With its focus on the coolest electronic music, the latest technology, and the biggest ideas, Moogfest’s challenge in Durham has always been accessibility. The availability of day passes has fluctuated—nonexistent some years, scantily promoted in others—keeping the financial barrier to entry high. And the free programming has generally been geared to people for whom building analog synthesizers and listening to arcane tech-futurist talks are parts of daily life. A dearth of both local faces and the kind of party music Durham loves sealed the reputation: Beyond its core audience, Moogfest was regarded as an elite festival at odds with the populist city from which it receives significant funds.

This year, though, the festival seems to be getting the hang of this Durham thing. Day passes for $99 and student passes for $149 have been on sale since Monday, opening the door to those who just want to see a certain act or simply don’t have $249 to spend for the full pass. And while the main stages are still stocked with names that ring out to electronic heads but are virtually unknown to the general public—see GAS, William Basinski, and Tim Hecker, whom we interviewed for our lead story—the enhanced free offerings this year include a lot more Actual Music, much of it made or spun by Actual Locals. 

In addition to free parties at Quarter Horse with Party Illegal, The Conjure, Mamis & the Papis, Raund Haus, and other local lights (see Eric Tullis’s story), there’s also a whole slate of free music on Saturday at the American Tobacco Campus, including footwork auteur RP Boo, local rapper Mez, and freaking Questlove, the festival’s best-known artist. Even the deep-tech freebies have a more accessible vibe than before, with the inclusion of N.C. State Libraries’ Saturday lab, where kids and adults can play with virtual reality and robots. Considering all this alongside our other Moogfest previews, including the politicized pop of U.S. Girls and the democratic demands of filmmaker Astra Taylor, you can see Moogfest finding ways to meet Durham where it lives without changing its esteemed, challenging bookings a jot.

bhowe@indyweek.com