Moog Festival 2011: Brian Eno, Suicide live, Skinny Vegans, and Scary Soundmen by
Ross Johnson

Ross Johnson has been around the Memphis music scene for over 30 years. He has some opinions. Here they are. 

I recently played the Moog Festival in Asheville, North Carolina with Kip and Kelly Uhlhorn’s Memphis based Cloudland Canyon. Moog Fest is, of course, sponsored by Moog Music which is based in Asheville where company founder and Moog synthesizer/pioneer, Bob Moog, spent the last thirty years of his life.

If you don’t know the history of the company and the effect its product line has had on popular music during the last half century, well, then just do a bit of internet searching and the story will become quickly apparent. The role that synthesizers play in music today is mostly due to the product innovations of Bob Moog and the late Wendy Carlos, snythesizer music’s earliest commercial pioneer and first transsexual. It’s an interesting story all around.

As was my experience there performing with Cloudland Canyon and attending various festival functions like a lecture / overhead projector presentation given by Brian Eno (thank god, it was not a Power Point presentation but rather a humble, low tech hand scribbled presentation on blank sheets by the chrome domed one himself.)

A word about my personal prejudices / affections re: Eno. I love(d) his first four solo releases recorded after his departure from Roxy Music in 1973 until 1977. After that he went on to produce a varied, patchy line of mostly ambient recordings that may have given birth in some horrible way to the surfeit of New Age instrumental music released in the ’80s and ’90s. And most unforgivably, he went on to produce U2 in the mid 1980s.

Perhaps you are a fan of that Belfast combo. I can assure you that I am not. However, I was charmed and captivated by his talk at Moog Fest. He seemed humble, clear, relaxed, and deeply humorous explaining some of his favorite musical and cultural themes. I was disarmed and charmed by his talk. Not forgiving him for over three plus decades of questionable records and production work, mind you, but he seemed such a decent, funny man during his presentation. I was shocked.

My other revelation was seeing Suicide live, the NYC duo of singer Alan Vega and keyboardist Martin Rev, who attempted to perform their first 1977 LP released on Red Star Records, always a personal favorite of mine. Long known for their history of chaotic, confrontational live performances where they were often bottled for their aggressive, unmusical sound. Vega even claims that a tomahawk was thrown at him once during a performance in England. The duo is rather sensitized to violence during live shows, you might say.

I saw Rev and Vega in the parking lot at the Moog Music Factory the day before their live set and both were decked out in leather, but Vega was walking with the aid of a cane, not a shameful thing for a 73 year old. He ditched the cane and leathers during their show where he opted instead to lurch around the stage in a pair of what appeared to be a pair of Kmart running shoes and matching jogging pants.

He walked from one side of the stage to the other alternately mouthing “I love you” and “f – – k you” to the adoring crowd which was a funny touch. He had lyric sheets spread out on the empty drum riser behind him and constantly referred to them. Again, no shame for a man his age. Rev played almost entirely with fists and knuckles, expertly reproducing on a topline Moog synthesizer the ugly sounds he once achieved on a Vox Continental organ a lifetime ago. Vega appeared like a shambling golem and it was one of the most riveting live performances I have ever seen until some moron tossed a bottle close to Vega’s head and he unceremoniously exited the stage and ended their set. He’s dodged enough bottles and tomahawks in his time.

Finally, my performance with Cloudland Canyon at a club which shall remain nameless. I’m not exactly known as a snyth rocker, but Kip Uhlhorn patiently taught me the rudiments of a 707 Roland drum machine and even hooked up a couple of electronic Yamaha drum pads so I could bang along even though I was rather unclear as to where I was in most of the three pieces we performed.

The club offered drinks and food plus an assortment of healing crystals were for sale in the back of the club. There was also a person giving massages there as well for a price (no, not that kind, you dirty minded sort, more like rolfing in a cramped chair) and a young woman was painting abstract or perhaps landscape paintings near the men’s room. And I ran into the single craziest sound guy I have ever met and he did not seem to be ingesting any sort of stimulants (not that soundmen are known for ingesting such substances, but…)

I tried to have a conversation with him about some problems the band was having onstage and off, and his reply was that he was unable to listen to any sort of negativity from me at that moment in time. My lower jaw dropped open and we played our set to what might be described a desultory live sound mix. And I won’t even try to note the number of almost anorexic looking vegan guys I saw there on the streets of Asheville. The same goes for facial hair.

It was quite something, my trip to Moog Fest this year.

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