Asheville, October 29–31
by Matthew Slaybaugh

In Ashevlle, North Carolina, they have a motto, “If you’re too weird for Asheville, you’re too weird.” So maybe the clowns riding tall bikes didn’t have anything to do with the festival after all. The point is that it was indeed a suitably strange setting for the Halloween weekend geekery of Moogfest 2010. How much of a geek fest was it? Well, it was probably the only music festival this year where you could see see a guy dressed up as Drupal. (An open-source content management system—yeah, sometimes it was like that.) Don’t worry, though, there were also plenty of sexy Darth Vadars, slutty Ghostbusters, and frat-boy Muppets to really get the party started.

And it really did pretty much turn out to be about the party. Despite the fest’s lineage of Edgar Winter and Dream Theatre performances, nearly every act on the bill focused their efforts on shaking asses—and they were mostly successful. In the largest space, the Asheville Civic Center, artists as diverse as Big Boi, Two Fresh (a local act featuring a live drummer), Nosaj Thing, and Girl Talk turned in credible sets that had heads bobbing and inhibitions disappearing all over the place. Caribou (pictured above) really took me by surprise, combining old and new material to showcase their (well, Daniel Snaith’s) kaleidoscopic range, but always keeping things rousing and bright. Dan Deacon won hearts by repeatedly begging for the stage lights to be dimmed so the focus would be on the crowd, where he organized a giant dance contest fueled to bizarre proportions by his tetchy, juvenile brand of lo-fi dance jams.

One of the more difficult quandaries for performers in an electronic music festival is the problem of what to do with themselves onstage. How do you put on a much of a show when your art involves even less physical action than deejaying? RJD2 (pictured above), of course, just pushes his art to the logical extreme by doing more deejaying, bringing along four turntables and a big video screen. Girl Talk chose distraction, filling the stage with the most outrageously dressed and boldly misbehaving dancers at the show so you didn’t notice he was pretty much just running iTunes up there. Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation, two of the more internationally known acts, with bigger budgets for bigger stage shows, expanded their outfits to include large bands and multiple vocalists. Both acts (strangely performing right after one another on the same stage) kicked things off with a parade of beautiful singers of various vocal styles and ethnicities.

Over in the adjacent Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, despite the more austere setting, crowds were on their feet and bouncing around enough to threaten the structural integrity of the place. After Sleigh Bells’ and Neon Indian’s Sunday evening sets, the pit and the closest rows of the house were barricaded for the safety of the attendees. Good thing too, since the gloriously nerdy but middle-brow Hot Chip climaxed the venue’s weekend by filling it to capacity with slap-happy neo-ravers.

The hottest action of the weekend, though, was to found at the Orange Peel, four blocks south of the larger venues. I closed out my weekend there watching El-P (pictured above) pour his guts into a blistering set, joined by Dam-Funk as Bernie Worrell watched them tear shit up with a Moog Liberation (look it up). It was also there that we heard DJ Spooky mix Rakim and Star Wars using his own app on an iPad. (Geeked-out enough for you?) Rated in the top five rock clubs in the country by Rolling Stone, the Orange Peel is the kind of place that makes live music gourmands sick with envy. The club holds just more than 1000, but has a PA system designed for venues 10 times the capacity. Suffice to say, the sound is great, and was instrumental in making the one-two punch of Dam-Funk and Four Tet add up to the best place to be all weekend.

Yes, I know some folks were devoted to seeing a rare live set from Shprongle, and others were fools enough to spend three hours with the Disco Biscuits. (I walked in there for about 30 seconds, and that’s all the time I needed to realize that their music is a repulsive as their name.) But Dam-Funk is talented and way hungry. I’d bet maybe 50 people in the club had any idea what was about to happen; most were probably just killing time until Four Tet (pictured below) came on. But Dam-Funk (a.k.a. Damon G. Riddick) attacked the stage, going solo with a couple of turntables, a rack of keyboards, and the ultimate synth-nerd kill-shot, a vocoder played through a Moog keytar. (!!!) It was a sight to behold and heads were exploding all over the place. I bet he sold 800 albums that night.

After a brief hiatus, during which he set up most of his own equipment, pulling from a bag of specialized toys, Kieran Hebdan, (Four Tet) casually walked out and waved before diving into a 90-minute set that pushed the crowd over the edge more than a few times. Focusing frequently on some his more familiar Four Tet tracks, turning them inside-out with some of those toys, he worked patiently, dancing behind his table the whole time. It was a phenomenal set; just when you thought he couldn’t push the congregation any higher, he’d find a way to get the audience screaming and waving their arms even more. Simultaneously, though, the set was musically complex and made for great listening, as his creativity and ability were constantly on display.

In addition, there were exhibits and symposiums on Moogs and synths in general, surprise DJ sets, half of Devo jumping onstage with Octopus Project, Van Dyke Parks quoting Mark Twain and singing about Br'er Rabbit and FDR, Clare and the Reasons blowing the miserably boring MGMT out of the water, and the high-drama of Jonsi. Even without two of the headliners (Devo and Cee-Lo both canceled their shows) the weekend was packed with mind-expanding music and a pumping fistful of weird, unforgettable moments.