Moogfest settles into Durham with Michael Stipe, Chelsea Manning, and some cool vibes

Moogfest, scheduled for May 17-20 in downtown Durham, began in Asheville in 2004 as a celebration of Bob Moog, the synthesizer pioneer who brought his operation to that city in the late 1970s. The festival relocated from Asheville to Durham in 2016.
Moogfest, scheduled for May 17-20 in downtown Durham, began in Asheville in 2004 as a celebration of Bob Moog, the synthesizer pioneer who brought his operation to that city in the late 1970s. The festival relocated from Asheville to Durham in 2016. News & Observer file

Influential synthesizer innovator and inventor Bob Moog lived in Asheville, not far from the university, until his 2005 death. Five years later, the festival bearing his name relocated from New York to Moog's mountain city. Then, in 2016, Moogfest moved again — this time to Durham.

This weekend sees the fest's third time in the Bull City.

Though based in music, Moogfest's programming draws from myriad disciplines — dance, visual art, film — and includes workshops and TED Talk-style conversations and speeches as well as concerts enabled by state-of-the-art sound systems.

Many events bear a progressive or sociopolitical theme, such as the keynote speech by soldier-turned-activist-turned-U.S. Senate candidate Chelsea Manning.

But the fest's marketing of its social consciousness has already cost it one performer. In December, Brooklyn-based musician Caroline Polachek objected (and then pulled out of the lineup) after Moogfest published a list of exclusively female, transgender and gender nonbinary performers. "Gender is not a genre," she tweeted. "I don't need a sympathy pedestal."

Aside from Manning, this year's luminaries include R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, who returns with his "Thibault Dance" multimedia installation. This will be Stipe's second consecutive year at Moogfest, following last year's debut of "Jeremy Dance."

IBM Creative Director Jennifer Sukis and IBM Watson Lead Maya Weinstein also are on the schedule. Of note, composer Suzanne Ciani will perform a live score to the classic 1920 horror film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."

Here are a few Moogfest highlights, including several that are free and open to the public.

See Michael Stipe

The longtime R.E.M. frontman and multimedia artist will appear Saturday at 5 p.m. for an interview/conversation with arts journalist Andy Battaglia of ARTnews. Stipe's forthcoming book, "Volume 1," will be part of the discussion. It's billed as the first in a series of publications focused on Stipe's artistic practice beyond music. It will be at Carolina Theatre's Cinema 1 in downtown Durham. Admission requires a festival pass (starting at $249) or a $99 day pass.

Stipe's other main piece of Moogfest business is "Thibault Dance," an audiovisual piece inspired by and featuring French dancer/researcher Thibault Lac. It's free to view on the ground-level exterior of the Snow Building, 335 W. Main St., in downtown Durham. Stipe composed an original score for "Thibault Dance," which will be on display through Sunday.

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Chelsea Manning's discussion

Manning is running for the U.S. Senate in Maryland, but her discussion on Saturday will feature a discussion with writer and "Call Your Girlfriend" podcast host Aminatou Sow. The keynote is going to focus on the future of creativity as privacy laws continue to evolve. It's Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the Carolina Theatre's Fletcher Hall, 306 W. Morgan St. The event is ticketed.

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When the going gets weird

If you've had a Flying Dog beer, you've seen Ralph Steadman's art on the bottle. If you've read Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," you've seen Steadman's work. The loose, chaotic look of his paintings belies a phenomenal control of line, form and emotion, while the grotesque proportions of his people and creatures are at once unsettling and fascinating.

Steadman's retrospective Harmon-INK exhibit premieres at Moogfest and will be on display all weekend at the American Tobacco Campus, Bay 7. Free.

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Those wonderful toys

All weekend long, the Modular Marketplace is to Moogfest what the dealer floor is to a comic book convention. In this case, though, the dealers will be makers of fantastic, forward-thinking music gear. Durham is well represented by pedal and amp-maker Dusky Electronics. Other exciting names at this marketplace include Earthquaker Devices, Reverb and Novation. Modular Marketplace is free and open to the public.

Recasting the narrative

Aggressively strange Chicago avant-noise band ONO performs Saturday at 6:30 p.m. That afternoon, though, members of this collective explore African American survival and identity in the United States, plus their qualms with European music terminology, in "Black Granular Narratives: The Level of Detail Necessary for Black Survival in America."

Also Saturday, Senegal-born, Kuwait-raised musician and artist Fatima al Qadiri leads the "Non-Western Perspectives in Western Music Media" workshop. Al Qadiri performs that evening at 11 p.m.

Wicked beats and conscious rhymes

Influential rapper KRS-One, whose career dates to the '80s, performs Saturday evening and then appears in conversation Sunday afternoon. Detroit producer, DJ and label-head (and close friend of the late, legendary beat-master J Dilla) Waajeed spins his soul-driven tracks Friday evening. Then, Saturday morning, Waajeed lends his own decades of experience to the "Challenges of Running an Independent Music Label" workshop.

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Tech performance

SLIPPAGE is the multimedia dance company from Thomas F. DeFrantz, a Duke University professor of dance and African American studies. The company presents "...these borders that hold me down..." on Saturday and Sunday. This free-to-the-public, tech-enabled performance explores how racial and social inequality is reinforced by processes like redlining and gerrymandering.

The free stuff

Saturday afternoon's free outdoor stage at the American Tobacco Complex will include indie-soul singer/songwriter Moses Sumney and hip-hop deejays/producers Ali Shaheed Muhammad (from A Tribe Called Quest) and Pete Rock.


What: Moogfest

When: May 17-20

Where: Multiple venues, Durham

Cost: Tickets start at $99. Some events are free and open to the public.

Info: moogfest.com