Moogfest 2017: Day One

Posted on 19 May 2017

Moogfest is back to transform downtown Durham into a synthhead's paradise. Mr. Feldblum aka Samuzi aka Bricktop aka rap game Gordon Hayward and I are back from our brief hiatus since Art of Cool Festival to recap day one of Moogfest.

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Q: Was it good for you?

Justin: What an introduction to MF17. Picking up right after the work day with S U R V I V E at The Armory was a calculated and rewarding choice to begin this year’s festival activities. The band often recognized as “those dudes who did the Stranger Things soundtrack” entranced the crowd with sounds you’d hear right before the extraterrestrial takeover (which is probably why they got the Stranger Things gig in the first place). My entire day 2 is centered around seeing them again for the live score of the aforementioned Stranger Things soundtrack.

Talib Kweli exceeded my expectations with his set at Motorco Park. I’ve always been more a fan of his Black Star brother-in-arms Mos Def/Yasiin Bey. He pulled out all the classics from Black Star, Reflection Eternal, a few of his guest spots on tracks like Get Em High, and a mini-karaoke set in the middle featuring an Eleanor Rigby hip-hop mashup banger. Sammy noted after the show that it was nice to see an older artist not mail it in for the check. Kweli’s seven-minute monolog about justice, peace, #FuckDonaldTrump, and the origins of hip-hop showed his passion for the game and it’s hard not to appreciate that. Oh, and Hannibal Burress opened for him. What?!

I only caught about 15 minutes of 808 State and honestly, that’s all one can handle without their face melting. The energy in the building is what I imagine overdosing on adrenaline feels like.

Closing out the night, we saw Peanut Butter Wolf. He opened with All Caps by Madvillain. Game over. Goodnight!

Sammy: Moogfest at its best, I think, is delving into innovative ways of using technology to showcase sounds that the audience hasn’t heard before. That happened a few times yesterday, to great effect. I went into Gotye’s performance with his Ondioline Orchestra ready for it to be corny as an Iowa state fair, but instead it was buoyant and bouncy and wildly fun (more on that soon). Omar Souleyman, once a wedding singer in Syria, had the most hype set of the night, dropping heat over traditional Middle Eastern sounds gone electro. Deantoni Parks, who mixed sampled beat chops with live drumming, left a lot of folks feeling similarly.

On a more straightforward tip, I’m with Justin on the Talib show, he really brought it. He preached non-supremacy and justice, he did his hits, he brought 9th Wonder on stage (we have a hip-hop titan in our midst, DURM). He told the crowd that “Paul McCartney has bars, and watch I’m about to prove it to you,” and then dropped Eleanor Rigby and kept ad-libbing “Bars.” Any chance to revisit Reflection Eternal and Black Star is a good time to me. And on a lyricism-affirming note, more than just a chance to say “see here, young bucks, this is what a real rapper sounds like, none of this mumble shit,” Talib’s skill on the mic meant that he could quickly and easily ad-lib couplets and transition between songs skillfully with rhyme, which enhances the show more than just bullshitting around. 

Peanut Butter Wolf also offered that opportunity to look back on some good good from over the years, but it felt more like a nice trip down memory lane without as much happening onstage.


Q: Favorite act from day 1?

Justin: Peanut Butter Wolf is an underappreciated legend in the hip-hop pantheon of producers. For an indie label, Stones Throw should not be overlooked as an important chapter in hip-hop’s history books, making a home for Madvillain, J Dilla, and more recently NxWorries, Mayer Hawthorne, and Aloe Blacc. As a die hard fan of the label’s catalogue, this moment was essential to my existence on this earth.

Honorable mention goes to 808 State for completely catching me off guard in the best way imaginable.

Sammy: Honestly, and I may never get to write for Runaway again after saying so, I think the Ondioline Orchestra was the most fire. I just have no idea how those contraptions work—playing them seemed so physical, like Gotye (billed as Wally De Backer, here) and his fellow ondioliner had to stretch and contort their bodies to twist knobs that modulated the sounds coming from the machine from buttery high swoons to low honks. The combination of that with a Theremin—a haunting synth played without contact, by hand positions—made the whole gig seem like total sorcery. 

Much of the music sounded like the soundtrack to a cheeky caper through some strange town filled with new wonders, and occasionally got more suspenseful and high-stakes than that. The instrument was clearly designed by someone who thought the earth was a helluva place. I left with a new respect for our guy Wally, even though my heckles for them to synth out “Somebody That I Used to Know” came to nothing. He did describe everything as “inimitable,” though.


Q: What stuck out from day 1?

Justin: We went down to Motorco for a bourbon tasting mid-afternoon. On the way back, I caught up with Trandle. Rarely can I walk somewhere in Durham and not see 10 people I know en route (this is not meant as a means of gloating, I’ve just been here too long...), and yet, Trandle knew literally everyone. It was tremendous. The dudes from S U R V I V E even knew my man by name. You are learning quickly, young padawan.

Sammy: The sheer level of litness that was Omar Souleyman. He had the most understated stage presence of any sub-octogenarian performer I’ve ever seen: rigid handclaps, back-and-forth hand motions that seemed to be making fun of the idea that anyone would take stage dancing seriously. But the performance was, um, inimitable: the crowd lost our collective shit, the energy never let down, and everyone danced to exhaustion. There’s some lesson there about transhumanism.

Shoutout to his DJ, who may have really been the star of the set. The backbeats sounded hella traditional and like something beamed down from space simultaneously, that’s a nifty trick to pull.

Another thing that stuck out: it was only Thursday, but the festival seemed a bit more subdued than last year. I’m not sure if there are fewer attendees or what, but it just seemed a little less chaotic and everything-happening-at-once. I’ll be curious to see what Friday feels like.


Q: What the hell is technoshamanism?

Justin: This.

Teach me how to raise chickens from the dead, Moogfest, or I’m out.

Sammy: Um, still working on it. The closest I’ve come so far is maybe watching Omar Souleyman, the soul-y man. Maybe life itself is actually all a trance and technoshamanism is what lets us out of that and into capital-R Reality? More to come, I hope.


Q: Is Generation Z full of shit?

Justin: I thought I wasn’t old enough to start feeling this way about the next generation, but life comes at you fast.

Sammy: All I’m saying is I don’t want a seventeen-year-old coming up with an algorithm that turns my news stories into one paragraph-long blurbs, and I don’t want an eleven-year-old telling me anything about investing her money responsibly. That’s not youthful inventiveness, that’s putting young faces on a corporate nightmare. Kill me.

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