On the Beat

‘Synthesize Love’: Moogfest has a protest state of mind in Durham

Moogfest returns to Durham for a second year, with a continued emphasis on protest – and collaboration.
Moogfest returns to Durham for a second year, with a continued emphasis on protest – and collaboration. jleonard@newsobserver.com

When Moogfest had its Durham debut last year, the festival happened under the shadow of House Bill 2. Then recently enacted, North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill” banned local anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people across the state.

Anti-HB2 opposition was an underlying theme of Moogfest 2016. And even though HB2 has been (sort of) repealed, dissent about issues including the Trump administration’s immigration ban remains a major part of this year’s model, which kicks off Thursday with a lineup including Future Sound, Animal Collective, Taleb Kweli and others. “Synthesize Love” is the rally cry for the Moogfest Protest Stage.

“Last year we were staring down one of the most vivid displays of legalized discrimination we’d ever seen, in our home state,” said Moogfest creative director Emmy Parker. “We felt an urgency to use our platform to discuss and resist that. So much has changed in a year, and we are focusing beyond HB2. The Protest Stage is a way for us to explore how we are gonna use music, art and technology to organize, resist and protest.”


Last year’s Moogfest was the first in Durham after five years in Asheville, site of the Moog instrument factory. The 2016 model drew a total attendance of more than 10,000 people, according to figures from the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau.

More than 6,500 of those attendees came from out of town, with the festival boosting the local economy by an estimated $5.1 million in total spending. The city and county of Durham contributed a total of $125,000 to last year’s festival and are doing the same this year, with the money going toward Moogfest’s free programming.

“Anytime you see a festival happening again, that means there was enough support and attendance,” Parker said. “This is a precarious business and it’s a privilege to put together something of this magnitude. We’ll do it for as long as the synthesizer, electronic-music and tech communities, and the folks who make up this great city, want us to.”

Durham made for a fine host city last year, with all of the festival venues on a walkable grid that was easy to negotiate. But a number of Moogfest venues weren’t big enough to hold the crowds they drew, an issue that will probably happen again this year.

“We could do this in a much larger city with more venue space,” Parker said. “But other cities just can’t provide the essence of Moogfest the way Durham can. We can engage with researchers in the area tech community to enhance the programming in ways that go beyond venue capacity. Durham is the major artery of the state – international airport, major cities, giant vibrant research universities. Everything is easier to come by in Durham except for mountains. We don’t have the technology to bring those in yet.”

As always, one of the most appealing aspects of Moogfest is the possibility of coming into close contact with legends of the game. Last year, for example, the on-site Moog Store was the site of an impromptu Friday-afternoon jam by Bernie Worrell, the late keyboardist in George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic (Worrell would die from cancer barely a month later).

“The crux of Moogfest is to make it so that participants and attendees will bump into each other,” said Parker. “So you walk into a room and there’s Bernie Worrell playing basslines from Parliament records on a Minimoog Model D. It’s shocking and sad that he’s no longer here, but the memory of that experience is uplifting. Those are moments you don’t forget.”

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi