Moogfest 2016: Thinking About Free Art in the Present and the Future | Music
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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Moogfest 2016: Thinking About Free Art in the Present and the Future

Posted by on Wed, May 25, 2016 at 9:05 AM

click to enlarge Festivalgoers take a break outside the Carolina Theatre at Moogfest Saturday night. - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner
  • Festivalgoers take a break outside the Carolina Theatre at Moogfest Saturday night.
Moogfest 2016
Downtown Durham
Saturday, May 21, 2016


You may not have have realized it, but there were three distinct music-and-culture festivals—Moogfest, Bimbé Cultural Arts Festival, and the Durham Blues and Brews Festival—happening simultaneously in Durham on Saturday. Somehow, the city made room for all of them.

On Saturday afternoon after having attended a South Carolina wedding on Moogfest's second day, I zoomed up Interstate 85 in hopes of making it to American Tobacco Campus with time to catch legendary funkster Bootsy Collins jam with DJ Lance Rock and the Yo Gabba Gabba! crew. But after I got off of my Duke St. exit and neared the forty-seventh annual Bimbé Festival in the parking lot of Durham County Stadium, a boulder of guilt hit me. Was I sacrificing the opportunity to attend one of Durham’s longstanding celebrations of black culture in the name of catching some Moogfest vibes in the heart of the city where Bimbé used to thrive? Was I being a willing enabler of the Great Durham Whitewash or “Moogrification,” as Charles Aaron put it? Of course. 

But no matter how much I would have loved to catch Bimbé headliners 112 and Bobby Valentino coast through throwback bedroom jams, my fascination sided with Moogfest’s grand Future Sound/Future Thought agenda—and its different side of Durham. 

When I arrived at American Tobacco, I was immediately tasked with the question, “What do salty tangerines sound like?” from the beat-boxer, poet, storyteller, and emcee who presided over DJ Lance Rock’s five-hour slot in front of revolving hordes of parents and children, waiting their turn to shake hands with the tangerine-suited Yo Gabba Gabba! character. As to the question of the sound of tangerines, I was harkened back to Thursday’s “Exploring Patterns in Nature” workshop, in which artist Joe Patitucci connected electrodes to a plant and led a circle of about thirty festivalgoers in a “plant music meditation” exercise. The plant sang to us, and we were asked to tap into the the deep idea of our bodies being individual expressions of the earth. 

Soon on Saturday, I had to play one of the biggest probability game’s in my decade-plus history of attending music festivals. Was I to stick around The Armory and wait for the “Mystery Reveal” from Janelle Monáe and her Wondaland Arts Society comrades? An actual “reveal"—in the form of an album announcement, surprise performance, or a Wondaland space ship—never came, but what was revealed was that not everyone on the accompanying “Can You Remember The Future” panel about Afrofuturism agreed that the term embodied their creative visions. Some had neither heard of nor pondered the term until that day. “We’re just a tribe of very brave motherfuckers,” said Deep Cotton's Nate “Rocket” Wonder.

Of course, Monáe, in all of her androidian soul perfection, is as ideal as anyone to sit on a panel about Afrofuturism, but Moogfest’s mistake may have been in thinking that the concept acts monolithically inside of black creative culture. Another one of its oversights may have been getting the veritable godfather of Afrofuturistic funk, Bootsy Collins (who was only a few blocks away), to speak.

click to enlarge Moogfest attendees at "Motorco Park" - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner
  • Moogfest attendees at "Motorco Park"
But to its great credit, there was little else that Moogfest did wrong over the course of four days. For all of the vilifying thrown around about its transmogrification of downtown Durham into a swarming colony of bearded synth bros and electropoppers, it endowed the city with more vitality than I’ve ever witnessed in my fifteen years of being a Durham resident.

Yes, the cataclysmic drone metal from Sunn O)))’s Saturday night outdoor set at Motorco Park must have been heard in Chapel Hill, but in the hours before they took stage, big beats from the Geer Street corridor, Runaway Clothing’s outdoor Local Motive party at Ninth Street Bakery, and the reggae Soundsystem showcase at Bull McCabe’s mingled in the downtown air, forming a sonic halo over a city that—up until Art of Cool Fest, and now Moogfest—has largely missed this cultural chic.

So, what a time to be alive in Durham, when it’s, at least for a long weekend, normal for a UK club legend like DJ Harvey to play a three-hour set in The Armory, jumping in and out of jackin’ house, disco, and garage with determination, risk, and flavor. At The Pinhook, another UK dance staple, Karen Gwyer, showed off her wide range of deep grooves as fireworks from the nearby Durham Bulls Athletic Park lit the sky.

Earlier, the young Atlanta-based vocalist and producer, Demo Taped, smiled and sang his way into everyone’s hearts inside of Motorco Music Hall. It’s a little distracting to watch an artist program his music as he sings it, but Demo Tapes toys with his controls with such child-like wonder and sings with such conviction that you forget you’re watching him engineer.

A different kind of child-like wonder set in for me during Quintron & Miss Pussycat’s set at The Pinhook. I was utterly amazed at the sight and sound of Quintron’s “Drum Buddy” synthesizer and the way he stirs up zydeco, funk, and rock on his Hammond organ while working a hi-hat pedal with ease. But before he and his longtime partner got into any of the music, the two played puppeteers behind one of Miss Pussycat’s custom  puppet stages, acting out a story of a woman who has found it so difficult to find an affordable and desirable place to live in her new city that she decides to build her own castle made out of marshmallows and magic footballs.

The play’s theme resonated with what is happening in cities like Durham, where folks are being priced out of certain residential areas and developments. Maybe Miss Pussycat did her research before arriving. Moogfest certainly did, which is how they turned out the kind of festival bold enough to already announce its return to a city that had understandable trepidation.

Its organizers could probably care less if some of us will be living in marshmallow houses by the time next year rolls around. What matters is that they rebuilt their electronic “free art” festival, and the people came. The rest is the future.  

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