Four Tet performing on Saturday of Moogfest 2012. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
There is something about the mid-festival stupor—a combination of confusion, glowing glee, and straight up exhaustion—that feels oddly comforting. That stupor combined with the comatose state brought on by a giant breakfast at Mayfel’s to form the perfect storm of laziness on Saturday. Mentally drained by Squarepusher’s erudite sonic and visual assault, emotionally drained by Explosions In The Sky’s uplifting glacial rock, and physically drained by Richie Hawtin’s techno juggernaut of a set, we were left in a heap in our hotel room to watch a Halloweentown marathon all day while waiting for the music to start that night. No complaints. The Cromwell family really had the magic touch—get it?—at curing that stupor and getting us in the Halloween spirit for our last night at Moogfest for the year. We stumbled out of our room to a suddenly—to us—chilly evening without ever knowing how Marnie fared at Witch University, but that’s for another day.
First up was Divine Fits, the supergroup project of Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs’ Dan Boeckner, and New Bomb Turks’ Sam Brown. It was a refreshing way to start the evening; in the midst of an electronic-tinged festival, Divine Fits put on a flat-out rock and roll show, dazzling the crowd without theatrics, simply playing their instruments at a high level and with infectious energy. The band worked their way through a fun set of songs from their debut record, entitled A Thing Called Divine Fits, Daniel taking the bass duties while Boeckner wielded his guitar with a swagger only really ever seen in the greats of the instrument. The two traded off vocals from song to song, sounding like a group who has been playing together for years instead of the relatively short lifespan they actually possess together. Songs like “My Love Is Real” and “Would That Not Be Nice,” though not dance songs at heart, had the crowd really moving, already coming out of their shells at the beginning of a long night of music. As if they hadn’t already won over the U.S. Cellular Center’s approval, Divine Fits busted into a high-energy cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lost,” taking the R&B funk of the original and coloring it with their particular brand of indie rock. It was a great twist in their set and yet another example of the diversity that continues to permeate through the Asheville air during Moogfest.
Divine Fits by Jeff Pearson.
We wandered back out into the night—rapidly cooling off, feeling more like the previous installments of Moogfest second-by-second—heading for the Diana Wortham Theatre for the first time during the weekend. Andy Stott was set to play and we displayed will-power unlike any other by ignoring the Marble Slab Creamery in the entrance—we had music to hear, after all. There was a brimming energy within the theatre as Stott took the stage; everyone was on the edge of their seats ready to let the British producer take them on a journey. Stott made the Diana Wortham Theatre feel like a cave, where disembodied voices were bouncing off the walls around us and deep bass throbs emanated from some far away passages—an unattainable rave whose pulse we were ever-searching. His set was cerebral and intense, somewhat creepy and pretty much the perfect display of ambient techno’s capabilities. Stott seemed to be in tune with something that the audience was only made aware of minutes later, a sound in his head that came to life in full force, affecting the mix and turning it in a completely different direction. His sparse visual accompaniment—just a man going to work on his equipment, dimly-lit and without frills, put the focus solely on his music. Stott haunted the theatre in true Halloween fashion, but something about the expertise with which he pulls sounds from a deep well into the mix tells me that he haunts theatres year-round.
Andy Stott by Jeff Pearson.
Back at the U.S. Cellular Center, the mood was decidedly different than the ethereal atmosphere Stott had cultivated at the Diana Wortham Theatre. It couldn’t have felt farther from what we just experienced as we walked into a packed arena, going completely nuts to Santigold performing “The Keepers” from her latest album, Master Of My Make-Believe. Santigold commanded possibly the largest, most energetic crowd of the entire festival, strutting around the stage and dancing in unison with her incredible pair of dancers. Santigold performs with an unbridled enthusiasm that is impossible to not get wrapped up in; there was never a moment on Saturday when she didn’t have a smile on her face, taking in the massive crowd seemingly in awe of the turnout for her performance. The entire performance was high-energy and relentless, and that energy reached a peak when Santigold brought out costumed members of the crowd to join her onstage for a celebratory version of “Creator.” In seemingly a whirlwind of costume changes and synchronized dancing, Santigold’s set was over in a flash as she performed her homage to her hometown of Brooklyn with “Shove It.” Though she admittedly doubted that there were probably few Brooklynites in attendance, the packed U.S. Cellular Center was all from Brooklyn if only for that song, a collective party in Santigold’s honor.
Santigold by Jeff Pearson.
That party atmosphere in the U.S. Cellular Center only escalated even further as British electronic legends Orbital took the stage. The duo came out in pitch darkness to their “Time Becomes” intro, the swollen crowd already erupting before Orbital had even dropped their first intense break or mammoth bass. Heavily reliant on material from Wonky, their latest behemoth in dance music, Orbital performed a nonstop set of incredible music, showing why they are considered to be among the all-time greats in the genre. Only Orbital, for example, can take eighties pop like Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” and turn it into a completely combustible piece of techno capable of having such a vast venue filled with people completely in hysterics. Hysterics was pretty much how the crowd stayed for the entire duration of Orbital’s set. It was as if Phil and Paul Hartnoll were putting on a clinic for all the young acts on the bill at Moogfest of how to work a crowd and put on a true spectacle in electronic music. Unlike a lot of producers, Orbital relied solely on the sounds they make to work the crowd into a frenzy, not buoyed by a large-scale visual production. From the start to the very last note of the Dr. Who-infused version of their break-out song, “Chime,” Orbital had every single person in the U.S. Cellular Center dancing with complete abandon, unable to even really fight off inhibition.
Orbital by Jeff Pearson.
Though Orbital have been doing what they do for over two decades, there are many acts on the bill who can command a crowd simply by producing awe-inspiring sounds onstage, and Four Tet carried that torch for Orbital in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. Kieran Hebden may not have the years under his belt that the Hartnolls have, but he is developing into a legend of electronic music in his own right, and his set on Saturday night proved just that. He was at Moogfest in its inaugural year, and packed out the Orange Peel so much that a venue upgrade was necessary to accommodate for his growing popularity. Without ever uttering a word, Four Tet curated a non-stop dance party in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, constantly teetering on the edge of dancefloor-ready forward motion and intricate texturing and layers. It speaks to the level with which Four Tet produces and performs his music that the depth and intrigue within his music all but matches its danceability. As he launched into the hit from There Is Love In You, “Love Cry,” the lights flashed on a giant disco ball above, spraying light all over the packed auditorium and sending the crowd into delirium. Minutes after Hebden exited the stage, simply with a giant smile and wave, members of the audience lingered in shock at what they had just witnessed. Moogfest is the perfect festival for an artist like Four Tet, where attendees are willing to give back everything they can to the artist on stage in total appreciation.
Four Tet by Jeff Pearson.
Back in the U.S. Cellular Center, the crowd was showing U.K. psytrance producer Shpongle their appreciation by filling the arena with flowing glow lights and outstretched arms reaching for the sky and the massive stage set called the Masquerade. In the back of the venue, a projector displayed swirling psychedelic visuals as Simon Posford navigated the pulsing Eastern rhythms of “Divine Moments Of Truth,” the stand-out track from his debut album Are You Shpongled? Though the hour was getting late, the energy level seemed to constantly increase until the apex of Shpongle’s set. It was obvious that everyone in attendance was feeling just like I was: tired, but unwilling to concede that the weekend was actually coming to a close. There’s always that healthy balance at the end of a festival like Moogfest of fond memories and dread blending in the most bittersweet of feelings. As we wandered back out onto Haywood Street for the final time of the weekend, there was one phrase overheard nearly everywhere we turned: “I can’t wait for next year.”
Shpongle by Jeff Pearson.