Moogfest 2018: Five key performances

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  • Sweet tea and barbecue flavoured the 14th edition of Moogfest, as the music and technology event cemented its home in the progressive southern city of Durham. For four days and three nights, some 6,000 people—from young QTPOC ravers to white, middle-aged gear tinkerers—wandered all over downtown, bouncing between lectures and film screenings, sound yoga sessions and synth workshops, live concerts and DJ sets. After a nomadic journey that's seen Moogfest move from Bob Moog's hometown of New York City to his final resting place in the tiny town of Asheville, North Carolina, the 2018 edition returned for the third year running to Durham, a city trying to reinvent itself as a start-up hub of the South. "Welcome Moogfest" signs were a fixture in bar and restaurant windows. During one late dinner, I found myself waiting out the rain by chatting with the restaurateur about his working reel-to-reel, which pumped out soul and R&B. (It wasn't a special prop for Moogfest—he just liked vintage audio gear.) Despite a few technical hiccups and frustratingly persistent rainfall, the festival delivered a vast range of artists for whom Moog's synthesizers were a revelation. Here are five key performances from this year's edition.
    Suzanne Ciani + Layne The Italian composer Suzanne Ciani, who played the first-ever Moogfest in 2004, performed inside Durham Armory on Thursday night, presenting a surround-sound score for the German silent horror film The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari. In an all-female quintet, she patched eerie sounds across a Buchla synthesizer, accompanied by a cellist, a flautist and field recording experimentalist Layne. While the venue's concrete floor didn't make for a comfortable cinema—especially for reading subtitles—the performance enveloped the audience, thanks to the Spatial Sound setup. A simple cello stroke shook the whole room. The quintet used recurring sounds and sonic signifiers at key moments to build suspense and deliver a crescendo at the climax—it was a horror flick after all.
    Raund Haus Festivals can be a raw deal for local artists shunted to opening slots. Not so for Durham's Raund Haus crew and label, which curated the outdoor bar Parts & Labour across three days. When the weather improved, there was no better perch in the city than the bar's patio with a cold brew. Working the skittering ends of lo-fi hip-hop, local heads like OG Senpaiii, Trnadle and Oak City Slums proved that plenty is percolating in the Research Triangle. Raund Haus had what might have been Moogfest's most minimal hardware setup, with just a single Roland SP-404SX. The crew satisfied both the head nodders and the dance floor freaks as they cycled through recognizable snippets of rap, uplifting beats and plain old weird beeps and bloops.
    Waajeed Wearing his trademark hat, the Detroit native bounced and bobbed his way through an hour-long set at the Armory on Friday, setting the stage for a night of heavier sounds. Before things veered off towards crushing techno, he kept the crowd on its feet with more soulful selections. He was a subdued presence behind the decks, mostly keeping his head down, before finally emerging late on to engage the audience in a clap-along. In Moogfest's sea of abstract electronics, his house grooves felt refreshing. If you're at Movement this weekend, don't miss him.
    Shanti Celeste On Friday night, the Peach Discs head was billed for a headline slot at The Pinhook, a typical college dive bar with shot-and-a-beer specials and decades of grime from punk and hardcore shows caked into the floor. She smiled and grooved along for two hours, straddling the line between funky tunes and more techno bits. Fresh cuts like D. Tiffany's remix of Roza Terenzi's "Weakest Link" went off, while classics like Aux88's mix of A Number Of Names' "Sharevari" nodded to the synth-forward sound to which Moogfest pays homage. Every time I see Celeste at a festival, she's a breath of fresh air between punishing techno sets that leave me worn out. Friday was no different.
    Mouse On Mars + Sonic Robots + Spank Rock Here was an odd combo if ever I saw one. The pioneering German duo Mouse On Mars has a discography so deep and varied it defies easy categorization. Spank Rock, having capitalized on the party rap trend of the mid-'00s, was now lending his voice to more subdued electronic rhythms than Bmore club beats. Not that Mouse On Mars kept it very subdued during their Friday night "techno set," which blistered along with 160 BPM footwork and ghetto-tech cuts while Spank Rock contributed raunchy lyrics. Sonic Robots, meanwhile, is a new kid on the block. Classically trained roboticist Moritz Simon Geist makes tiny robots that produce the building blocks of rhythm-based music amplified through a mic. It's the physical manifestation of what a basic electronic music program can do, and is exactly the kind of cumbersome approach that Moogfest values. Though easily observed during his intimate solo performance, Saturday's late-night pairing with Mouse On Mars was hard to see from the audience. Nevertheless, the live performance of Mouse On Mars's new album, Dimensional People, was an aural sound bath. Photo credit / George Entenman - Lead Carlos Gonzalez - Suzanne Ciani Meg Cowan - Raund Haus, Wajeed Micah Stewart - Shanti Celeste Jake Thomas - Mouse On Mars