Mountain Oasis is no Moogfest. For better and worse, the new "electronic music summit" organized by AC Entertainment—the promoters behind Tennessee's Bonnaroo and a few other massive events—is not an extension of the similarly structured music conference and carnival that has occupied Halloween weekend in Asheville these past three years.
AC booked those first Moogfests following its expansion and relocation from New York to North Carolina, but the partnership didn't last. Following last year's diminished two-day outing, the world-renowned, Asheville-based synthesizer experts at Moog Music chose not to renew their agreement with AC. An overhauled Moogfest returns next spring.
AC's new event mimics the Friday-to-Sunday setup of Moogfest's first two years in Asheville and utilizes the same five venues that its predecessor did last year. There will still be panels, interactive activities and installations to complement the more than 50 performers, which include some impressive acquisitions: Nine Inch Nails, Bassnectar and Animal Collective are but a few. But Mountain Oasis lacks Moogfest's built-in thematic binding—namely an homage to the influence of synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog with a fleet of electronic luminaries and experimental rockers.
This new venture need not be judged by such lofty standards, but their use of this freedom is puzzling, even if it offers plenty of excitement. For starters, they've hitched themselves to a new leash: By calling Mountain Oasis an "Electronic Music Summit," they've created an expectation for thoughtful, genre-specific exploration. And this year's lineup does offer a lot of that. The brash, bass-blasting Bassnectar is a rock-solid EDM ambassador. Pretty Lights' funky dubstep distillations are immersive and fun, and the English duo Disclosure are among the hottest dance instigators in today's underground. The Bug's aggressive, culturally diverse dub is as thrilling as his U.S. appearances are rare, and The Orb are an ambient music hallmark.
However, issues arise when Mountain Oasis pushes past these parameters. Nine Inch Nails and Animal Collective's far-flung reconstructions of alternative rock and digitized clamor are an intriguing counterpoint to the festival's hardline electronic acts. But other performers simply don't fit. Neutral Milk Hotel is an indie institution, but they achieved their fame with barnstorming folk-rock operettas abetted with lightweight fuzz, cascading horns and an army of antiquated instruments. It's essential stuff, but it makes no sense at an "Electronic Music Summit." The post-rock greats in Godspeed You! Black Emperor might offset their foreboding squall with orchestral ornaments, and Daniel Johnston's clattering, acoustic-anchored tales of cosmic heartache are certainly charming. But neither dabble much in electronic styles.
"Mountain Oasis celebrates the creative spirit of musical exploration," the festival website offers, adding that the programming is "woven around the twin threads of contemporary electronic music and the creative use of technology—old and new." That reasoning will work for some. And others will be overcome by the summit's bounty of world-class talent. But many of those acts don't readily complement each other, which may leave some attendees disappointed.
Even so, there should be some consolation: autumn leaves in the mountains to accompany the drive home on