Don’t worry, Durham—thanks to the strong presence of local dance-and-party outfits such as The Floor, Party Illegal, Mamis & the Papis, The Conjure, and Raund Haus, this year’s Moogfest will feel more like home than before. But it took a lot of trying, shifting, collaborating, and discovering to give this festival the local juice it needs to call this city its own.
The knock on Moogfest in prior years was that it could come off as a minefield of obscure electronic subgenres and that it neglected local artists, with most of its populist dance vibes coming from decadent, unofficial warehouse raves at The Fruit—hundreds of Fitbit steps away from the festival and after its last synths sounded—courtesy of the local party people in The Floor. In the festival’s cerebral environment, even its attempts at booking actual dance music didn’t always quite work—I’ll never forget the sight of people standing still and watching techno legend Derrick May.
But this year, after management changes, and thanks to the diligent efforts of local electronic artists and deejays, Moogfest seems to be catching up with what Durham wants: It wants to dance, and it wants to see some people it knows. The natural solution? Tap the energy that’s already there, the format that’s already working, and hire local heads to do a mix of free and paid dance parties and performances. Two birds, one stone.
Things started trending this way last year, when Moogfest contracted The Floor to produce a party at The Fruit for three nights—sound, lighting, building a DJ booth, everything.
“It evolved from an informal relationship to a formalized relationship,” says Morgan Haynes, the founder and one of four “residents” of The Floor. Now, the house-music mainstays are Moogfest’s official anchor for the entire weekend, doing parties in three rooms of The Fruit instead of one.
But years before The Floor was formed, and even before Moogfest considered relocating from Asheville to Durham, the Bull City’s queer-friendly, monthly dance throwdown, Party Illegal, had been laying the sonic groundwork for the city to handle an electronic-music takeover. This year, when Moogfest finally gave Party Illegal an official night to help curate, the festival let the crew take the lead.
“It’s been pretty easy to work with them,” says Patrick Phelps-McKeown, who deejays and makes music as Treee City. “There hasn’t been much of them saying, ‘We have this fully fledged out piece of programming and we’ll just slot you in.’”
Alongside deejays Queen Plz, PlayPlay, and others, Treee City has been organizing and playing Party Illegal events for years, most often at The Pinhook. But for Moogfest, the crew moves a block over, to Main Street’s barcade bunker, Quarter Horse, where the festival will try to corral both the general public and ticketholders into Thursday’s free dance party, which also featuers The Conjure and Mamis & the Papis and starts at six in the evening.
“They way that we did the Quarter Horse thing was having ongoing conversations with people at Moogfest about how we could get locals involved, how we could create something that’s free and open to the public,” says Phelps-McKeown. “How can we open that door and get people in Durham who are doing cool shit, and who might not necessarily be into the world of festival-type electronic music and techno? I don’t want to lump parties like Mamis & the Papis or The Conjure into one monolithic thing, but to me, those are about community and people wanting to dance. It’s not so much about who has the latest twelve-inch from Berlin. I want to hear some cumbia. That is as much a part of dance music as anything else that’s going on.”
Moogfest might have started to realize the power of local dance culture last year, when Durham-based collective Raund Haus managed to squeeze more than twenty-five beat crazies on Motorco’s stage for its first official billing at the festival. Raund Haus also appears this year, with the visual-synth whizzes of Erogenous Tones, at Quarter Horse on Saturday.
Last year, the influential electronic-music website Resident Advisor embedded in Moogfest and wound up putting Raund Haus in its “Five Key Performances” post-festival coverage, alongside national and international acts such as Wajeed, Mouse on Mars, and Suzanne Ciani, writing that the beat crew “satisfied both the head nodders and the dance floor freaks as they cycled through recognizable snippets of rap, uplifting beats, and plain old weird beeps and bloops.”
Raund Haus founder Nick Wallhausser was elated at the write-up, but he still doesn’t think that that somehow earns his crew automatic booking on any festival lineup.
“There’s no ‘deserve,’ and I don’t think that any of these big festivals have to have locals,” he says, recalling Raleigh’s Dreamville Festival, which, while showcasing two Triangle locals, Rapsody and Mez, didn’t rely on them for area acceptance. (Mez also appears in Moogfest’s free programming at the American Tobacco Campus on Saturday.)
“It’s just cool when it can happen,” Wallhausser continues. “In the Triangle, we’re real lucky that there are high-caliber deejays and artists.” With the relationship between those artists and Moogfest looking more solid than ever, everyone trusts it will grow.
“Moogfest has included local acts every year, but it’s been an incremental progress,” says Phelps-McKeown. “I think that Moogfest dials in different [local] parts better for every different iteration of the festival.”
Correction: This article originally misspelled the surname of Morgan Haynes.