A Moogfest 2017 Playlist, to Change Your Perspective on Music
Later this week, I’ll be teaming up with Washington D.C.’s resident synth-head Alex Tebeleff to invade Moogfest 2017 in Durham, North Carolina, where we expect to cover everything from “Music & Tech: Tools to Fight Mass Incarceration” to Animal Collective. And while Alex is ecstatic for the modular genius of Suzanne Ciani, I personally can’t wait for Pharmakon to blow my ears out.
If those names mean nothing to you, however, you are not alone. While Moogfest’s 2017 line-up includes some of the most forward-thinking artistry and avant performances in the music landscape today, it’s hardly in the mainstream consciousness.
So, to help you follow along at home, I’ve gone ahead and curated a playlist exploring the various levels of musical approachability (or unapproachability) that one can expect to absorb during the four days of Moogfest 2017.
Strap in, turn up and wait for your understanding of music to change:
Level One: General Interest
While the vast majority of Moogfest artists are relatively obscure and genre-specific, the festival also showcases a handful of well-known musicians.
If Flying Lotus’ new material has slipped under your radar, I can assure you that it’s just as good as the old collaborations with Adult Swim that you’ve probably watched on repeat in someone’s dorm room at 1am. Also, I’ll go on record to say that his live performance inside a cube of projections is one of the most clever and iconic set-ups in electronic music.
Animal Collective’s “My Girls” may have defined your festival experience back in 2010, but these guys are still cranking out relentlessly energetic electronic compositions. The cult of Animal Collective ensures that every live experience is a dance party on par with Avicii. And as far as live electronic performance meeting musical complexity, Animal Collective is unmatched.
While Gotye is best known as the artist who released “that track you couldn’t escape in 2011,” Moogfest has given him a platform to move past that mega-hit. Gotye will be performing a tribute to Jean-Jacques Perrey, a French experimental artist who was best known for his work with the Ondioline, an electronic keyboard that was the precursor to the synthesizer. It’s an indicator that the artist behind this “Somebody That I Used To Know” is more complex than the Billboard charts will have us believe.
S U R V I V E may not have the name recognition of big electronic acts, but the group is responsible for some of this year’s most recognizable music; the Stranger Things score. Their music has brought the fusion of modern electronics and the 80s synth renaissance to mainstream ears via Netflix. It’s a media match made in heaven. And yes, they will be performing the score live at Moogfest.
Level Two: Infectious Sounds
Beyond Flying Lotus, Moogfest features a ton of artists who make compelling and fun music on the border of the mainstream and who might not otherwise reach your ears.
On the surface, Simian Mobile Disco has similarities to big atmospheric acts like Flume. The big difference between a mainstream electronic act and these guys, is the adrenaline the audience can take from knowing their set is on the fly and reliant on improv and jamming. Being able to see their impressive set-up, while hearing the natural, un-programmed escalation of their set is a transformative experience.
KING is the reinvigorating fusion of raw soul and R&B talent with old school synth dreaminess. KING’s live performance is an important reminder of the quality of voice and harmony while providing a hazy, sultry serenity. Also, if I had the guts to be presumptuous, I’d tell you that these ladies will be selling out Adele-sized stages one day. Because they probably will.
If you enjoy the vocal sampling dance music of artists like Disclosure or Odesza, I recommend you try out Suzi Analogue. As a producer, she creates some of the smartest, slickest fusions of vocal sampling and beats. Her music moves between danceable club and stimulating, tongue-in-cheek electronic experiments.
Noveller is “it’s Explosions in the Sky packed into one tall woman and a guitar.” As Noveller’s primary instrument is a guitar, she is able to start somewhere familiar and comfortable and use the power of pedals to create unexpectedly vast and awesome sounds. Noveller is a good gateway to ambient music; which Moogfest displays in no short supply.
Lastly, sell Jessy Lanza and a fusion of Grimes with deep house. She is young and energetic and performs with a manageable, visually intuitive set-up.
Level Three: Cutting Edge Hip-Hop
In addition to the heady and often introspective electronic acts, Moogfest’s showcases some of the most cutting-edge, emerging hip hop.
