What defines electronic music? This question has become quite controversial as a lot of music is now genreless and constantly expanding with the advent of progressive technologies. It’s such an exciting time to be alive as a musician or a music-lover! And of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but personally I consider electronica to be any music that utilizes synthesizers, production softwares like Ableton or Fruity Loops, and/or a computer or circuit-bending device to produce new sounds, sample, and remix existing music. Years ago Robert Moog, synth inventor and electronic music innovator, described his opinion on the topic, “At the beginning, I think everybody outside of the electronic music field thought that synthesizers were supposed to imitate traditional instruments. The people inside electronic music wanted to use the synthesizer to make completely new sounds” (Quote used as a sample in Lack of Afro’s “Mongrel Strut”). Today, the two have merged giving rise to all types of unique sounds and styles of creating music. In the spirit of Robert Moog, I’ve sat down with two different styles of producers who will be performing at MoogFest to discuss their involvement with the festival and to get a feel for their style and background as it relates to electronic music.
I got the opportunity to speak with Cliff Worsham of RBTS Win, which is also comprised of Javier Bolea and guitarist Josh Chassner. Their sound could be described as chill-hop, dark wave, and sample-triggered psych pop. The various musical and environmental backgrounds of each member has shaped their eclectic sound. Cliff is into all kinds of hip-hop and intellectual songs, Javier is into electro-pop, dance, and caribbean/latino vibes, and Josh comes from Thrasher, rock, and metal. They use all sorts of instrumentation including but not limited to analog synthesizers, drum machines, vocals, guitars, a $4 keyboard they found at a thrift store, old thrifted tapes, and sampled natural sounds. Located in the mountains of Western North Carolina, they are constantly inspired by nature and have incorporated these sounds into their new album, The Sensitivity Kit. Through their music they are simply trying to convey love. As Cliff explains, “We’re hoping to spread positivity, empathy, and the idea that humanity needs each other, and that materials are not important. What is important is our connection to each other. Through our new album, The Sensitivity Kit, we’re preaching that we all need to unite to show corporations that we have each other and we will overcome them. We need to see each other as equals before we destroy this planet”.
RBTS Win has played Moog in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Cliff described his experience to me, “It has always been like going to DisneyLand for us. We take it in all day long and it’s amazing to see artists that you may not have seen otherwise. We enjoy going to the seminars to learn about instrumentation that we use and hear about how these guy started it in their garage. MoogFest has always been a wealth of entertainment, knowledge, and just a good time! In a question about how Cliff got into electronic music he recalls, “When I was a teenager I was the punk kid who went to drum n’ bass shows and it’s turned into my love of electronic music and a love for freedom of expression”.
I also interviewed Demo Taped, Atlanta-native Adam Alexander, a young and upcoming producer who describes his sound as “It’s electronic, but don’t think techno. Because whenever you say electronic, a lot of people who are not musically versed, would say oh club stuff? Oh trap? No it’s not that, but I would say electronic infused with r&b and soul”. Inspired by Flying Lotus, Jai Paul, Thundercat, David Bowie, and Nina Simone, Demo Taped is trying to create something out of nothing that will bring happiness to his listeners. Adam’s father played bass and exposed him at a young age to Jimi Hendrix, Funkadelic, Marcus Miller, Jaco Pastorius and other great artists in the realm of funk, blues, r&b, and jazz. Throughout middle and high school, he let music influence not only his music taste but his lifestyle as well, “I would watch interviews with Hendrix and then wear a bandana around my forehead. But I also wanted to emulate the way Hendrix was compassionate, calm, and free”. This will be Demo Taped’s first time performing at MoogFest and he mentioned, “Some of the people on the lineup I’ve looked up to and (they) have been so influential and just to be able to play the same festival as them is incredible”. Adam produces his music utilizing Ableton on his computer and first makes the drum pattern, then the melody, adds synth chords, and then later goes in and lays down harmony, and spends some time coming up with lyrics and making the whole song seamless. Furthermore as apart of his creative songwriting process, he records ambient sounds like cars during rush hour outside his home, records beats he makes with various surfaces for percussion, and creates what he calls “disposable songs” with the intention of chopping it up and sampling from it. In response to making music he expresses, “It’s not work, it’s amazing to do different things with sounds and find new techniques of creating them”. Through his music, Demo Taped wants to shed light on depression, mental health issues, and the stigma that prevents people from seeking the help they need. However, during his performances, Demo Taped is focused on getting the crowd to dance with him and bring happiness to his listeners.
Furthermore, MoogFest has announced further programming of masterclasses, workshops, talks and screenings throughout the weekend. The highlights can be seen below. For more information on the festival itself please read my previous article here and check out the official MoogFest website for tickets here.
The event is in Durham, North Carolina spanning May 19-22. Some recent programming highlights include:
- Musical experimentalist Laurie Anderson will be interviewed by Jana Hunter of Lower Dens.
- GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan will GZA will discuss “Time Traveling with Hip Hop” in a conversation moderated by Duke University Professor of Black Popular Culture, Mark Anthony Neal.
- Master classes will be led by legendary producer and musician Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel), ambient house pioneers The Orb, and Composer and producer Ben Frost with drone trailblazer Tim Hecker. The Orb will also host the U.S. premiere of their film, Lunar Orbit.
- Reggie Watts, Tyondai Braxton, Mykki Blanco will discuss Afrofuturism, which combines elements of science fiction, astral jazz, historical fiction, psychedelic hip hop, fantasy, and magic realism in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas but also to re-examine the historical events of the past.
- Claire Evans of YACHT will present “The Future is Unmanned,” a condensed feminist history of the Internet, tracing the role of women from the human computers of the 19th century to the cyberfeminists who made videogames, hypertext novels, virtual reality projects, and non-narrative art pieces on websites and CD-ROMs before disappearing along with the bursting of the dot-com bubble.
- Pioneering synthesist Suzanne Ciani will perform in a four-hour-long experimental session with immersive visuals as part of the Durational series.
- Odesza will take apart one of the their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how it was made in a live recording of Song Exploder, the hit podcast hosted by Hirishikesh Hirway.