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Moogfest 2017: A Continued Exploration of the Synthesis of Art, Music, Technology, and Innovative Thought

Photo: Facebook/Moogfest

When I came to this festival for the first time last year, I observed a few prominent idiosyncrasies about Moogfest and the experience that it provides its attendees – unique from any other festival I’ve attended. The explorative space is marked by such intentionality, as the festival seeks to synthesize music, technology and art in a truly innovative way, and the festival goers move in and out of each other’s spaces with notable grace and self awareness.  Unlike last year, when a handful of acts that I know well and love (e.g. Grimes and Explosions in the Sky) motivated my desire to attend, the 2017 musical lineup was much less familiar to me prior to pre-festival research. But Moogfest isn’t the kind of festival that attracts those who want to camp out by the main stage for five hours in order to see super famous mainstream headliners.

The musical headliners this year were Flying Lotus and Animal Collective, and I was able to arrive to both sets fifteen minutes before their scheduled times and still position myself within the first few rows of the audience. The crowd tends to be spatially aware and polite almost to a fault, allotting everyone lots of breathing room and dolling out apologies for any breach of personal-bubble space. I have been pushed and shoved and even yelled at by aggressive fans who prioritize seeking prime viewing spots over enacting human decency at other music festivals; at Moogfest, people will intentionally make way for an excited fan to gain access to a spot closer to the stage, given over with a smile and courteous nod. While I enjoy Animal Collective a great deal, my enthusiasm for their set was not comparable to that of some hyper-pumped fans around me who were all smiles and starry-eyes, and so I was content to hang back a bit for this set and slip out early to head over to Derrick May. On Saturday night, I was feeling a bit more invested in positioning myself close to the stage for Flying Lotus. He came on fifteen minutes late, but this waiting-period actually allowed a visceral sense of anticipation and excitement to rise among the crowd; when he took the stage, Flying Lotus was quick to apologize for the delay and then went right into his set, blasting full force until the stroke of midnight. His new material translated beautifully into the live set, as the visuals alternated between vivacious, almost seizure-inducing and much more tranquil and grounding.

The crowd over the weekend was noticeably smaller than last year’s and so the venues tended to have plenty of wiggle room for dancing and moving around. The Motorco Park stage is well laid out and entrance into this arena was so much more successfully managed this year than last (when lines were bottlenecking into the streets and non-ticket holders were able to crowd up against the gated area and cause further crowding issues). Almost every show that I attended was easy to get into, with the exception of Pharmakon at the mid-sized Motorco Music Hall – but even then, I only waited in line for about ten minutes. The Armory is a fantastic venue space for electronic/techno/house music; the building stays well ventilated and air-conditioned, and people are generous about sharing the dance floor space with one another. I saw a handful of great sets at the Armory: Derrick May, Simian Mobile Disco, Function, and Suzanne Ciani. May, SMD, and Function all inspired a grooving crowd of happy dancing bodies, while Ciani played to an at-capacity audience that seemed almost to be holding their collective breath for the entirety of her 50 minute set, as if breathing too loudly might cause one of us to miss an important nuance of the experience that she was doling out to her eager and focused crowd. The smallest venue, the Pinhook, was host to two particularly memorable shows: Elysia Crampton and Noveller, both acts who I did not know well going into the weekend. Crampton delivered one of those shows where I cannot pinpoint why I was so entranced, yet from the first song onward I was compelled to stay right there, standing still and watching her – until the last note had hit the air, and even then, I didn’t want to leave the space that she’d created for us there in Pinhook’s small sweaty atmosphere. Noveller’s set had a similar effect on me, the ethereal and expansive audio experience that she is able to create with nothing but her guitar and an exceptional talent for looping things together to create layers of beautiful sound.

As was the case last year too, the daytime workshop slots filled up with lightning speed; apparently some people had good luck with showing up to workshops early with the expectation that a cluster of those who had signed up would not attend, but it didn’t help that Thursday and Friday workshops occurred during hours that I was at work. I perused the featured art and technology installations, including the Lily Dale Virtual Reality exhibit that offers a brief (~8 minute-long) immersive experience of exploring the philosophies of those who reside in this small faith-based utopian community in Western New York. In Lily Dale, everyone believes that we never really die; the two short VR scenes that were selected for me transported me into a trippy space of bright shapes and light, paired with audio clips of musings from two residents of Lily Dale who explained what that sense of immorality means to them and their community. As I took off the VR headset and stepped back out into the sunlight of the afternoon, I knew that technically I had reentered our world where morality is the accepted norm, but at Moogfest there is a pervasive sense of elevated acceptance for questioning any and all accepted norms. Like when you are a child learning in a classroom and the teacher states, “there are no stupid questions;” that’s the kind of welcoming exploratory space that Moogfest provides and encourages.

Walking around Moogfest, you hear and see bizarre and exciting things on every corner, but these unusual sights and sounds are not exhibited in a flashy way. The festival, in its intention and manifestation, is relaying the message of, “this is the way of the future here, and so let’s learn and explore what all these innovations of sound and visual experience mean to us before such innovations are pervasive all around us, and thus inevitably lose some of that new-and-unexplored magic.” And what a special and enjoyable exploration it was.

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