Moogfest, Night Two: Yves Tumor, Caterina Barbieri, Katie Gately, Tess Roby
Downtown Durham
Friday, May 18, 2018

Unlike most other music festivals, Moogfest has an overarching message: “to grow a global community of futurists.” But what a “futurist’ is, or ought to be, or does, is unclear. The auras of the Moog synthesizer and other high-tech musical apparatuses hover over one’s imagining of the festival, as do talks entitled things like “Encoding Information in Waves and Patterns,” which evoke vague, appealing notions about the potential for new technologies to create novel and transcendent musical moments.

But Moogfest’s ideal offering of a unified theme of “future thought/future sound,” juxtaposed with the wide range of artists and installations present at the actual festival, can leave one feeling muddled. The stylistic discrepancies between acts and exhibitions—some of which seem to have their eyes directed more towards the past than the future—doesn’t make for a particularly cohesive experience. However, what Moogfest’s second day may have lacked in cohesion or unity, it made up for in eclecticism and exciting unexpectedness—it had the quality of an experiment with indiscernible results.

One daily feature of the festival is the Modular Marketplace, which offers attendees the chance to experiment with an array of shiny synths. Within the instrument-filled room on the American Tobacco Campus were also, curiously enough, a number of artworks by Ralph Steadman, the Welsh artist who drew visual accompaniments to writings by the notorious gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The adjacency of these disparate exhibitions—one beckoning on the future, the other a mediation upon the past—seemed to illustrate the general disjointedness of the festival.

As evening fell, Tess Roby, a Montreal-based purveyor of dream pop, made her U.S. debut at Motorco. What started out as a thin crowd quickly became a thick one, as Roby’s rich vocals wafted above simple arpeggios from a Roland Juno-106, filling the room with a moody ambiance. While eighties synthesizers and heavily-effected guitar tones are nothing new to indie kids in search of ethereality, the kind of dramatic, irony-free singing embodied by Roby is. At the beginning of her third song, with the crowd evidently engaged, the sound system suddenly cut out, hushing artist and audience alike. But when the issue was resolved, Roby resumed her set with grace, her voice dancing around the glistening background of her brother Eliot’s guitar playing.

The Pinhook was packed by 7:30 for Katie Gately, a music producer currently rooted in Los Angeles, California. Gately opened her set with pulsing electronic beats over which airily crooned, and eventually gave way to a strange, minor-key piano ballad, wrought with a shadowy, almost-mischievous air. Exhibiting her stylistic flexibility further, she wove into her performance a track of flowing electronic drones, out of which emerged another more upbeat melodic track.

Caterina Barbieri, an Italian composer of minimalist electronic music, followed Gately at The Pinhook and kept it full. She opened her performance with high-pitched, crystalline electronics, developing an abstract sense of urgency as the synth riffs became more sharply-articulated and rapid. Steady, danceable rhythms were succeeded by jittery sonic blips and the progressive inclusion of noisy, low-frequency samples—what sounded like amplified echoes from within a wind tunnel.

The devolution of Barbieri’s set into nosier and noisier terrain ought to have prepared me somewhat for my final excursion of the evening—seeing Yves Tumor at The Armory—but it did not. Yves Tumor—a producer from Knoxville, Tennessee who currently resides in Turin, Italy—is perhaps best known for his 2016 album, Serpent Music. The record is filled with funky, diverse samples of soul music, and is an almost undeniably “pleasant” album. I can’t help but feel that Tumor was full of glee last night, as he annihilated audience expectations by playing zero tracks from Serpent Music, opting instead for the harshest and loudest of sets I’ve seen at Moogfest thus far.

As indiscernible, flashing visuals were projected onstage and glitchy, body-shaking electronic clamor exploded from the speakers, the producer flung his body around the stage, screaming distorted, echo-inflected gibberish into the microphone. The set felt, at turns, apocalyptic, irritating, terrifying, invigorating, and awesome. My ears are still ringing.