Durham, N.C. — On Saturday, the theme at Moogfest might best be described as “quiet to loud,” with intimate and hushed daytime programming giving way to some of the most high-powered artists at the festival as night fell. Both extremes inspired awe and produced standout performances.
Durham’s First Presbyterian Church was only a festival venue for a few hours on Saturday, but the decision to place some of the festival’s quietest acts in the 100-year-old sanctuary created some of the best performances of the weekend.
Daniel Bachman used soft, droning acoustic guitars and resonators to fill the space, while Julianna Barwick looped her voice, building an angelic choir that reverberated off the vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows. Moses Sumney leaned toward gospel for his loop-assisted choir, and the end of his set may have received the largest cheer of the evening.
Finally, Julia Holter, coming off her mesmerizing full-band performance at Carolina Theatre on Thursday, ended the day at First Presbyterian with a solo set at the church piano. Gazing into a tall stained glass window, Holter proved she was no less commanding on her own.
It’s a shame we’ll likely have to wait until Moogfest 2017 to see similar programming in First Presbyterian again.
On the other end of the spectrum, the evening was all about maximum volume. One of the must-see stage performances of Moogfest 2016 was sunn O))), a drone metal band capable of getting louder than a 747 taking off.
Behind a wall of fog, two guitarists, two keyboard players and a singer wearing long beards and monk’s robes unleashed some of the loudest, most punishing music of the festival. The sheer heaviness of the bass made audience members’ teeth and eyes rattle.
But compared to Saturday’s concurrent programming at Carolina Theatre, sunn O))) was far from the most extreme music on display.
A slate of experimental electronic producers, including Ben Frost, Tim Hecker and Oneohtrix Point Never were equally loud, heavy and far noisier than the metal band down the street. They were also just as foggy: doors and windows at the Carolina Theatre had to be opened to clear the sheer amount of fog pumped into Fletcher Hall, making the building look haunted from the outside.
The near-structureless noise groups caused many attendees hoping to see the night’s final act, soundtrack rockers Explosions in the Sky, leave due to discomfort. By 1 a.m., when Explosions in the Sky began their set of loud, melodic post-rock, they seemed almost like easy listening after the aural assault of sunn O))), Frost, Hecker and Oneohtrix Point Never.
Grimes brought down the house during her Friday night Moogfest performance. For those wanting a further chance to interact with her music, the Grimes Realti installation at the Carolina Theatre provides an opportunity. Before one reaches the white tent on the grounds of the Carolina, you can hear the song Realti pulsing through its walls. This installation, a partnership with Microsoft, lets the audience become the creator. When you enter the tent, you’re spilled into complete darkness and it’s a bit disorienting while your eyes adjust, but then you see speakers against the walls covered by black gauze curtain. This is when the magic starts. Participants are invited to touch, scratch, press hard or soft, and, in general, interact with the gauze curtains. With each touch of the curtains the music changes. Press harder and the music may be louder, press longer and the bass may increase. The more participants interact with the panels, the more the music changes with each individual’s sound melting into the whole.
This tent installation is the mission of Moogfest in action - create, collaborate and welcome electronics as friend not foe. Reggie Watts, who performed Saturday and participated in a panel on the future of music, expressed the Moogfest mission best. “Don’t wait for things. If you want to make a video you’ve got a phone in your pocket, make a funny video and put it on the Internet. Just make something.”