PLUG IN! The 2013 Mountain Oasis Electronic Summit, Recapped

2013-10-27 - 57 - Pretty Lights at the U.S. Cellular Center

Blurt heads to the mountains to revisit one of THE premiere electronica happenings. Pictured above: Pretty Lights.

 TEXT & PHOTOS BY JEFF PEARSON

 The name may have changed, but it didn’t feel much different from the past three years’ worth of this late-October weekend in Asheville, North Carolina (October 25-27, to be specific). Rather than feeling like an inaugural event finding its sea legs, AC Entertainment’s Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit (formerly known as Moogfest) picked up right where it left off last year before mutually ending its partnership with Moog Music, Inc. It was the same event we’ve come to know and love; the shows still started at just the right time for that morning’s brunch from one of Asheville’s dozens of great breakfast spots to quit bogging you down, loveable freaks in LED-embellished costumes and panda hoods still roam the streets searching for the perfect microbrew by day and perfect set by night, and it is still one of the premiere events in the United States to find such an lineup of forward-thinking electronic musicians, eclectic acts, and rare festival appearances.

   FRIDAY, OCT. 25

 2013-10-25 - 00 - Jherek Bischoff at the Diana Wartham Theatre

Immediately playing on the eclecticism, Jherek Bischoff started things off in the Diana Wortham Theatre. For a large portion of his career, Bischoff has been playing as a collaborator in various bands: Xiu Xiu, Parenthetical Girls, Amanda Palmer, to name a few; however, with the release of 2012’s Composed, he made the move into the phase of his career where he defines his own musical voice with the help of some of the friends he made along the years as a go-to studio musician. Accompanied by a local string quartet and incredibly dapper black suit/white shoes combination, Bischoff worked through an intimate set of Composed tracks and covers, coloring the set with personal anecdotes about the songs’ origins. The show felt less like he came to a festival to play for what people might turn out, and more like he invited us onto his parents’ sailboat (his home for much of his early life) to hear him play some songs he was working on. Bischoff’s openness and commitment to involving the crowd in his life, musical or not, gave the entire set a wonderfully invitational feel. To help Bischoff out with the guest vocals, Jen Goma of People Get Ready and A Sunny Day In Glasgow joined on songs like “Eyes” and “The Nest,” wrapping her delicate voice around his arrangements, at times avant garde in nature. Starting the event out with a piece of off-kilter chamber pop couldn’t have been more perfect, and those unique booking and scheduling choices are what have come to make Mountain Oasis such a special event.

 2013-10-25 - 13 - Jacques Greene at the Orange Peel

On its own, Bischoff’s set wasn’t truly representative of the overall feel of the festival; rather, the transitions from one unique experience to the next – walking from Bischoff’s strange seaside compositions into the wall of bass in the Orange Peel for Jacques Greene’s set – are what have come to define Mountain Oasis, for me. Wandering around the right side of the room while Four Loko representatives handed out light-up devil horns that will be unavoidable in any long shot from the festival, my girlfriend and I somehow ended up right in front of a subwoofer as Greene was tearing through a seamless mix of dance styles. It wasn’t, however, until a particular moment in the middle of the set when a series of Biltmore Avenue-shaking sub bass moans blasted forth from that subwoofer, that we realized it might be a good idea to take a few steps back and resume dancing. It was the kind of bass that clears the sinuses (literally, my girlfriend’s nose started running immediately). Greene wordlessly manipulated the crowd into a dancing frenzy with R&B-infused future garage, remixing fellow Mountain Oasis artist Autre Ne Veut’s “Play By Play” and Ciara’s “My Body” as well as cutting in and out of his own tracks (“Faithful” and the How To Dress Well-buoyed “On Your Side”). I can’t recall a single time the music stopped or Greene took a break from his stance bent over his equipment; his hour-long set was completely packed with danceable earworms to please fans ready to bust their first moves as well as those looking to get lost in the mix.

