Although Asheville, NC certainly has a diverse music scene, the city sitting in the hills of Blue Ridge Mountains is probably more well known for its pickers and strummers than it is for its turntablists and synth wizards. That is, except for once a year, when Moogfest comes to town and celebrates the art of the electronic in honor of synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog, whose foundation and burial site are both located in the artsy mountain town.
Moogfest took a break this year in order to regroup, change promoters and pick itself up out of the brisk air of autumn and move itself to the promising days of spring (it will be held April 25-27 in 2014). Into its silent void flowed Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit
, a three-day electronicaganza (promoted by Bonaroo-bringers, AC Entertainment) that delivered a variety of both big-name acts and up-and-comers. The gigs were held in various venues throughout the city, which helped create different pools of mood you could dive into and out of throughout the weekend, from the stadium-like Exploreasheville.com Arena (formerly the Civic Center) and Thomas Wolfe Auditorium (both of which comprise the US Cellular Center—confused yet?) to the intimate and indie-feeling Asheville Music Hall.
Acts overlapped each night, so decisions had to be made, but for the most part, it was possible to groove to a broad mix of sounds from about six to past midnight each night. Here's my extensive recap of the entire experience over the three days.
For me, the festival got off to a bit of an unpleasant bass-blasting start. I began with a bit of Jacques Greene at the Orange Peel before getting pretty much "bassed out" of the venue. Greene is a 21-year-old house producer from Montreal who manned the decks on stage. His tracks definitely grooved, but the bass was so severely accentuated that it was hard to take in any of the other sounds he was unleashing. You definitely felt the music, but actually hearing it was another story.
So I chalked things up to the sound engineer possibly being more comfortable with larger spaces and trotted across town to largest venue in the mix, the ExploreAsheville.com Arena to catch Purity Ring. This Canadian duo has been turning heads since the July 24 release of their first album, Shrines, and features Corin Roddick on the decks and Megan James on vocals. Roddick's arrangements are deep and icy, full of cycled vocal samples and echoey deep-space synth. Above this, tethered by a thick cord of bass, James' sweeter-than-Bjork voice floated. Again, there were times when that low-end tether was a little too thick, smothering the lyrics and turning James' sweet and sometimes spooky voice into just another component in the wash of sound. But it's hard to tell if that was intentional or just another case of bad mixing. On Purity Ring's recorded work, the vocals are often smeared deeply into the music, so the lyrics don't always pop. What did pop on stage were the pod-like lanterns that the duo both played with drum sticks, getting a satisfying percussive boom from each.
Next up, in the same venue, was Deltron 3030. As opposed to the Purity Ring duo who looked a little dwarfed on the big stage, Deltron staffed the scene with a full string section, a horn section, guitars and four back-up singers lending support to the stars of the supergroup: Del the Funky Homo Homosapien and Dan the Automator (both of who've been part of Gorillaz), as well as DJ Kid Koala. The squadrons of sound they constructed moved the audience and my whole body: the guitar hooks worked my hips; Kid's scratches jiggled my head from side to side; the horns got my shoulders shrugging; and the drum beats took care of the rest. Del's lyrics tickled my brain too. I say tickled because — you guessed it — most of them were buried beneath not just the bass, but by the weight of all that sound. One of the clearest vocal moments came when Dan the Automator, dressed in tails and conducting the band with a baton, taught the audience the verse: "Deltron is our hero; if he can't do it nobody can." It was our part to play as they told their futuristic rock opera staring Deltron Zero. But I suppose at this point in the night words were becoming meaningless anyway, and you really didn't need any instructions to enjoy the Deltron ride.
I will say that the bass overload from the night did cause me to miss Bassnectar who manned the stage after Detron. The beams and batting in the ceiling out by the concession stands were already vibrating in an ugly way from the night's festivities; I didn't really want to stick around to see what might happen when the ace of bass let lose. From what I heard, the set was hot and the building held up.
Remix City sifts through mountains of remix trash so you don't have to, in an attempt to find those that contribute something original to their originals. Indie rockers Breton get a tranced out remix by Busy P and Trent Reznor's How To Destroy Angels gets a minimal track minimally reworked again by Dave Sitek. You can stream the entire new An Omen EP from HTDA as well.
