Kimbra performs at Moogfest.
Kimbra performs at Moogfest. Image by Chad Wadsworth, courtesy of Moogfest.

Durham is one of the fastest-growing metro areas in North Carolina and therefore the perfect place for a festival focused on new ideas and innovation. Moogfest was founded in 2004 and its official website describes the festival as “the synthesis of art, music and technology” in Durham, NC. While it features performances like traditional music festivals, it is focused on sound technology and futurism as well. Performers often give interviews and moderated conversations that attendees can listen to and learn from.

Martin Gore and the Moog Innovation Award

The Moog Innovation Award recognizes artists using technology in their music in new and creative ways. In the past, it has been awarded to Devo, Brian Eno, Suzanne Ciani, and Gary Numan. This year, it was given to Martin Gore, composer and songwriter for Depeche Mode. While the band is largely known for their work in the 1980s, Gore’s continuing innovation and the enduring power of his work contribute to his success.

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Martin Gore Accepts the Moog Innovation Award from Mute Records founder Daniel Miller at Moogfest 2019.

Gore was presented the award following his keynote with Daniel Miller, the founder of Mute Records (who released several of Depeche Mode’s albums). During his keynote address, Gore discussed finding inspiration in current events, as well as his creative process.

The History of Futurism

In embracing the future, Moogfest also takes time to look back at the past and acknowledging the trailblazers of earlier decades. Keyboardist and producer, respectively, of 1970s alternative rock band Blondie, Jimmy Destri and Craig Leon spoke about their experience with a band pushing innovation in music using synthesizers and manual sequencing to achieve a new sound.

“You can hear it today in [bands like] Arcade Fire,” said Leon, who also served as producer for legendary bands like The Ramones and Talking Heads. “Blondie was actually the most innovative band in the New York scene. It’s the link to the pop music we have now,” Leon explained, referencing Destri’s sound engineering for the band.

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The audience listens to Jimmy Destri and Craig Leon. Image by Chad Wadsworth, courtesy of Moogfest.

Film, Music and Art as Mediums for Social Change

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An image from Astra Taylor’s presentation on democracy and the college education system.

The festival does not focus solely on music futurism, however. It also deals with social change. Filmmaker, writer and musician Astra Taylor spoke on her 2018 documentary film “What is Democracy?” after a screening.

Taylor’s film provides a broad overview of democracy – from its roots in ancient Athens to its present state. Her conversation (moderated by Vivek Boray) focused on the ways art represents some people and leaves others out. She discussed her own experience with social activism, stating that “democracy requires flexibility” in dealing with scenarios of peace and war and knowing when to let the people lead and when executive decisions are necessary.

Taylor’s first book, Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone, will be released in May 2019.

In addition to concerts and conversations, Moogfest provided ticket-holders with technical workshops. Attendees could learn about topics like audio synthesis, federal funding for art, and sound design. Other speakers at Moogfest included Gerry Basserman, Kimbra, Tim Hecker, William Basinski and Kelly Moran.