 2013-10-25 - 30 - Purity Ring at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-25 - 28 - Purity Ring at the U.S. Cellular Center

Continuing on the cerebral body music of Jacques Greene was Edmonton’s Purity Ring in the U.S. Cellular Center. As if the multitudes of costumed festivalgoers weren’t enough of an indication of the fast-approaching Halloween holiday, Purity Ring’s glitching electronic nightmares helped put me in the festive mood. Arranger Corin Roddick seemingly pulled his beats from an otherworldly presence, each one slowly unraveling like a sea of hands bursting forth from their graves while singer Megan James delightfully sang lyrics from some twisted version of Aesop’s Fables. Roddick recreates Purity Ring’s studio work live on stage using an instrument he created himself – he uses percussive strokes to light-up pods that trigger various sounds as James haunts the stage – and it appears that they are surrounded by giant lightning bugs as the lighting rig bounces off of the cocoon-like lanterns hanging above. The duo worked through their debut album, Shrines, changing the order around to better facilitate a slowly building live show with a definitive peak in set closer “Fineshrine,” with their stunning cover of Soulja Boy’s “Grammy” thrown in. It’s not surprising that “Grammy” fit right in with the likes of “Belispeak” and “Obedear,” as Purity Ring’s music is obviously rooted in hip-hop music; Roddick has cited hip-hop as one of his greatest creative influences when crafting the instrumentals as well as the duo working with Danny Brown on numerous occasions.

 2013-10-25 - 45 - Deltron 3030 at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-25 - 46 - Deltron 3030 at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-25 - 47 - Deltron 3030 at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-25 - 54 - Deltron 3030 at the U.S. Cellular Center

The hip-hop influences evident in Purity Ring’s music made for a perfect segue into the futuristic hip-hop heroes, Deltron 3030, led by Del The Funky Homosapien, Dan The Automator, and Kid Koala. It wasn’t just the trio, however. In support of Event II, their first full-length record in the thirteen years since Deltron 3030’s release, Deltron 3030’s live show included an eighteen-piece orchestra bolstering Kid Koala’s mind-blowing turntablism. The massive band came out firing with Deltron 3030’s opening track, “3030,” as Dan The Automator conducted the orchestra (immediately becoming the coolest person to ever wear a tuxedo on stage), and Del ripped through bar after bar. Though on record, Deltron 3030 come across as a thinking man’s hip-hop group – Del has crafted an entire lexicon of words and phrases to describe the futuristic society that they embody, while Automator’s production is so vividly complex that it requires a great deal of attention – their Friday set was an all-out party. The orchestra members were doing double time as hype-men and women and the entire arena was bouncing to the crowd favorites, both old and new. A highlight was the sing-along chorus of Event II’s standout cut, “Nobody Can,” with a raucous U.S. Cellular center shouting, “Deltron is our hero, if he can’t do it, nobody can!” In short, it was a blast.

2013-10-25 - 63 - Neutral Milk Hotel at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

2013-10-25 - 67 - Neutral Milk Hotel at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

If the one word that comes to mind to describe Deltron 3030’s set is “fun,” the one word that comes to mind to describe Neutral Milk Hotel’s Thomas Wolfe Auditorium set that followed would be “special.” From the moment that singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum stepped on stage to begin the set with “Two Headed Boy,” there was a palpable emotional outpouring from the crowd, either people who never thought they would witness what they were witnessing, or people who never thought they would witness what they were witnessing again. The set had a sense of interplay with the crowd where Neutral Milk Hotel was at times delivering poignant moments that had the packed auditorium seemingly in awe, and at others playing a flat-out rock show – no matter what the song called for, careful introspection or reckless abandon, the crowd delivered. During a Mangum-only “Oh Comely,” attendees turned the hauntingly gorgeous In The Aeroplane Over The Sea track into a sing-along, with a beautiful moment where his voice faltered slightly on one of the melismatic endings to a phrase, only for the crowd’s collective voice to finish the line. It was just one of those sets, where Neutral Milk Hotel and the fans were working in symbiosis; by midway through the set and Mangum asked for all cell phones to be put away for everyone to “be here now,” I looked around to see that at that point there weren’t any cell phones out. Everyone had collectively decided to be there then, and are likely glad to have done so. As the Elephant Six collective figureheads out of Athens tore through their second encore of “Ferris Wheel On Fire” and “Engine,” two deeper songs from the band’s earliest days of existence, no one wanted to be anywhere else.