French electrohouse producer (and manager of Daft Punk and Justice, amongst other things) Busy P builds on Breton's "Governing Correctly" with a bass-driven expansion upon the more straight-laced, vocal-driven rock band original. The track's trancey potentials are fully realized as the track goes in and out of extended breaks and electro builds, finally concluding with an ending two minutes that are rich, satisfying, and completely realized ideas.
Breton - "Governing Correctly" (Busy P Dub)Breton - "Governing Correctly" (Original) Breton - "Governing Correctly"by RTS
Drawing from antiquated influences and software, directors Dawid Krepski and Jason Chiu translate the hazy pop sounds of New York musician Beca into a narrative about the understanding and acceptance of the self, whatever that may look like. Below, both directors and Beca answer a brief Q&A about the creative process and underlying message of the "Fall Into Light".
"The title 'Fall Into Light' is a bit of a paradox since I associate light with upward movement, and the concept of falling makes me think of darkness. So it's this juxtaposition of light and dark which can be taken literally or figuratively, and I like that it's left open for interpretation. Maybe it means opening opening up yourself enough to see your true self." - Beca
It's nice when you're a small band being taken out by a large band and given the opportunity to use the large band's ace visual equipment (see: HEALTH talking about Trent Reznor). Well, same deal applies to Portlanders Morning Teleportation, who are now on tour with The Flaming Lips. Go...
As we find ourselves suddenly thrust into the midst of the information/overpopulation age, some unsettling realities about the nature or our species' brilliant endeavors become harder and harder to suppress from our collective psyche. We know that our government starts wars solely to funnel money into the military/prison industrial complex. We know that we've sold out our political voice to those of inanimate corporate deities. Our excess is gleaned from the blackened heart of human exploitation and spiritual vacancy. These things have become increasingly obvious, and yet, your average person is ultimately powerless to change them on a grand scale. The overwhelmingly tragicomic trajectory of our collective plotlines can possess anyone with the urge to detach themselves from what some people still call "reality".
Spring 2010 Interview
But it's not all unsettling. There's a transcendent beauty lurking in the depths of our current art explosion. With increased technological advances, more people than ever can exteriorize their internal realms of consciousness for less. It's this desire to distance oneself in an alternate universe of creative information, combined with disgust at America's obsession with "power of positive thinking" mind rape psychology, that inspired Liars' latest album, Sisterworld. Following a string of brilliant full-lengths, Sisterworld finds the band continuing to challenge themselves. Some artists find their sound and pummel a pattern ad infinitum, but it's always more exhilarating to watch artists take serious risks -– which is something Liars have never shied away from doing. Combine this with a fervent dedication to the visual side of the project (the full-length DVD companion to Drums Not Dead is a lo-fi video art masterpiece), and it's not surprising that art rock megaliths Radiohead hand-picked Liars to open for them on their last tour.
On the verge of their latest release, Aaron Hemphill and Angus Andrew were nice enough to answer a few questions via e-mail. (Editor's note: All formatting from their responses is original!).
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Liars "Scissor" from A Bruntel on Vimeo.
One of the underlying themes of Sisterworld is how people form their own worlds and social networks to deal with the continuing onslaught of our society brought forth by population expansion and new information technologies. Where'd the idea for this theme come from, and how do you guys personally build your own "sisterworlds," as it were?Angus Andrew: AARON AND I BEGAN TALKING ABOUT HOW WE OFTEN FEEL DISLOCATED FROM WHAT'S GOING ON AROUND US. SOME KIND OF LACK OF CONNECTION WITH THE MILIEU. WE SPOKE ABOUT THIS GENERALLY AS IT RELATES TO MUSIC AND CULTURE, AND THEN REFINED THE IDEA AS WE FOCUSED MORE ON LOS ANGELES. I THINK MUSIC IS OUR SISTERWORLD, BUT WE EACH HAVE LOTS OF WAYS OF CREATING THE SPACE WE NEED. FOR EXAMPLE WE'RE ALL PRETTY AVID GARDENERS.
