Moogfest 2017: Full Weekend Review
Posted on 23 May 2017
In a blurry, MATI-fueled, post-Flying Lotus psychosis, Feldblum and I crawled to our computers to give you a last look at Moogfest 2017.
Q: How did Moogfest 2017 compare to its big bro last year?
Justin: The inaugural Moogfest last year changed the game for what is possible in downtown Durham but it didn’t leave me in awe the way the performances did this weekend.
I participated in more daytime programming this year which gave me a holistic appreciation for what the festival offers, but ultimately, the musical performances were just better and that sealed it. On many occasions (Flying Lotus in particular), I found myself saying “Wow. What the hell is happening right now?”
A pleasant surprise from the weekend was being able to worship at the altar of hip-hop legends DJ Premier, Peanut Butter Wolf, and Talib Kweli. To watch them perform at almost peak level after all these years gives me hope that the golden era will never die. For this to be a synth nerd’s paradise, a hip-hop head could sure geek out.
Sammy: I’ll be curious to see attendance numbers, but Moogfest 2017 had a calmer feel to me; whether that was better organization or fewer festival guests or both, I’m not sure. I did miss last year’s frenetic feel, but it was nice to be able to cruise around the festival seamlessly and feel like I knew my way around more or less. Maybe that was just from staying, uh, clearer-headed.
Design-wise, I’m wondering about how the decision to change up the format at the Rigsbee Ave venues affected the feel of the fest. Last year, the whole block was sectioned off into a public block party, which gave an even wilder carnival feel but bottlenecked the entrance to the mainstage as the festival had to try to check wristbands in a more cramped space. I dug, though, the way that open block party made Moogfest more accessible to non-wristbanders also hanging around; to be fair, I’m not sure that’s what Moogfest wants. This year, there was a half-block block party, but you needed a wristband to get in, and other folks had to try their luck at Surf Club (where you can prolly catch Runaway on any given night anyway).
In the same vein, last year it seemed like anyone who knew anyone who knew anyone involved in the arts in Durham could wiggle their way into a free ticket; this year, that gravy train stopped rolling. Again, probably better for the bottom line, but those were the days.
Music-wise, I had heard of fewer of the artists beforehand this year, but the programming turned out, from where I sit, to be on-point and cohesive. There was good dance-electro; the hip-hop program was a head’s dream; the downbeat and ambient were well-represented; and the ethereal and celestial had a robust run at First Presbyterian. I probably saw more shows this year, honestly, that left me picking up pieces of my mind than I did last year. But, as you mentioned, Justin, shoutout to last year’s Moogfest for reimagining what downtown Durm could hold.
(Also remember Grimes’s set last year? I still can’t really make sense of what that was, but it was wild. I wonder if anyone in Trump’s cabinet saw her screaming in Russian?)
Q: Takeaways from this year’s festival?
Justin: To your point, Sammy, I’m certain pieces of my cerebral are still drifting around Surf Club. This year taught me that it’s good to take chances on a few shows each festival. The possibility of surprise and astonishment outweighs the fear of disappointment. 808 State taught me that.
That goes for the programming as well. If you aren’t at the talks and workshops then you’re missing an essential component to the experience. I understand if it turns out to not be your steez, but you already bought the ticket. At that point, what do you have to lose besides wanting to throw your phone at the posh British wanker on screen during the “Generation Z” presentation?
Sammy: DJ Premier’s show was a revelation. I had never really seen an old-head hip-hop DJ figure out how to perform hits beyond just tossing them on and spinning a little bit. But Preemo—a top-five all-timer, don’t even try to tell me different—chopped songs into samples live on stage in real time, kept the crowd animated with more spinning than a politician, and then rained fire. That seems like the right formula.
I’m also decades late on this take, but this year I got to toy with more synths than last year, and between that and some of the stranger shows I saw, I came to appreciate how synth experimentation can really lead to new sonic landscapes and new mindscapes entirely. Note to self—get some cheap keys and get down to business. One side effect of Moogfest: more synths per beat-head around town during the rest of the year.
Another note on this year’s rendition: there’s definitely some discomfort with the opening of the Liberty apartments downtown and its marketing seemingly straight to the Moogfest demographic and what that symbolizes. Even so, after another Art of Cool and Moogfest, both of which were dope and which showcased distinct programming, I’m jazzed that Durm has the capacity to support two sizeable music festivals with far-reaching pull. There’s a ton of talented folks coming through the city every spring.
Q: Favorite show(s)?
Justin: This was a lot more difficult to nail down than last year. Talib Kweli exceeded my expectations on day one, 808 State ambushed me with the gnarliest performance of the weekend (shout out to Adam Graetz for the consistent visual masterpiece throughout), and DJ Premier scratched at all my heartstrings while he sonically poured one out for emcees lost like Big L, Guru, MCA, Biggie, and Phife Dawg. These performances could have easily served as my top three from 2016 (since Skepta never showed).
