous standing ovations — one of which took place before his set even ended. –Nina Corcoran
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Laurie Anderson: The Language of the Future

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Photo by Cap Blackard

“Yes, I can see the future, and it’s a place about 70 miles East of here…” Anderson ominously muses, recalling the line from her 1982 song, “Let X = X”. A fitting message for Moogfest; that for everything that’s changed, something new is always on the horizon. During her inaugural Moogfest performance, the multimedia storyteller cracked open her book of tales for a sequence of interlocking anecdotes, unrelated at face value, but woven into a potent self-portrait, that, in her trademark style, was often as funny as it was haunting. Some of the stories came from her recently released Heart of a Dog, but others had yet to find a place on any album – such as the rainy days she spent with a passive-aggressive Amish family, sitting around the dinner table, or how what was to be a wordless Buddhist trip down the Utah river intersected with a group of loud, control-freak campers who Anderson, by the time she had grown to loath them, discovered were all incest survivors. Suffice it to say, in both cases, there were complicated feelings at play. Then there’s the time she got bored teaching night school and started making up stories about how the pyramids work, or her performance with a mouth-inserted pillow speaker that lets her sing like a violin, or pointed jabs at Trump’s architectural standards for his “beautiful wall”… A Laurie Anderson concert is like an ocean: every wave that hits you is different from the next, but it all flows. –Cap Blackard
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Julia Holter

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

Moogfest was experienced all over downtown Durham, and it appeared that any space — from tiny dives to the biggest theaters — were open to hosting performances. Among the most intimate and acoustically satisfying were the sets at the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street. It was here that Julia Holter played a solo set on grand piano, breaking her complex prog-pop down to its root chords and notes. The audience was held in reverential calm as Holter ran through cuts off last year’s Have You In My Wilderness. It sounded so pristine that had it been recorded off the board, it would’ve made a publishable live album, with Holter wise-cracking between songs to ease the mood: “I’m not looking at you. I like staring at the stained glass while I play. Sorry … This grand piano sounds so good, you can’t even tell when I mess up (*starts singing random non-sense while mashing keys at random*).” She could’ve played whatever she wanted. We were transfixed. –Jon Hadusek
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Laurel Halo

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

There’s a subtlety to Laurel Halo’s music that’s difficult to pin down. In a club setting, it overtakes you, pulsing through your body without demanding you move, but instead suggesting you take a few steps in place, shift your shoulders, and nod your head. It’s the whirr of a drum machine that’s sneaking up behind you. It’s the use of synths that don’t bang. In the cavernous darkness of Pinhook, Halo chased after that defining feature of her work, offering up a set that ditched easy hooks in favor of a satisfying build that only came around near the end. From the back, the crowd may have seemed under the weather. Look at their faces, though, and they were caught in a trance, too connected to the quick shifts to detach themselves from Halo’s rope. —Nina Corcoran
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Sunn O)))

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Photo by Jon Hadusek

The heaviest and most polarizing performance of the weekend came Saturday night when drone-doom lords Sunn O))) took the Motorco Stage, donning their signature black cloaks. Somebody was passing out earplugs at the entrance, and for good reason. The bass at Motorco was punishing all weekend, even during ostensibly lighter sets like Hundred Waters and Grimes, and the house subs and Sunn’s arsenal of bass cabs and Orange amps combined to produce a dangerously loud frequency. Many fled for the exit after the first bomb note, which lasted for about 10 minutes as the band hoisted its guitars and passed around a bottle of liquor. It had the vibe of a dark ritual, and those who stuck around became enraptured in the atmosphere. Vocalist Attila Cishar emerged from the fog, crooning cryptic incantations and spells. The smoke danced around him. In the culminating moments, Cishar took the form of a nightmarish demon in a suit of mirror shards and many spiked blades protruding from his headpiece. Sunn’s level of theatrics and pure sonic brutality was unrivaled by any other act at Moogfest. –Jon Hadusek
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Tim Hecker

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

Walking into the Carolina Theater for Tim Hecker’s set spiked immediate fear. The old lobby was flushed with smoke in a way not too different than that of a house fire. Enter the three-tier room, and you could barely make out your aisle. Hecker flooded the entire space with white fog, colored lights shooting up from around where he (assumedly) stood onstage to foster a vibe somewhere between well-organized ballet movements and the beauty of accepting the inevitability of death. Earlier this year, Tim Hecker told Rolling Stone that his new album, the excellent Love Streams, prioritizes mutating vocals above all else, specifically by enlisting an Icelandic choir and Chewbacca pronunciation. Live, the cuts took on a more immediate tone, harnessing the organic nature of live improvisation with pre-recorded segments. It blasted the crowd the way drone should: physically, heavily, refreshingly. This is the reason people describe drone as being some of the most cathartic, truly gorgeous music out there. Some fans didn’t even make it to their seats, plopping down in an aisle instead. Who can blame them? Missing a mere second of the experience would have been a waste. —Nina Corcoran
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YACHT