Mykki Blanco is an undeniably radical, 6ft 2, gender-queer, rapper/performance artist with no shortage of guts and confidence. But if he had his way, his infectious energy, revealing humor and banging music would stand on its own. Mykki’s flamboyance brings a fresh, realized voice and unique poppy-ness to the genre and yet, much of his music manages to stay relatable, (“High School”). This is both a contrast to his visual style, but also the perfect gateway to force the audience to turn and face the strange.
Princess Nokia is a brash and unforgiving feminist-nerd icon. You won’t need to listen to her music in advance to get immediately hooked by her pop-culture friendly raps and on-stage magnetism (read: Bronx attitude). But I highly suggest listening to “Kitana” and “Tomboy” anyway.
Level Four: Alternative Dancing Opportunities
If you’ve ever found your music-fueled liberation through EDM and dubstep but now consider yourself an adult with taste, Moogfest’s line-up will introduce you to a few respectful artists who definitely qualify as Electronic, and Music. The Dancing, while not forced, is the result of human compulsion, not a laser-loaded, drug-fueled bass in a warehouse surrounded by hula hoopers.
Artists like Container qualify as techno, but Container digs below the surface of pure ecstasy and brings up something darker. His trance-like beats are paired with industrial fuzz to provide the listener/dancer with something more primal than what you can find at the club.
Similarly, is 808 State who have been pioneering techno and house music for longer than I’ve been alive. Listen to 808 State now, and it should be obvious how their 80/90s sound is influencing electronic artists today (not that any of that matters when retro, high energy beats take over the crowd). If you are a nerd for the history of electronic music, then 808 State will prove the thinking-man’s rave. If you’re not that big a nerd, 808 State will provide a rave nonetheless.
For a similarly contagious, dance-friendly music, but with a slightly more modern sound, I’ll point you back to the analog bounce of Simian Mobile Disco.
Level Five: Activism
Moogfest prides itself on putting activism front and center. Assuming you are engaging on some level with this year’s political clusterfuck or are even casually horrified by the policies of the Trump administration, Moogfest’s focus on activism will stimulate your new found desire to tear down the system.
The artists below not only live at the intersection of race and immigration issues, but make music that is fiercely political at all times; in both liberal and conservative climates; not when it is convenient, or in vogue, but when their survival calls for it.
Talib Kweli, veteran hip-hop artist, and Mos Def/Yasiin Bey collaborator is currently one of the most unrelenting voices in support of art, activism and racial justice. He is not shy to speak about racial issues, black oppression, and whitewashing in music. As such, he is currently a dart board for the alt-right, twitter trolls and Breitbart. If you are white, he will probably make you uncomfortable. And that’s the whole point.
— Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) May 9, 2017
Omar Souleyman’s music seems to be an outlier in the American music scene, even more so on the festival circuit. His music is a mix of Syrian and Egyptian folk styles, infused with techno. More importantly, Souleyman’s latest album is his most personal letter to his Syrian home. It is an honest appeal for benevolent immigration and refugee policies while inundating the audience with the transcendent joy of Syrian music culture.
Like Talib Kweli, Moor Mother is an unrelenting voice for racially charged art. But unlike Kweli’s frequent collaboration with artists like Kanye, Moor Mother’s work is firmly in the world of experimental and aggressive noise. “Protest Music” is too simple a term to describe works like “Creation Myth“. This poet, activist, afro-futurist, trailblazer is a captivating, however aggressive purveyor of personal truth.
Level Six: Transcendent Dissonance
If there is a chance that the extroverted musical highs I’ve already mentioned can give way to darker, more introverted musical highs, then I am obligated to suggest some of the most sonically challenging acts at Moogfest. Their combination of progressive, unfamiliar sounds and performance talent will make it evident that some “electronic” artists are as gifted as they are alienating.
In an ideal world, I would recommend seeing these acts live with no preconceived ideas or prior knowledge -but that’s not the world we live in.
Stayed tuned for four days of mind-expanding coverage, as well as a deluge of post-festival analysis and examination.
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