Aaron Hemphill: IT WASN'T REALLY THE EVENT OF ARRIVING AT THIS IDEA, MORE THAT ANGUS' AND MY SUBJECT MATTER AND MUSICAL MOODS CONVERGED ON THE SUBJECT. THIS WAS THE COMMON SUBJECT... ONE THAT COULD UNITE A BROAD SPECTRUM OF SOUNDS AND STILL BE COHESIVE. THE MORE I LEARN ABOUT MYSELF, THE MORE DETAILED AND SPECIFIC THE WORLD I FEEL I FIT IN BECOMES... THIS ADDS A LOT OF FEAR AND PARANOIA AS TO WHETHER OR NOT A PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION WILL EVER BE FOUND.
I personally use information technology as a means to deluge myself with a constant stream of art, books, movies, music, blogs, graphic novels etc. in an attempt to exist in somewhat of a parallel dimension of my own design. On that note, what other bands would you recommend right now for someone looking for a good escape from the horrors of our times? What kind of other artists, regardless of medium, have you been geeking out on as of late?Andrew: I LIKE TO READ A LOT. FOR ME, A GOOD AUTHOR CAN TAKE YOU ELSEWHERE. LATELY I'VE BEEN REALLY INTERESTED IN FIRST-TIME NOVELISTS. TOM MCCARTHY, STEPHAN HALL, STEVE TOLTZ, JOSHUA FERRIS -- ALL HAVE WRITTEN INTERESTING NOVELS RECENTLY.
Hemphill: NDS: THE LEGENDARY PINK DOTS, SIGHTINGS, ONEIDA, PINK DOLLAZ, WU-TANG CLAN, KING TUBBY, CHOPIN, MORTON FELDMAN. ARTISTS: CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI. SADLY, ALEXANDER MCQUEEN'S DEATH HAS PROMPTED ME TO REACQUAINT MYSELF WITH HIS WORK.
Since your sound seems to vary so much from album to album but still retains a similar vibe, I was wondering how your songwriting process typically works. Does one person usually bring in most of the ideas or is it more collaborative? How does a typical Liars song come forth into the world? Do you conceptualize it beforehand or is it more of a spontaneous process?Andrew: WHEN WRITING FOR AN ALBUM, WE GENERALLY DISCUSS CERTAIN IDEAS OR MOODS WE'RE INTERESTED IN. THEN WE GO AWAY AND WORK INDIVIDUALLY ON CREATING SONGS THAT EXPRESS OUR OPINION OF THAT MOOD OR IDEA. ONCE A GOOD AMOUNT IS COLLECTED, OR ENOUGH TO MAKE US FEEL CONFIDENT THAT WE'RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK, WE'LL LISTEN AND TALK A BIT MORE ABOUT THE MATERIAL. IN THE FINAL STAGES, WE DECONSTRUCT THE SONGS AND RECONFIGURE THEM IN THE STUDIO.
Hemphill: TYPICALLY, ANGUS AND I PRODUCE FAIRLY COMPLETE DEMOS AND SHARE THEM WITH EACH OTHER. FOR THIS ALBUM, WE ALLOWED MORE TIME FOR EXPANSION AND REVISION DURING THE "SHARING" PHASE OF THE PROCESS.
The last time I talked with you was right before you went on tour with Radiohead. How was that experience as a whole? Are those guys really telepathic androids from the 5th dimension phase shifting through our time space in order to blow our minds, or are they fairly down-to-earth guys? If you had to pick one nugget of wisdom you took away from the whole experience, what would it be?Andrew: YEAH, THAT WAS A REALLY GREAT EXPERIENCE. AND THEY ARE EXTREMELY DOWN-TO-EARTH GUYS. I THINK ONE OF THE BEST THINGS TO WITNESS WAS HOW EACH OF THE MEMBERS IN THAT BAND CONTRIBUTED SO MUCH TO THE SOUND THEY CREATED ON STAGE. IT REALLY SEEMS LIKE EACH PERSON IS ABSOLUTELY INTEGRAL TO HOW THE BAND FUNCTIONS. THERE WEREN'T ANY TRICKS, EITHER; IT WAS ALL REAL.
Hemphill: GREAT. NO. THERE'S NEVER AN ACCEPTABLE AMOUNT OF PRESSURE.
