Justice at the U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, NC, October 25, 2012. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
Though the calendar has naturally shifted Moogfest away from Halloween, which it happily fell on in its inaugural year in Asheville, North Carolina, it became immediately apparent that the festive spirit is alive and well in the third offering. Seemingly hundreds of pandas—or humans clad in panda wear, if you want to get technical—descended upon the U.S. Cellular Center on Thursday for the unofficial pre-party with Justice. The festival has been scaled back to two days, but in allowing Justice to throw a party for the attendees, the insatiable need for live music that most of the music devotees has been filled. There was a palpable energy in the arena before the show; everywhere you turned there were old friends reuniting, perhaps for the first time since last Moogfest, and the entire event felt more like a homecoming than a warmup. I am sure the French duo of electronic mad scientists felt right at home in the rolling Asheville hills on Thursday.
To start the night off, however, was something a bit more local than the Parisian sounds of Justice. Hailing from only a few hours away in Atlanta, Distal opened the crowd up to many of the styles that will be prevalent throughout the festival, immediately introducing himself and telling them what they were about to hear. Ranging from acid techno to hardcore, Distal pounded through hypnotic rhythms at an intense clip that had those in attendance happy they arrived early enough to see him perform. With a festival like Moogfest, it is all about exploration and opening yourself up to new sounds or musical avenues, and Distal’s constantly shifting set—like a revolving door of his deepest influences—highlighted the basic human need for discovering new things. It seemed that everywhere Distal turned, it was a new and exciting look at electronic music’s deepest roots, and the intensity with which he performed those styles seemed to paint them in an entirely new light. Though perhaps largely unfamiliar with Distal’s work, the Moogfest crowd was incredibly receptive to his sound, and by the end of his set, the swelling crowd was completely on board, dancing like it was the last set of the weekend instead of the first. It’s been said that there is hardly a more appreciative and knowledgeable fanbase than that of Moogfest’s; music lovers from all over the country gathered on Thursday to celebrate the beautiful weekend ahead of them in Asheville, and Distal provided the perfect soundtrack.
Aside from providing the crowd with a spectacular array of dance music, Distal also served to build the crowd’s energy up for Justice, though as soon as the black sheet dropped to reveal a giant LED cross, surrounded by twinkling lights and Marshall amplifier cabinets, the constantly filling U.S. Cellular Center worked itself into a frenzy all on its own. Justice is known for their spectacle of a live show, and from the very first note of the “Star Spangled Banner” intro and flash of light, they had the cavernous venue completely enthralled. The duo, made up of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, immediately launched into their sonic assault of the crowd, providing a massive version of “Genesis,” the opening track from their debut record, †. The energy never dissipated the entire night; Justice seamlessly weaved in and out of their tracks, combining elements of hard rock and stadium-filling bombast with their gritty electronics. The more straight-forward electronic tracks from † sat perfectly alongside the more rock-oriented Audio, Video, Disco to form a cohesive and wholly intense experience. Anytime the bright wall of lights behind them lit up, a sea of flailing arms was exposed, showing just how enraptured the crowd was with Justice’s music.
One of the most impressive things about their set was how they incorporated various remixes into their live production. On the stand-out cut from †, “D.A.N.C.E.,” they ran the gamut of intricacies, thrilling the crowd with everything from Jay-Z remixes to live synthesizers, all buoy with their ridiculously massive bass and propulsive energy. If there was a still body in the building, it was still no more from that point on. It was nearly impossible not to get completely caught up in the energy that not only the band was putting out for the crowd, but the energy that the crowd was giving back to Justice. Like a steamroller they plowed through “New Lands” and “Stress,” two of their most frenetic tracks to date, before closing the main set up with “We Are Your Friends” interpolations in both the grimy “Waters Of Nazareth” and all-out rock anthem of “Audio, Video, Disco.” The bulbs behind them were sporadically lit, giving the illusion of a starry night over the beautiful mountains painted in Asheville’s landscape.
The crowd was practically begging for more as the explosive single from Audio, Video, Disco, “On’n’On,” poured out of the massive sound system. It felt like everyone—Augé and de Rosnay included—could go all night if allowed, but unfortunately the festivities had to end. Luckily for those in attendance, this incredible party that Justice had just thrown was really just the beginning of a weekend filled with incredibly parties. As the French duo went into the final number of the evening, the dark throb of “Phantom, Part 2,” it felt more like the beginning of something than the end. Justice’s insane set on Thursday was the perfect precursor to the weekend ahead, showing that there are no stylistic limits to today’s music listener and Moogfest is the perfect place to find something for everyone.