Moogfest: Helena Hauff, DJ Haram, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Emily Sprague
Downtown Durham
Thursday, May 17, 2018

Torrential downpours marked the first evening of Moogfest 2018, and everyone dealt with it in their own way. Many people probably tweaked their schedule and camped out at one or two close venues for the night. Others did the same as my friends and I, playing a goofy game of stop-and-go every thirty minutes. We hid under dry Main Street spots and sprinted in bursts when the rain would ease for a second, frequently switching sidewalks to dodge the wild amount of construction blocking the street. Exercise at a synth festival, what is this world coming to?

For as strange as this year’s lineup seemed overall, adventurous festivalgoers last night could see a fantastic run of international electronic music, full stop. Early in the night, Emily Sprague, of the NYC indie-pop project Florist, offered a spare, impressionistic ambient set in the First Presbyterian Church. Down the street at the Carolina Theatre, Los Angeles composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith brought pastoral ambience to kaleidoscopic, uncharted zones—it felt like an enthusiastic West Coast exploration of classic European psychedelia. Hypnotic videos of jellyfish, crystals, and other naturalistic ephemera were projected on a giant screen behind her as she performed, a truly immersive and larger-than-life experience.

DJ Haram of Discwoman played shortly after at The Pinhook, following a set by the producer Bonaventure. Both bring their own unique spin to established trends in club music. Bonaventure has released music on the avant dance label NON Worldwide and played a particularly noisy set that you could still dance to. I remember hearing “Pony” by Ginuwine at one point, caked in distortion. Haram is originally from New Jersey and reps the unabashedly over-the-top Jersey Club style in a lot of her material, which made her set a treat to take in.

Over at The Fruit, a instantly memorable 22,000-square-foot warehouse-style art space on South Dillard that “officially” opened late last year, Helena Hauff banged out one of the best dance sets I’ve seen in years. She’s a true world-class DJ, and her style of acid electro leans hard, like every beat is a punch in the face. It isn’t excruciatingly technical or cold to the listener though, far from it. Anyone not having fun in that room should probably seek out other pharmaceutical-sponsored music festivals. It started empty, and by the end was packed with wet dancing bodies keeping the spirit alive.