Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit is the Asheville-based festival AC Entertainment launched after parting ways with Moog Music, who will continue Moogfest next spring. Aside from the new fest’s name being much more of a mouthful, there was not really an appreciable difference between it and the three Moogfests AC produced in 2010-12. While there was still an abundance of DJs and electronic dance music, and the marketing seemed to skew that way, the festival’s diversity was such that it was possible to fill all three of your days without hearing much in the way of those things.
Such was the case Friday, when I took in a string quartet backing a composer playing a guitar and ukulele (Jherek Bischoff), an old old-school indie rock band (Half Japanese), a cult songwriter with just an acoustic guitar (Daniel Johnston), an art-pop duo performing off-off-Broadway-style material (Sparks), and Neutral Milk Hotel. Even Deltron 3030, the only hip-hop act present over the weekend, brought a full band, choir, horns, string section, and turntablist Dan the Automator, keeping the electronic backing to a minimum. That’s a pretty fun evening, and I still missed things I would love loved to have seen, like Laurel Halo and Silver Apples.
It’s easy to be wary of the nostalgia and hype surrounding the return of Neutral Milk Hotel, but the fact is they put on a great show and were easily the highlight of the night. Countering their primary legacy as an emo-y folk act, it was great to see that they functioned as a raucous rock band as much as anything. Their excitement for playing again after a 15-year hiatus was evident, as was their gratitude for the crowd’s enthusiastic response.
Things got a bit moodier on Saturday, beginning with the electro-punk Bosnian Rainbows. Zola Jesus’ Nikola Danilova performed with a string quartet playing arrangements by Foetus’ Jim Thirwell, who conducted from behind a MacBook as he cued the beats. This seemed a completely natural setting for Danilova’s classically trained voice, and while the arrangements were occasionally repetitive, the set-up worked best during the more theatrical material. British drone ’n’ bass duo Raime executed a darkly atmospheric, bass-heavy set that rattled the seats in the small Diana Wortham Theatre, accompanied by eerie slow-motion films of a trench-coated man in various states of action. Though there had been some question about how it would go over, Godspeed You! Black Emperor in an arena absolutely worked, their music still maintaining a dramatic intensity that could make you forget you were in the middle of a few thousand people.
I peeked in on a couple of Gary Numan songs, and while Trent Reznor has been singing his praises of late, watching Numan perform makes clear his influence on Nine Inch Nails. Numan’s a pretty cocky frontman, strutting around stage like a middle-aged goth-pop Mick Jagger. As for Nine Inch Nails, I haven’t deliberately listened to any of their music since The Downward Spiral, but they loom so large I figured I should at least catch part of their set, and hung around for about half an hour. They have quite a light show, and that bassist is really good.
Sunday started out with the drowsy ambient soundscapes of William Basinski, then kicked into a much higher gear with South London soul singer Jessie Ware. Have you seen Fish Tank? From the balcony, Ware kind of looked like that film’s protagonist, and was similarly full of cheeky humor and attitude. She’s a fantastic singer, and, like with Danilova, it was a pleasure just to be in the same room with her voice. How to Dress Well has come a long way from his early hypnagogic sample- and vocal loop–based music, playing more or less straight blue-eyed soul backed by a cellist and keyboardist.
Darkside was the most buzzed-about newcomer, and the duo’s set stuck out as quite a bit different than everything else going on around them. They play EDM with guitar accompaniment that occasionally takes a bluesy turn, something like grafting Manuel Göttsching’s Ash Ra Tempel guitar solos onto his electronic music. Last year British house-pop duo Disclosure played the festival’s smallest club; this year they played the arena. Though their music hasn’t changed much, the change of venue made a huge difference to the atmosphere, and their stage presence was much more confident as they engaged with the crowd.
With the festival happening so close to Halloween, costumes were encouraged, and this year a costume contest was sponsored by Four Loko (presumably because few beverages are scarier than Four Loko). Also added to this seasonal ambience was the appearance of John Carpenter associate and horror/sci-fi soundtrack master Alan Howarth, performing excepts from his best-known works on the final evening. Accompanying the music were digitally tweaked scenes from such films as Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, The Thing, Assault on Precinct 13, and They Live. Howarth sat behind his keyboard for most of the set, but finished with a wailing guitar solo from that classic ode to urban dystopia Escape From New York while photos of him and Carpenter in the studio back in the ’70s appeared on the screen behind him. Following the scenes of terror and gore (and a bit of camp), it was an unexpected and surprisingly moving moment, and the final image I took from the festival.