Gotye Pays Homage to an Electronic Music Maestro
Photo by Todd Turner
Gotye’s performance at Moogfest was hands-down the greatest show at the whole of the festival, and he didn’t play a single one of his own songs. Wally De Backer, aka Gotye, isn’t just a charming purveyor of pop tunes, he’s one of the most genuine music nerds you’ll ever meet. For the past decade he’s been geeking out over one artist in particular: the pioneering electronic composer Jean-Jacques Perry. Perry died last year, but not before De Backer met with his musical progenitor, studied under him, founded a record label just to release tracks of his that hadn’t seen the light of day, and formed a super group for performing Perry’s music live, The Ondioline Orchestra.
The music of Jean-Jacques Perry relied heavily on an obscure proto-synth called the Ondioline – a fascinating instrument with an equally fascinating history. The machines are now quite old, and quite rare, so De Backer teamed up with a restorer, thereminist/keyboardist Rob Schwimmer, former Psychedelic Furs member Joe McGinty, and members of the band Zammuto to bring the tracks to life and play them live with a complexity never heard before. Staged in the Carolina Theater’s Fletcher Hall, the performance was limited to restricted seating to ensure the concert would be as intimate as possible within the lavish confines. In addition to the usual seating, about 30 people were invited to sit on stage surrounding the band as they performed under a dim chandelier. Passion for Perry’s brilliance and his whimsical music bubbled up from the musicians, especially De Backer, who provided running commentary between songs – both Perry’s best-known tracks and many obscure numbers.
Following the concert, he hosted a discussion about Perry and the Ondioline, and later in the festival, as part of the late-night programming, De Backer returned to Fletcher Hall for perhaps the most niche moment of the entire weekend’s events. He sat alone at the foot of the stage with his laptop and discussed an unusual and ultra-rare Perry project called Prélude au Sommeil. It’s an album designed to cure insomnia, developed over years and sold only through doctors. De Backer simply brought the house lights down had everyone close their eyes, and played the best-known restoration of the record. Many left, but the few that remained experienced Prélude au Sommeil as it had never been heard before, with new tones revealed via the theater’s exceptional sound system. Afterwards, De Backer returned to the foot of the stage for a one-on one with his test subjects.
This is what Moogfest is all about – absolutely unique experiences and nerdery of the highest order.