A weekend of art, technology, and music promised inclusion, creativity, and open discussion. May 19th through the 21st, Durham was lit up for Moogfest.
There was city-wide free programming like Inside the Music of Grimes (a tent housing an interactive mesh which altered the sounds of “REALiTi” when pressed) and family-friendly performances from Yo Gabba Gabba‘s DJ Lance Rock featuring artists who ranged from the co-founder of the New York Theremin Society Dorit Chrysler to bass funk master Bootsy Collins. Those with a coveted Moogfest wristband could attend festival-exclusive workshops, panels, and performances. The city was alive for the annual festival, enjoying its new home in Durham after years in Asheville.
As a reaction to the passing of House Bill 2, which required individuals in North Carolina to use bathrooms designated for their gender assigned at birth, Moogfest actively promoted inclusion. Locations where people could pick up their wristbands also sold #synthesizelove t-shirts, whose proceeds went to local non-profit organizations fighting HB2.
The festival also held a keynote address by Sirius XM founder Dr. Martine Rothblatt.
“We electronic musicians who ride the mind waves realize that gender is in the mind, and the first commandant to respect others as we respect ourselves means to respect others’ minds, others’ souls, others’ hearts and others’ rights to use the lavatory they feel is right,” said Rothblatt. “HB2, out with you.”
Moogfest locations such as 21c Museum Hotel had bathroom signs designed by Peregrine Honig, declaring “We don’t care” instead of designating a gender.
“We believe the future is Non-Binary,” read the artist’s statement displayed in the hotel. “(Q)uite frankly, we don’t care who uses our bathroom because ALL are welcome.”
“Can You Remember the Future?” Afrofuturism Panel
On Saturday, a panel moderated by Kimberly Drew consisting of Hieroglyphic Being (Jamal Moss), Christian Rich (Taiwo Hassan and Kehinde Hassan), Reggie Watts, and Janelle Monáe held an open discussion on the nature of Afrofuturism, especially at the intersection of art, music, and identity. The Armory was packed, with people lining the walls in lieu of chairs.
Moderator Drew brought attention to how the term Afrofuturism is used, by whom, and about whom.
“Who are we referring to with these labels?” asked Drew. “You have to have agency in this…who is the author here, whose voice is valued the most…I think the individuals matter the most.”
“Black people are magical beings,” said Monáe. “We have to use our creativity and our music to deal with our problems.”
“It takes a really magical person…to deal with the harsh reality.”
Hieroglyphic Being noted the necessity of bringing conversations like this one to youth who don’t have access to academic discussions about Afrofuturism. Through panels, group outreach, and festivals in different areas, these conversations should be extended so others can be “enlightened like we are being enlightened today.”
An audience member asked, how can music be used as a progressive tool?
“I think we’re going to have to be more active as listeners,” said Monáe. To make meaningful music more accessible, listeners have to search it out and share it.
Another audience member posed the question of how Afrofuturism relates not just to music and technology, but all cultural things. “I know all of you here are Afrofuturists,” he said, turning to the audience.
“You have to find a god in you in order to find your purpose. Everyone’s a genius…otherwise why would you be born?” said Hassan. “Everyone has a chance to speak, so do it.”
Arts and science are two things that help people discover their creative outlets, said Watts. The Internet is great for making connections and engaging in creativity, but “people are important…share in your ideas and share in your hopefulness.”
Technology for Art’s Sake
Throughout the weekend, visitors plugged into their inspirations and energy using technology new and old. The Moog Pop-Up Factory had plenty of synths, which Reggie Watts, among others, were more than happy to demonstrate.
Around the corner vendors were set up: there was a demonstration of Sensory Percussion electronic drums and a wall showcasing EO1 digital frames by Electric Objects, and every music-centric table was surrounded by folks making use of the available technology.
Free Programming on the Lawn
On a stage surrounded by water, DJ Lance Rock of Yo Gabba Gabba hosted a day-long, kid-friendly festival featuring prolific musicians. The last set of the day introduced Bootsy Collins and Mark Mothersbaugh to young audiences and their delighted families.
Before the sun turned into rain, Reggie Watts took the stage for over an hour of improvised music and monologue (and conversation, as the crowd was frequently posed with questions from the stage). “I have to say this is the first gig I’ve done with live foot soaking,” Watts noted.
If the audience weren’t completely willing participants in this weird experience of surrealist call and response, would it all fall apart? Or would Watts keep spinning around the stage, making gloriously weird sounds about the sun, the digestive system, and love? Certainly, a change in the weather didn’t seem to stop him, as the audience leaned in closer even as clouds passed overhead and people started dressing the stage’s speakers with rain-protective gear.
One Last Performance
Patient fans lined up early Saturday evening for the final performance of Gary Numan’s 3-night residency at Moogfest.
The smoke-machined intimacy of Carolina Theatre set the tone for the nights, as fans filed into the seats and patiently waited. After soundcheck had left the stage, the lights shot out, and with no other warning, the opening synth of “This Wreckage” blared through the theatre. Fans yelled.
The enclosed theatre felt far away from the business of the rest of the festival, but the energy in the room was probably the most Moog-like of all. The music was center-stage, and the close nature of the venue made the Numan’s performance feel timeless until the encore of “Cars” signaled evening’s end.
“I’m very grateful,” said Numan. “Thank you.”
Named after Dr. Robert Moog, Moogfest is a celebration of electronic music, but not just the tools: showcased are the minds awash in creativity that bring new ideas to the masses. A Moogfest ticket is an opportunity to take part in thoughtful, needed conversations on race, gender, and human rights through the lens of technology and music.
Moogfest is fostering new ideas not just in the arts, but what it means to be human.