Moogfest 2018, Day Three in downtown Durham - 5/19/2018
My second day of Moogfest (the actual third day of the festival) included more artists and much less rain, just how I like it. Also, I ate a giant burrito from a taco truck so it was a damn good day.
After I picked up my daily press passes at the American Tobacco Campus, I had enough time to pop into “The Cage” (aka the covered, outdoor basketball court) to catch some of the DJ action happening there. And I stopped for good reason – the legendary Pete Rock was spinning classic nineties jams. Did CL Smooth show up and they performed the all-time great “Mecca And The Soul Brother” album in its entirety, and everyone collectively lost their shit? No, it was just a DJ set, but it was still pretty cool and obviously he was playing nothing but that good good that was a huge part of my formative years. There were lots of folks there, from little kids to those even older than me, all having themselves a good time. The best part were the little kids in the back of The Cage dancing, not a care in the world. Also, can we talk about how Pete Rock is nearly 50 but looks 20 years younger? Dude must sleep in a hyperbaric chamber, making me feel all bad and gross about myself – it’s equal parts impressive and anger-inducing.
The first act I was scheduled to shoot this night was Psychic TV at the Carolina Theatre. I honestly knew more about the band historically and conceptually (godfathers of the industrial genre, early pioneers in the techno world, and of course the identity politics) than I actually knew their music, but given their “legend” status it would have been stupid to miss them. I have no idea about the membership of the group outside of Genesis P-Orridge, but on this night they were a five piece in matching white denim, and trippy, super-colorful collage backdrop visuals that were such a big part of the performance it was like a sixth band member. Perhaps my biggest shock of the entire festival was what I heard during their set – fairly straight-forward heavy rock music. I was expecting shit to be super weird! Instead, they kicked things off with a cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into The Fire,” and from there it was a series of noisy, dark dirges not that different from the Birthday Party or someone of that ilk. They really seem to enjoy stretching their songs out and letting them breathe in a krautrock-like fashion. I was honestly way into it – after taking photos up front for the first few songs, I went to the back of the theatre, sat down, and let the sounds wash over me. It might have been my favorite moment of this entire Moogfest.
Next up on my dance card was the highly-regarded Norwegian artist Jenny Hval, just across the street at the Armory. At this point I can’t claim a lot of new firsts when seeing live music, but this was definitely the first time I’ve ever seen a pregnant woman eat a banana in an inflatable clam as a part of a musical performance (this is obviously a very common sight in a non-musical setting). The pregnant woman was one of band members, and I’m honestly not sure if it was intended to be part of the performance, or she was just tired and hungry. Later on Hval would sing a song after sticking a half-inflated ball down her shirt and then performing (half-assed) synchronized stretching with the pregnant woman (this was post-banana, obviously). Basically, I didn’t understand a single goddamn thing that was happening onstage other than the music – and the music was pretty decent. It landed somewhere on the spectrum between ambient, atmospheric electronic music and straight-forward electro-pop. I’m not entirely sure I’d go our of my way to see it all again, but I was glad to experience it at least once.
Back across the road again at the Carolina Theatre (if you haven’t guessed, I spent all night just going back and forth between here and the Armory), I caught the last few minutes of J Rocc, best known for his work with the legendary turntable crew the Beat Junkies. If you’ve ever seen those YouTube videos of a one or a few dudes on multiple record players cutting, chopping and scratching their way through a shitload of records and in the process creating new music – well, this guy is one of the OGs of that sort of thing. As far as DJs go you’re not going to get much more entertaining than J Rocc, though as I’ve noted on past occasions when it comes to watching DJs perform live, there should be an overhead camera so you can really see what is going on.
Instead of ending his set, J Rocc just handed over the equipment to the DJ for KRS-One, and the party kept flowing. KRS-One was a large part of Boogie Down Productions, the group responsible for one of the top five greatest hip hop albums of all time, “Criminal Minded.” Getting to hear “South Bronx” and “The Bridge Is Over” live after three decades of listening to those songs was serious bucket list material. I would have preferred more songs and less freestyle from the man, but at this point I guess he has earned the right to do whatever the fuck he wants when on the mic. This show was real who's who: the legendary Freddy Fox was with him, Pete Rock was hanging out on the side stage, and even Michael Stipe was there (you might remember KRS-One appeared on the REM track “Radio Song” that got a little bit of airplay back in the day). He seemed super concerned with “real hip hop,” though I’m not sure anyone has ever settled on a real definition of what exactly that is. On the downside – so much feedback coming from the monitors; a distracting, annoying amount…but as bad as it was, it was the only technical issue I experience all weekend which feels like a small miracle given how many electronics have been involved with all of these acts.
My final show of Moogfest would be Mouse On Mars back at the Armory, performing with Spank Rock (the rapper) and Sonic Robots (robotically automated percussion that was scattered around the stage). Also, they did all of this in near darkness, with only a small amount of backlighting and some computer screens to guide the way. Photographically, it was a pretty frustrating note to go out on – I had my speed cranked up to 6400 and my aperture all the way to 1.4, and I still only got a handful of non-blurry, sorta lit photos out of about 100. Given the billing more Spank Rock would have been nice, as he was my main motivation for being there; he came out and rapped with his back to the crowd for one song, and did a little more work sitting in the back, but that was about it for the 45 or so minutes I was there. Despite all of that, it was still a decent showing – the live version of their music was much more dynamic and organic than I would have imagined, with real drums and guitar getting incorporated into the expected electronic sound. They’re not someone whose recorded output I’ve paid a ton of attention to, but this set piqued my interest in what their latest album for Thrill Jockey has to offer. Will have to put that one on the “to do” list…
For a festival that I had minimal interest in before it kicked off, I ended up having a damn good time for the bulk of it. It’s a reminder to myself to sample the unknown fare more often at these type of events - who knows what unknown or overlooked band might become a future favorite.