Asheville, North Carolina, hosted the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit during the last weekend in October, occupying the same times and locations as Moogfest has the past three years. Staged by concert promoter AC Entertainment, each night of the three-day event attracted an estimated 8,000 electronic music fans from all over the world. More than 50 artists performed at five different venues scattered around downtown Asheville.
Some daytime activities stretched over all three days. In honor of groundbreaking synthesizer inventor Robert Moog, Dr. Bob’s Interactive Sonic Experience
featured a big Moog modular system built in 1967, Roger Powell’s custom Moog controller from his days with Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, and an ongoing demo of Percussa AudioCubes
. Smaller venues like the Emerald Lounge and LAB featured local music, and synth-related artwork was everywhere.
First Night Shivers
Friday night was unseasonably cold in Asheville, with overnight temperatures falling below freezing. It’s almost tradition that the temps drop just as the late-October festival begins and then warm up again when it’s over. But the cold didn’t slow down festival-goers who walked up to six-tenths of a mile between venues—possibly uphill both ways—to see their favorite acts.
One of Friday night’s standouts was Purity Ring, a guy-and-girl duo with captivating vocals and sparkling electronic arrangements. A small orchestra joined hip-hop supergroup Deltron 3030, fronted by Dan the Automator, Kid Koala, and Del tha Funky Homosapien. Sparks, a quirky rock outfit who’s been around since 1971, appeared as a duo, with Ron Mael’s solo keyboard accompanying his brother Russell’s animated vocal gymnastics. The Mael brothers gave their audience a musical tour of Sparks’ entire history with an emphasis on more recent material. Indie rockers Neutral Milk Hotel made a stop on their worldwide reunion tour, their first since 1999. EDM superstar Bassnectar was in top form as Lorin Ashton assaulted the gathered masses with ear-splitting bass and dazzled them with spectacular lights, and they loved it every minute. Saturday was also the best night for Halloween costumes you had to see to believe.
Saturday Night Fever
The activities started early on Saturday, beginning with a well-attended panel of inventors specializing in music technology. Paul Vo, developer of the Moog Guitar and the Vo-96 Acoustic Synthesizer, appeared alongside modular synth maker Tony Rolando of Make Noise, Pyradym inventor and former Bob Moog protégé August Worley, and first-call sound designer Richard Devine. A few blocks away, Asheville’s world-class studio Echo Mountain Recording played host to Waves, inviting the public to try their hands at mixing using a variety of Waves plug-ins.
Saturday was also the festival’s biggest night, starting out with King Britt’s edgy dance music and the passionate, soulful vocals of Zola Jesus, who appeared onstage with a string quartet conducted by producer JG Thirlwell. But the act that really brought down the house was electronic pop pioneer Gary Numan. Without exception, everyone who saw his show was blown away. Musically and performance-wise, it counts as one of the best rock shows I’ve seen, and his new material is easily his finest ever. No, I’m not biased just because he joined me onstage that afternoon before an audience of nearly 500, where we chatted for an hour about his career path, his family life, and his music.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor assembled even more string players onstage, where they shook the house with massive electric droning. At midnight came the band everyone was waiting for: Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails, who stimulated and satisfied the audience with more than an hour and a half of new and old material, while my friends and I watched from the backstage mezzanine with Gary Numan and his band. Like all NIN performances I’ve seen, it was killer.
Sunday, Sunday, Sunday
On Sunday afternoon, Richard Devine and NIN’s Alessandro Cortini and Justin McGrath joined a packed houseful of modular synth geeks at a synth meet and manufacturer demo. Later that night, German downtempo electronica master Ulrich Schnauss gave a high-decibel performance that was certain to win over new fans. Composer and sound designer Alan Howarth played an hour-long retrospective of his soundtracks from John Carpenter films such as Halloween and Escape from New York. Meanwhile, nearly half a mile away, Derek Vicent Smith’s Pretty Lights kept the energy high and the audience on their feet as the festival drew to a close.
All told, the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit must have been a great success, because the crowds never let up, everyone looked happy, and AC Entertainment is already planning next year’s festival. We really believe Asheville is well on its way to being the center of the electronic music universe.