Stranger Things was always going to be in my top performances as soon as the lineup was announced and S U R V I V E reinforced their case as a two-for-one with the opening set on Thursday. As I mentioned before, The Armory was where a lot of the magic happened and no show exemplified the turnedupedness more than Simian Mobile Disco. Think Party Illegal to the nth degree with 3x as many willing bootyshakers. Yes lawd! By the time we got to FlyLo on Saturday, all my bodily fluids had been replaced with MATI, tequila and margarita mix. Without giving too much away for a later question, that’s as close to hypnotic as I’ve ever felt.
Survive/Stranger Things, Simian Mobile Disco, and Flying Lotus win out.
Sammy: Tough question, world, but a handful stuck out. From a dope-new-shit perspective, the Ondioline Orchestra, which I wrote about a couple days ago, put together sounds I’d never heard before to lend life a bouncy, joyous flavor, all using pneumatic tubes. No wonder it’s money as a bank. (Their last show, on the last night, was much less exciting: seemingly a pre-recorded song that had influenced Gotye, with nobody onstage even playing. I guess it was advertised as music to fall asleep to). Omar Souleyman, same deal, more turnt: his show was lit as a lamp, and the Syrian traditional-music-gone-club-kid-shit was unlike anything I’d ever heard.
Sudan Archives was just the opposite—eerily familiar but slightly strange sounds in soft, understated loops, in a vaulted church. The whole show felt good for the soul. And speaking of souls, on top of my above response, what stuck out to me about DJ Premier’s show—another A1 set—was how many of his friends have died. I guess you already mentioned, Justin, but damn. Poor guy, there’s not enough liquor to pour out for that illustrious bunch. He’s still truckin’ away though, power to him.
And Flying Lotus had some of the wildest visuals I’ve ever seen; it was more like a seizure-inducing film than a concert, as much for the eyes as the ears. Skulls, Jacob’s ladders of dodecahedrons, journeys through alien landscapes… I think I might’ve been speaking in tongues. To quote his light show (I think), “brain enhance program commence.”
Q: What’s got you feeling juiced about life?
Justin: The drudgery of academia on top of work life had me feeling pessimistic and creatively stifled the last few months (sorry, team). Moogfest was the rejuvenation I didn’t know I needed until I had my mind expanded every day and face felted every night, over and over again. If only James Harden could have felt this way before Game 6...
Sammy: Just always hype to find out there’s hidden sounds floating out there in the ether, whole styles of music drumming their fingers and waiting to be heard. Nothing like it to remind you to keep your head on a swivel. Plus the fest left me with a ton of digging to do through Gang Starr’s archives, and Jean-Jacques Perrey’s ondioline catalogue. And I’ll be missing festival season, but I’m looking forward to seeing where Raund Haus picks up after where these last few weekends left us off… the force is strong here.
Q: When did you hit maximum trance state?
Justin: I’m convinced that I fell asleep standing up, eyes wide open, during the entire Flying Lotus set and just dreamed the whole thing. There’s no way what I experienced was of this plane of existence. When the visualizer lit up with “You’re Dead,” there’s a chance he was right. That’s what I hope near death experiences feel like, for everyone’s sake. Especially Hannibal Buress who, according to a soon-to-be-mentioned heckler at his last minute show at Motorco, hates funerals due to his “fear of death.”
Sammy: FlyLo seconded. Although for me the 3D journey through a worm’s toothy throat really had me at peak wavy.
Alternatively, on the non-music side, the Church of Space’s seance they threw for about eight people in the Durham Arts Council included a sink-into-your-seat portion that’s a lot more eerie now after Get Out. Still, I sank. I think I’m back, but I guess I wouldn’t really know for sure. The freak-out day programming is really one of the rare treats of Moogfest; it’s harder to find occult performances in my day-to-day.
Q: Was there a better way to end Moogfest 2017 than a Hannibal Buress secret show + after party?
Justin: This is the type of spontaneity that propels a culture. Having already seen the same set a few months back, the improvisation made it a uniquely Durham moment. God bless whoever climbed up on their soapbox. The after party is named in your honor.
The whole weekend was this weird bizarro version of Durham where I’m at all my favorite spots but Hannibal Buress is also there. According to a paraphrased anecdote from a friend, Hannibal proclaimed, "Durham, you loose af! Imma tell all my friends it's the Durham-Raleigh Airport from now on. Y’all deserve that FIRST initial.”
Been saying it for years…
Get loose, Durham.
Sammy: Keep on working that misogyny out, Justin. Hannibal in a small venue like that is comedy gold; he was spontaneous, brooding, experimental, and a consummate pro. From when he clowned on his opening act through his clowning on rappers through his clowning on seeing eye dogs and AirBnb hosts, and especially his clowning on over-eager audience members, he had the crowd on a string. And that wasn’t even a Moogfest show! That’s some shit I could get down with every weekend. Durm is dank.