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Photo by Cap Blackard

YACHT was made for Moogfest. …Or was it the other way around? The duo’s future-forward, sometimes snarky, always fun dance pop belongs nowhere moreso than an event dedicated to the synthesis of tech and art. The title track of their latest record, I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler, is certainly anthemic of the vaping, drone-delivery weirdness of our times, but it profoundly clicks with the Moog crowd – an event where it wasn’t uncommon to see a spent bottle of Soylent 2.0 at the foot of the stage or kicked into a corner. The Motorco Music Hall was at capacity with a massive line, even against the divisive schedule of Saturday night. For anyone who managed to make it in, YACHT didn’t disappoint. Claire Evans’ high-energy fronting and Bechtolt and Birdman’s funky grooves were all in fullest effect. They played classics from their first two records as a duo alongside a healthy helping of their newer tracks (including “Ringtone” partially sung over an old-school receiver-turned lo-fi mic) and payed tribute to our lost synth-funk lord Prince with a cover of “Annie Christian”. –Cap Blackard
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Oneohtrix Point Never

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Photo by Jon Hadusek

Playing directly after Ben Frost and Tim Hecker, Oneohtrix Point Never closed out a fantasy bill of experimental electronic music on Saturday night at the Carolina Theater. Veiled in a cloud of smoke and a chorus of strobes, the venue became a pulsing sensory deprivation tank for the next hour as OPN played a career-spanning set. Part industrial, part noise, part pop, the sound emitted was as otherwordly as it was futuristic. Concentrating on the many moving parts of the music was like watching a colony of ants disperse into so many directions — their movements vast and unpredictable, but strangely organized. This is the music of the future, I thought to myself. The occasional pop melody drifted into the mix, sung by Oneohtrix through a thick voice mask. The striking thing about his set was how the ears adjusted to it over the course of the performance, acclimating to the complexities and sheer volume. –Jon Hadusek
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Master class with Ben Frost and Tim Hecker

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

Beyond the music and shows, the most enlivining apsect of Moogfest were the master classes and discussions between artist and audience. The session with electronic enigmas Tim Hecker and Ben Frost was striking for its openness — each artist revealing deep secrets about their creative process and putting into words concepts that they themselves had never thought about or considered until prompted by inquisitive fans. Among the biggest takeaways were the discussions on spirituality and its relationship to the creative process: distancing oneself from the musical canon, artistic expectations, and self-doubt. “The only thing that matters is what you’re hearing in that moment, in your headphones,” Frost said, explaining the fragility of inspiration and the importance of embracing art without thinking about how other people (critics, friends, fans, family, future listeners) will perceive it, capturing emotions rather than making songs in the general sense. Frost and Hecker exist in their own worlds, but for two hours, they let us inside their mysterious minds. Their wisdom can be applied to any medium of creation. –Jon Hadusek
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Suzanne Ciani: Celebrating the Work of Don Buchla and Durational Sound Installation

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Photo by Bryan Pittard

A pioneering synthesist whose eclectic credits include making the distinctive fizz sounds for Coca-Cola ads and scoring the pinball game Xenon for Bally, Suzanne Ciani honored the work of her mentor, Don Buchla, by performing with his unique instruments and explaining how they operate. She joined fellow Buchla pioneer Morton Subotnik and NIN synthesist Allesandro Cortini to perform on a Buchla synthesizer to a packed hall at the Durham Arts Council with lines of people outside waiting for a spot to free up.

Ciani also performed a four-hour durational concert at the Museum Hotel on the last day of the show, stopping throughout to explain her process. Using a quadraphonic speaker setup, Ciani modulated together oscillations from several Moog Mother 32 synth modules with her Buchla, contrasting and comparing the two synths’ respective sonic qualities. Ciani also took questions, leading to her admitting to a sometimes contentious relationship with Buchla and how he once declined her continued participation in class on synthesis by saying, “Please don’t take this personally, but we have decided that there are no women allowed.” –Bryan Pittard
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Laurie Anderson (talk)

Laurie Anderson Talk 1 - Moogfest 16 - Cap Blackard

Photo by Cap Blackard

As NASA’s first ever artist-in-residence, a painter, an experimental musician, a filmmaker, a Buddhist, and more, Laurie Anderson is busy enough to merit a dozen biographies. The final conversation of Moogfest saw Jana Hunter of Lower Dens sit down with Anderson to discuss her life, her work, and the future as she sees it. Of course, recent films Heart of a Dog and Habeus Corpus were discussed, but Anderson went beyond that. She wasn’t looking to talk about her life. She was looking to discuss her life — with the audience specifically. Anderson ditched the podium, constantly changing who she set her eyes on in the crowd in order to cultivate a genuine connection with those in the room, despite the theatre’s size. Even when talking casually about her time at NASA and working with her dog, her inflection and tone comforted the audience. Laurie Anderson is one of the few musicians whose Q+As offer as much fruit as the music itself. What’s shaped Anderson over the years isn’t what she’s made or how she went about creating it, but how she interacts with others in every moment of her life. –Nina Corcoran

Click ahead to see an exclusive gallery from Moogfest 2016.

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Gallery

Photographers: Cap Blackard, Nina Corcoran, Jon Hadusek

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