2013-10-25 - 68 - Bassnectar at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-25 - 69 - Bassnectar at the U.S. Cellular Center

That was my thought as I sadly wandered away from Neutral Milk Hotel’s set, anyway. The thought lasted as long as it took me to walk down the ramp into the U.S. Cellular Center for Bassnectar when I realized, “Well, here are a couple thousand people who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here.” Such is the nature of a festival like Mountain Oasis; you can often find different groups of people sharing the exact same sentiments about different experiences, and there’s no doubt that the bass heads lost in Bassnectar’s earth-shattering wobble would use the word “special” to describe their experience. As I weaved in and out of the crowd, the Californian DJ was pounding out an electric mix of his standout track “Take You Down,” his take on trap from his latest EP of the same name, with brightly colored synths rolling lazily like clouds that are taking no note of the apocalyptic wasteland of bass below. It was like entering another world, and not one I was particularly ready for, so we made for the Orange Peel to close the night out.

2013-10-25 - 73 - Baths at the Orange Peel

2013-10-25 - 75 - Baths at the Orange Peel

We entered the rapidly filling room as California’s Baths (Will Wiesenfeld) was working through the jerky “Lovely Bloodflow” from his debut LP Cerulean. The track was always hard to wrap my head around, and that was in the comfort of my home. Live, as Wiesenfeld and touring partner Morgan Greenwood harmonized beautifully over skittish rhythms, it wasn’t even really important to wrap my head around; all I had to do was dance, and that came pretty naturally at Baths’ set for everyone involved. Songs like “Miasma Sky” and “No Eyes” from Wiesenfeld’s latest, Obsidian, had the feeling of a piano balladeer lost in time, alternating between delicate introspection and outwardly projecting propulsion. It was a great way to end the night, with the duality of Baths’ music really coloring the way it was received by the crowd growing tired from a day’s worth of debauchery in Asheville. We would get lost in Wiesenfeld’s gorgeous falsetto and lush piano work and before we knew it we were dancing to an intricately-woven electronic texture. Again, the juxtaposition of the two forces in Baths’ music – delicate yet driving – have come to define Mountain Oasis for me over the years. It’s a place to go get lost for a weekend and carve a path of physical or mental reception – and sometimes both. As I left the Orange Peel into the chilly night, I was excited to see where I would find myself this year.\

***

SATURDAY, OCT. 26

One of my favorite things about Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit is, since the music starts around 7 pm each night, we have all day to explore the city of Asheville and patronize the local businesses. Or watch scary movies in the hotel room. That’s also a completely reasonable option after dancing to Baths until two in the morning the night before, right? Well, my girlfriend and I opted for a little of both. After grabbing a delicious “hillbilly” breakfast from Mayfel’s, we wearily curled up in bed with Netflix and Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods. It was as ridiculously awesome as all of the reviews will lead you to believe, so I’ll spare you. With quite a bit of time left before the shows, we met up with a few of my friends at Harvest Records in West Asheville and proceeded to buy them out of their copies of Tim Hecker’s Virgins as well as all separately and despondently peer down at our stacks of records and say, “This is bad,” only to proceed to purchasing every single one of them anyways (Nick might have won the battle of will and put one back). Going to another town and checking out the local record stores is always a favorite pastime and Harvest Records is among the best in the country; our despondent “this is bad” could have just as easily been a depressed “this is awful” had we let ourselves pick up every record we wanted. Hey, at least we got free tee shirts to soften the blows to our wallets.