You'd also mentioned before that you intentionally induce insomniac states as a means to bring about creative inspiration. Any such practices involved with the making of Sisterworld?Andrew: YEAH, REALLY, WHENEVER I HAVE THE CHANCE TO GET FOCUSED, I LOSE THE NEED FOR TIME. MY BODY CLOCK GOES OUT THE WINDOW, AND I LET THE WORK DICTATE REST. OFTEN I FIND MY IDEAS GET LOOSER AND MORE UNINHIBITED IN THE HOURS BEFORE COLLAPSE.
Hemphill: I HAD 2 SEPARATE INCIDENTS OF NERVE DAMAGE TO MY SKULL DURING THE WRITING AND RECORDING OF THIS ALBUM. WHAT THAT HAS CONTRIBUTED IS LEFT ANSWERED BY THE LISTENER, I SUPPOSE.
As someone who thinks in a more shamanic or magickal context, I think dreams are often direct communications with what some would refer to as a "holy guardian angel." With that in mind, what's the weirdest dream you've had in the last year or so, and what do you think it was trying to tell you if anything?Andrew: THE FIRST TRACK ON THE ALBUM WAS A DREAM. I DESCRIBE IT PRETTY LITERALLY IN THE SONG, BUT BASICALLY IT FELT LIKE SOMEONE CLOSE TO ME WAS DYING, AND I WAS INCAPABLE OF DOING ANYTHING TO HELP HIM OR HER. I WOKE WITH A HORRIBLE SENSE OF GUILT AND SOMEHOW FELT LIKE I WAS BEING REMINDED THAT I NEED TO BECOME MORE ENGAGED WITH MY SURROUNDINGS AND THE PEOPLE IN IT...
Hemphill: DREAMS FOR ME REMIND ME THERE'S A LARGE PORTION OF MY MIND I CANNOT CONTROL OR SUMMON. SCHIZOPHRENICS OFTEN RELATE THE LACK OF CONTROL IN A DREAM STATE WITH THE LACK OF CONTROL CONCERNING THEIR AUDITORY OR VISUAL HALLUCINATIONS. THAT BEING SAID, THE MOST HORRIFYING DREAMS I HAVE ARE FRIGHTENING DUE TO A LOOK OR DESIGN THAT IS COMPLETELY FOREIGN TO MY FAMILIAR TENDENCIES OR PRACTICES, YET OBVIOUSLY PRODUCED BY MY MIND. FOR EXAMPLE, I HAD A DREAM THAT TOOK PLACE IN A FUTURISTIC ENVIRONMENT WITH VISUAL ELEMENTS I WOULD NEVER CHOOSE, NOR IMAGES I WOULD INTENTIONALLY RECORD FOR MEMORY. THE FRIGHTENING THING IS THAT THERE IS A PORTION OF MY MIND THAT IS VERY ACTIVE, AND UNCONTROLLABLE.
With the release of their self-titled album in 2007, HEALTH, clad in tight jeans and neon t-shirts, solidified their place amongst hipsters and teens. But while the group quickly appealed to these demographics, they had alienated themselves from the mainstream, written off by many as musicians more concerned with style than music.
Two years later, their new album, Get Color, exemplifies their newfound maturity as songwriters and renders them whole conceptually. Whereas HEALTH went completely over the heads of mainstream audiences, Get Color is a bit more accessible to the layperson. Its tracks are more discernible as songs, and for the most part, they are no longer just noise, proving that HEALTH are more than a group with just a distinct fashion sense. While still experimental, the songs now harbor more melodies and qualities found in traditional songwriting.
"I think we just got better at writing our songs," says bassist John Famiglietti. "We don't want you to only like [our music] because you're supposed to like it or you like it because it's cool. I don't want you to scratch your fucking head. It should be immediate... I think [the new album] just makes our music more effective."
To drive this message home, the quartet recently come off a tour supporting Nine Inch Nails, and despite getting pretzels thrown at them in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and an equally terrible show in Jacksonville, Florida, Famiglietti has only great things to say about the experience.
"Trent is just about the coolest dude there is, especially for being someone who's like pretty openly worshiped by all people coming to the show," reveals Famiglietti. "After [our] first show, Trent was like, 'Hey, I don't even know what the hell's going on up there... why don't you guys use all the screens behind you?' We used literally several multi-million dollar LED screens which were like 20 feet high, and infrared cameras were put on all of us... our shows went way better after we had this gigantic light show."
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