Moogfest uses music, art, and technology as instruments for change

By Julie Smitka

May 2, 2017

Moogfest’s mission statement is straightforward: to grow a global community of futurists who explore emerging sound technologies and design radical instruments for change. Considering the festival’s history, it’s clear that celebrating the creative innovation and impact of music and technology has always been at the center of Moogfest, even before it became the event we know today.

A little background: to mark the 50th anniversary of Bob Moog’s first homemade theremin, Moogfest was launched in 2004. What was initially a one-night event in NYC for musicians and friends became a semi-annual event for electronic musicians and fans celebrating Moog’s legacy. By 2010, Moogfest moved to Asheville, NC, home of Moog Music headquarters, and became a festival featuring artists who share a passion for analog synths.

Robert Arthur “Bob” Moog, founder of Moog Music via

In response to the growing popularity of EDM in America and the inevitable rise of other electronic music festivals in the genre’s wake, Moogfest decided to take their festival a step further to continue encouraging collaboration and creation. Four years later, a technology conference format was added to the festival as daytime programming. The conference connected musicians and engineers by demonstrating what can be created with the instruments, and what it takes to create the instruments themselves.

Last year, Moogfest relocated to the tech hub known as the Research Triangle in Durham, NC. Moogfest returns to Durham on May 18 to commence four days spanning the ever-changing interplay of technology and creativity in electronic music. For its dual components, Future Sound and Future Thought, this year’s festival includes performances by more than 80 musicians, and even more participants leading conversations, workshops, and interactive installations.

Motorco Moogfest 2016.

One of the 10 programming themes, which vary from “Sci-Fi Wishes and Utopian Dreams” to “Black Quantum Futurism” to “Techno-Shamanism” is concisely named “Protest.” Emmy Parker, Moogfest’s creative director, explained the importance of having a stage dedicated to this theme:

“Moogfest is a conversation about the future of music and technology, and we can’t explore the future without discussing the problems we face today…. By incorporating the concept of protest into the celebration of arts, technology, and future thought, we can go beyond the basic format of a music festival and encourage participants to envision and ultimately help design future communities that work better for everyone.”

The Protest Stage will include performances, conversations, participation-based tech experiments, and programming led by Omar Souleyman, Mykki Blanco, BEARCAT, Pie Face Girls, Talib Kweli, MIT Open Doc Lab, NEW INC, and Goldsmiths University of London app developers.

Moogfest 2016

According to Parker, new technology, art, and music stems from our struggles as humans; “protest, in the sense of a positive instrument for change, is one of the most vital functions that music, art, and technology can serve.”

The message of creating positive instruments for change is mirrored throughout the entire festival, with the intention of building “an experience that exposes both participants and attendees to new ideas, and empowers them to take those ideas back to their communities to create something new.”

Moogfest will undoubtedly continue to expand the ways it brings change for the future as close as it can to the present.

Here are a few events we suggest checking out:

Using Moog gear, Michael Stipe (R.E.M.) scored his first solo composition. The artist, singer/songwriter, and producer will present his score with the unveiling of his video compilation of artist Jeremy Ayers.

DJ and founder of Stones Throw Records Chris Manak also known as Peanut Butter Wolf.

California DJ and founder of Stones Throw Records Chris Manak will be performing as Peanut Butter Wolf Thursday night and Saturday afternoon. On Sunday, Manak will be joined by Greg Belson to discuss beat culture.

Brandon Stosuy, Editor-in-Chief at The Creative Independent, is reading Music Is…, a board book that introduces senses, styles, and moods of music to children.

Jess Dilday, known as DJ/producer PlayPlay and as UNC lecturer for “The Art and Culture of the DJ,” will lead DJ 101 for Women & Gender Non-Conformers. The workshop is designed to teach beatmatching, turntablism, and other basics of DJing, and to encourage those who are typically excluded from the male-dominated art.

Tlacael Esparza of Sunhouse is demonstrating the infinite variation in how acoustic drums respond to human touch. Live demonstrations and performances will show how Sensory Percussion electronic drum technology can provide intuitive control over instruments.

Who knows what Detroit post-industrial/noise band Wolf Eyes will discuss. Nate Young, John Olson, and James Baljo are sure to leave an impression on audiences at their Saturday conversation and evening performance.

Flying Lotus

If you haven’t already seen him, Flying Lotus returns to Moogfest again this year. You can catch his conversation Saturday evening before his performance later that night.

Check out the full 2017 schedule and learn more about Moogfest happening on May 18-21 in Durham, North Carolina.

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