2013-10-26 - 01 - Bosnian Rainbows at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-26 - 21 - Bosnian Rainbows at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-26 - 09 - Bosnian Rainbows at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-26 - 05 - Bosnian Rainbows at the U.S. Cellular Center

After a cup of coffee from Double D’s Coffee & Desserts, an old double decker bus turned coffee shop, we headed to the U.S. Cellular Center to start the night of music with Bosnian Rainbows. The El Paso band fronted by Teri Gender Bender (of Le Butcherettes) on vocals and Omar Rodríguez-López (of At The Drive-In and The Mars Volta) on guitar played the Asheville Music Hall the last time they came through town, but the venue’s size upgrade didn’t faze them one bit. Gender Bender looked as if scaring the hell out of the crowd with her otherworldly dance moves gave her the greatest joy in the world as Rodríguez-López led the band of Deantoni Parks and Nicci Kasper through thunderous post-punk expositions. Something about the way that Gender Bender slyly introduced frighteningly propulsive tracks like “Turtle Neck” and “Eli” entirely in Spanish gave Bosnian Rainbows’ set even more of an ethereal feel, like rather than all of us dancing together in an Asheville arena, we were taken along into the world of their music. The entire arena was lit up with strobe lights, throwing shadows like giants stomping around the concrete floor as Bosnian Rainbows plowed through the riff-fueled set closer, “Mother, Father, Set Us Free,” like giants themselves.

 2013-10-26 - 25 - Zola Jesus and JG Thirlwell at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

2013-10-26 - 29 - Zola Jesus and JG Thirlwell at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

As is the case with most days of the previous three Moogfest events that AC Entertainment has put on in Asheville, Mountain Oasis is colored by the dynamics between the different sets the attendees will see throughout the day. Though the fiery rock of Bosnian Rainbows doesn’t seem to lend itself to blend well into Zola Jesus and JG Thirwell’s orchestral arrangements, it worked perfectly. The scheduling team has always done an outstanding job and had faith in their choices for providing the most diverse and intriguing experience for the festival’s attendees. Zola Jesus and JG Thirlwell turned the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium back into the classical concert hall it seems meant to be; Thirwell’s (better known as avant-garde pioneer Foetus) gorgeous string quartet arrangements occasionally brushed with the toned-down electronic backbeats that typically accompany her music couldn’t have been better suited for any other venue. Typically dressed in flowery garb, Zola Jesus was very restrained in an elegant black dress and simple hair bun, indicative of the poised classical aesthetic of her and Thirwell’s Versions, a record of re-worked songs put out by Sacred Bones. Songs like “Avalanche” and “Sea Talk” sounded absolutely immense – her voice is remarkably strong and had the crowd in awe of its beauty – and, despite the constrained nature of the string quartet arrangement style, everyone on stage seemed to be having a great time. For “Collapse,” Versions’’ closing track, Zola Jesus stated that the song was “for every one of you” before going out of her way to prove it was for every one of us by stepping out into the crowd and letting her booming vocals pour over us in a beautiful and intimate way.

 2013-10-26 - 45 - Gary Numan at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-26 - 37 - Gary Numan at the U.S. Cellular Center

Once we wiped the tears away, we headed back to the U.S. Cellular Center for Gary Numan. All day long in the large arena, Mountain Oasis scheduled acts to set the stage for headliners Nine Inch Nails, and it was remarkable to see the influence that Numan obviously has on Trent Reznor. Reznor’s musical influences can obviously be traced back through Numan, but to actually see mannerisms that I’ve come to associate with Reznor being thoroughly owned onstage by the influential English rocker was something else entirely. Numan has stated that he wanted his latest album, Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) to serve as a reinvention of his musical identity, and the set heavily featured those songs, showing why he is so proud of them. In providing a solid backdrop of Splinter songs like “I Am Dust,” “Here in the Black,” and “Everything Has Come Down To This,” Numan’s classics like “Metal” and “Cars” were brought new life, giving everything a thick, industrial rock coat of grime that really suited the large space of the U.S. Cellular Center. Numan’s set was actually the biggest surprise of the festival to me, as I went in very unfamiliar with the Splinter material and came out a huge fan of it.

2013-10-26 - 47 - Chromatics at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

Heading back to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium for Chromatics, we encountered the biggest line of the weekend, and finally made it in as the Portland group was working through “Tick of the Clock,” pretty much immediately making the wait worth it. The group has had a revolving door of members, with only guitarist/vocalist Adam Miller remaining from the original lineup, but it seems that this version will likely be the one that gets filed under “Classic Era” on their Wikipedia entry twenty years from now.

