Durham, N.C. — Identifying only five bands to see at Moogfest is a task I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
With a lineup that includes headliners ODESZA, Grimes, Miike Snow, a Gary Numan residency and Explosions in the Sky, you’ve quickly reached your quota of five must-see acts.
Simply put, don’t miss those shows; and while you’re at it, try to catch The Genius himself, GZA, and sunn O))) both at Motorco Park.
What I hope to help you with is navigating the undercard – the acts that don’t necessarily get top billing, but deserve your attention nonetheless.
Miike Snow | Thursday, May 19 | Motorco Park
You would be forgiven if you heard Miike Snow’s infectious “Genghis Khan,” which has peaked at number six on the Billboard Alternative chart, and said to yourself, “Dang, this guy can write a catchy tune.”
That “guy” is actually the trio of Christian Karlsson, Pontus Winnberg and Andrew Wyatt, who have been recording together as Miike Snow since 2007.
But you certainly wouldn’t be far off the mark in identifying the catchiness of the tune, as Karlsson and Winnberg have a finely honed pop sensibility with producing credits that include Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Madonna.
The band is riding high after the release of their aptly titled third studio album, “iii,” and its singles “The Heart of Me” and “Genghis Khan.” This show will be one of the hottest tickets, and will certainly pack Motorco’s parking lot -- an ad hoc venue for the purpose of Moogfest.
HEALTH | Friday, May 20 | Motorco Park
The first time I saw HEALTH, they opened for Nine Inch Nails in 2008 in Greensboro. I recall saying to myself then, “This has to be one of the loudest bands I’ve experienced live.”
And from a sheer noise perspective, they still are. Mogwai at Cat’s Cradle in 2009 has to take the credit when speaking of pure decibel level.
While yes, HEALTH is commonly lumped in with other noise rock bands, their sound is more ethereal and at times melodic than the genre’s label affords.
HEALTH builds heavy, atmospheric compositions layered with ghostly, reverberated vocals and concise beats that will leave your head spinning and body lingering in a haze.
Don’t expect all noise, though; remember, HEALTH is a band that thrives in the pockets outside its genre, and in fact 2015’s “Death Magic” harkens back to “With Teeth”-era NIN – perhaps the result of their extensive touring together.
YACHT | Saturday, May 21 | Motorco Music Hall
I promise I’m not trying to yell at you; these bands just have an affinity for capital letters.
Seriously, how is YACHT not a festival headliner?
Think Talking Heads meets Autechre and you might find YACHT somewhere in between. This LA-based duo has consistently turned out some of the best throwback electro pop since the early aughts.
The band has taken some heat from critics since the release of their latest LP, “I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler” for being such a departure from their previous five albums. But in YACHT’s case, change is good.
As much disco as it is new wave, “Cooler” finds the band embracing playful beats to craft one of the better dance-pop albums of 2015. In fact, their “single” of sorts, “I Wanna [Expletive] You Til I’m Dead,” is unapologetically sugar coated and will without a doubt push the walls of 500-plus capacity Motorco to their limits when it elicits an all-out dance party.
Made of Oak | Saturday, May 21 | Motorco Park
You could spend your entire Saturday on Rigsbee Avenue, bouncing between Motorco Music Hall and Motorco Park. Between, Son Lux, YACHT and Mykki Blanco inside, and Made of Oak, Gary Numan and sunn O))) outside, there’s not much reason to stray far from this corner of Durham.
The producer half of Sylvan Esso, Made of Oak is Nick Sanborn’s headier solo outing. Whereas Sylvan Esso excels at turning out polished pop numbers, Made of Oak is dark, fidgety and at times imperfect.
A press release from Sanborn’s record label notes that the project “came into focus in a time of claustrophobia.” Claustrophobic is probably one of the best words to describe his debut EP, “Penumbra.” Other words that come to mind: loneliness, frustration and chaos.
Still there is a sense of hope that comes through on “Penumbra.”
Rebirth quite literally breaks through the static on the penultimate track “Penultra (When I See You),” giving breath (again a literal representation here) to “Blue Zipper,” which sees Sanborn the playful producer we’ve come to expect.
Julianna Barwick | Saturday, May 21 | First Presbyterian Church
Remember when I said you wouldn’t have to leave Rigsbee Avenue? I fibbed a little.
Julianna Barwick at the 100-year-old First Presbyterian Church might be the most ideal booking of the festival – as if there was another option.
Given that she already credits her time in a church choir in rural Louisiana, Barwick will flourish in the confines of the gothic revival Presbyterian church.
Barwick is one of the rare solo performers who can captivate an audience as she stands alone on a stark stage with nothing more than her mic and loop station. As minimalistic as it sounds, Barwick builds lush arrangements of vocal layers, percussive loops and cyclical drones.
For her latest release, “Will,” Barwick recorded across several continents, which lends to the uncontained space of the LP. Yet while 2013’s “Nepenthe” explored the space of Space, taking a breath and holding it, “Will” is grounded and human.
That is to say, “Will” doesn’t divert from the uncomfortable aspects of humanity, specifically spirituality and a future unknown.