Featuring Ruth Radelet on vocals and guitar, Nat Walker on drums and synths, and producer Johnny Jewel, along with Miller, Chromatics played one of the tightest sets of electronic music I have ever witnessed; their blend of Italo disco sounded incredibly full and energetic in a live setting. Highlights included a dynamic extended take on Kill For Love centerpiece “These Streets Will Never Look the Same,” where Miller’s vocoder-affected voice painted a Technicolor picture of a cityscape, as well as their incredibly energetic take on Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” To highlight the beautiful aesthetic of their music, showing the romantic nature of something like a night drive through a metropolis, Chromatics ended their set with their lush cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)” (which they call, simply, “Into The Black”) and “In The City.” The original plan was to catch their set up until when Godspeed You! Black Emperor started, but there was absolutely no way to pull ourselves away from one of the best sets of the entire weekend.

2013-10-26 - 51 - Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the U.S. Cellular Center

Once Chromatics did end, since that’s what these things must do, unfortunately, we headed back to the U.S. Cellular Center for Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Walking around the upper level of the venue was a beautiful experience in and of itself, as we could hear faint strains of “Moya” pouring out of the ramps to the various sections of the arena. The Montreal octet sounded absolutely huge, with their slow-building, slow-motion, classically leaning instrumental rock filling each corner of the cavernous room, but ultimately the space just wasn’t right for them. Their music is meant to be experienced in an intimate setting, where attention to detail is absolutely necessary to become truly engulfed by their songs, and when there are people walking around on stilts with light-up mushroom costumes on, getting in front of the reel-to-reel projectors, it sort of detracts from the experience. Any fault I found in the experience was through no fault of their own, and simply the nature of the vibe in the U.S. Cellular Center all weekend. It wasn’t built for the careful introspection and observance that Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s music requires, so I just closed my eyes and went into my own personal reel-to-reels as they closed with “The Sad Mafioso” movement of F Acut, “East Hastings.”

2013-10-26 - 54 - Animal Collective at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

2013-10-26 - 58 - Animal Collective at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

2013-10-26 - 65 - Animal Collective at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

Saturday seemed to be a day of completely opposing musical ideals, as we bounced back and forth between the U.S. Cellular Center and the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium for the better part of the day, so by that point, shifting from the slow stormy rock of Godspeed You! Black Emperor to whatever it is that Animal Collective do didn’t seem too strange. The Baltimore quartet, made up of Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist, and Deakin, played their frenzied electronica-tinged psychedelia inside of a giant inflatable mouth with lights bouncing around and projections of strange and colorful images vividly shifting the entire stage into a carnival. Compared to the other Animal Collective shows that I’ve seen, bent on experimentation and testing songs out, their Mountain Oasis set was relatively straightforward. They played a veritable greatest hits set to a responsive and enthusiastic crowd, with some of the peak reactions coming when they broke into Merriweather Post Pavilion hits “My Girls” and “Brother Sport.” Animal Collective and Mountain Oasis has been a long-time-coming collaboration, with their shifting take on reality or conforms in music perfectly suiting the strange Halloween atmosphere surrounding the festival year after year. Simply put, freaks like us Mountain Oasis festivalgoers fit right in at an Animal Collective set.

2013-10-26 - 71 - Nine Inch Nails at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-26 - 73 - Nine Inch Nails at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-26 - 77 - Nine Inch Nails at the U.S. Cellular Center

As the night went on in Asheville, the energy level for the sets gradually increased, and it reached a peak as Nine Inch Nails opened their set with “Copy Of A,” from their latest album, Hesitation Marks. Reznor and company stood underneath shifting light structures only slightly above their heads that made them look like they were literally showering in light. Nine Inch Nails’ set seemed to fly by, with a constant stream of hits (“Terrible Lie,” “Sanctified,” “March of the Pigs”) mixed in with the Hesitation Marks material, all accompanied by extremely slick audio/visual production. In a venue that has had a reputation for swallowing sound for as long as I’ve seen concerts there, Nine Inch Nails made it sound like the picture of acoustic brilliance. One thing that I made note of as they closed their main set with “Head Like A Hole” was the fact that I had seen more devil horns (not the light-up kind passed out by Four Loko all weekend – though those were absolutely everywhere – but the kind that rock fans make with their index and pinky fingers) throughout the day at Mountain Oasis than I ever had in the three years prior, combined. Nine Inch Nails went out with one last flash of brilliance – and light; I will never forget those lights – as they closed the U.S. Cellular Center down on Saturday with a beautiful rendition of “Hurt.” I glanced around, pleased that no one mistakenly commented that it was a Johnny Cash cover, and we went on our way.

In stark contrast to the amazing spectacle that Nine Inch Nails displayed, Actress was playing through his set in complete darkness as we entered the Orange Peel. The English electronic wizard, Darren J. Cunningham, was meant to play last year’s Moogfest but had visa issues, so this set felt like a long time in the making. Actress’ set oscillated from experimental ambient to unstoppable funky rhythms that had the entire room moving. His choice to kill the lights actually completely changed the vibe of what is typically going on with a DJ set, where crowd energy is dictated by the lighting choices just as much as by the music; as Actress seamlessly weaved in and out of his track selections, the crowd members that were receptive to the lack of lighting were tuned in to the subtleties and musical cues. It was as if Cunningham made the conscious decision to test the historically music-loving Mountain Oasis attendees on an experiment to reinvent how a DJ set is supposed to look or sound. Actress attempted to put the attention solely on his music, and, in my opinion, it was a rousing success. That sentiment is what Mountain Oasis is all about, after all.

***

SUNDAY, OCT. 27

The bittersweet feeling that I always associate with the last day of a festival was with me as I woke up on Sunday morning for the last day in Asheville at Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit. It’s hard to be upset when it’s already been such a great weekend filled with music and friends in a great town, with another night of the same ahead of me, but the feeling is there all the same. There’s also my body’s predisposition to be as lazy as possible on Sundays, so after my girlfriend and I had a wonderful brunch of spinach potato cakes and shrimp and grits at the Early Girl Eatery, it was pretty much vegeing out until the shows began that night. We did, however, visit Malaprop’s, one of our favorite book stores and staple for whenever we go to Asheville. As I was looking around the shelves I noticed a display called “Blind Date with a Bookseller,” where the store has put a twist on the concept of a “staff pick” by wrapping books in brown paper and writing descriptive words to point the shopper in the right direction according to his or her own tastes. It was a very neat way to step out of our comfort zones and try something new with reading; the book that I selected turned out to be The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, while Jenna’s was Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair. We sluggishly made our way back to our room, attempted to watch Halloween on the hotel’s terrible cable, and proceeded to fall asleep, only to be seemingly immediately woken up by a rap on the door and a housekeeper mysteriously handing me a single hand towel without a word. I wasn’t able to truly even enjoy the shows that night because I kept trying to ponder the meaning of the hand towel, its significance in my life and how it might come to change me. I didn’t even bring it home. I don’t think I even used it.

2013-10-27 - 04 - William Basinski at the Diana Wortham Theatre

Anyway, as all of these things were running through my head throughout the night, there was music going on. We started off in the Diana Wortham Theatre for William Basinski. The New York experimental tape pioneer has been making waves for over a decade, with his surreal Disintegration Loops influencing the ethereal sounds of modern-day composers like Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin. Basinski was touring in support of his latest, Nocturnes, and his Sunday-opening set heavily featured that material set to a backdrop of eerily shifting skies. Much like on record, Basinski’s music unfolded at a relentlessly patient pace, with every note a small step forward to his ultimate realizations. When I think about his set, it actually reminds me a lot of Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings visual installation at Moogfest a couple of years ago. In that piece, paintings slowly shift into one another, with the changes so subtle that they’re nearly impossible to notice. Basinski builds his music in much the same way; it is meant to be something to get lost inside of, lulling the listener into a trance while it methodically shifts around at a microscopic rate. Before you know it, he’s somewhere else entirely.

2013-10-27 - 09 - Jessie Ware at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

2013-10-27 - 10 - Jessie Ware at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

As is the case with music festivals, it was time for us to be somewhere else entirely, so we headed to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium for Jessie Ware’s performance. The English songstress has been on the road pretty much nonstop since last year’s release of her debut album, Devotion, but no wear from such a straining experience was evident. In fact, she seemed like it was the first day of tour, relishing in the opportunity to play Asheville and commented on all of the bands she’d like to see once her set was over. It was endearing to hear her sound like a fan first, which is something we often forget about the musicians we love; the reason they got into playing music can likely be traced back to the same thing we all share as attendees of a festival like Mountain Oasis: the love of music itself. Ware displayed that love for the entirety of her set, ecstatically working through virtually her entire record in a way that was honest to the original recordings, but with a certain electricity that can only be captured in a live setting. The dance-oriented, Julio Bashmore-produced and Big Pun-sampling “110%” had extra propulsion as Ware’s band effortlessly amplified the track’s rhythmic textures, and her voice sounded pristine on “Wildest Moments” and set closer, “Running.” The set had it all, from festival organizer Ashley Capps singing along to synchronized dance moves seemingly everywhere (seriously, everywhere).

2013-10-27 - 13 - Darkside at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

Where Jessie Ware’s set was loose and celebratory, the Darkside set that followed was methodical and, well, also celebratory, in a way. The New York-duo of producer/singer Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington slowly worked their way into their set with “Golden Arrow,” the lead single from their debut full-length, Psychic. Jaar was bent over his controllers and synths, building a rhythmic symphony as Harrington’s slinky guitar lines danced over the top of the mix. Their music is consistently patient with huge payoffs; around five minutes into the song, the crowd was practically begging for the tension release that Darkside have slowly been building towards, and when it finally came, the entire Thomas Wolfe Auditorium erupted in a mix of awe and dancing. Lots of dancing. Their set unfolded similarly throughout, with Jaar and Harrington working in relative darkness to an awestruck crowd. Jaar shifted from the cagey falsetto of “Golden Arrow” and “Heart” into the sonorous low pitch of “Paper Trails,” all with the steady climb in energy and intricately-laced, vigorous arrangements. Jaar manipulated the sound in a way that breakdowns were like glimpses of a sunset through the trees while driving along the highway; they arrived at surprising intervals and were gone before you were ready for them to leave.

2013-10-27 - 17 - Disclosure at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-27 - 21 - Disclosure at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-27 - 27 - Disclosure at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-27 - 30 - Disclosure at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-27 - 32 - Disclosure at the U.S. Cellular Center

“Gone before you were ready” is also a perfect description of how it felt to depart the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, but with Mountain Oasis, there’s always going to be something you have to sacrifice in order to see all of the things you want to, and I am just glad to have been able to see the bit of Darkside that I did. Tickets for their show back home were immediately purchased upon returning, so all is well, and it was on to see Disclosure. As we walked into a collectively freaking out U.S. Cellular Center, Guy and Howard Lawrence were lighting the room up with “When A Fire Starts To Burn,” the opening track from their debut record, Settle. The track samples motivational speaker Eric Thomas over searingly funky house – a really refreshing take on a genre grown somewhat formulaic in the way vocal samples are used. Disclosure actually performed at last year’s Moogfest in the Asheville Music Hall, “to fifty people,” as Howard Lawrence put it, and their meteoric rise in the past year was on full display as they had everybody moving in the festival’s largest venue. The Lawrence brothers (not to be confused with the Lawrence brothers) turned their Mercury Music Prize-nominated record into a nonstop dance party (which actually seems relatively easy since the album itself is a nonstop dance party), ripping through live versions of “White Noise,” “You & Me,” and “Latch,” as well “What’s In Your Head” from the singles-only earlier days. Disclosure bring a breath of fresh air to the electronic music scene, taking elements of DJing and elements of live playing and combining them into one perfect blend; Howard will often mix in live basslines and keyboards while Guy plays the percussion, all while seamlessly weaving pre-recorded tracks and drums into the mix.

2013-10-27 - 33 - Disclosure at the U.S. Cellular Center

The inarguable highlight of the set, however, was when their good friend and fellow Brit, Jessie Ware, joined Disclosure for scorching versions of “Confess To Me” and their stellar remix of her hit, “Running.” She performed her cut-up vocals live and seemingly disappeared to massive applause as Guy and Howard continued ripping through their set.

2013-10-27 - 38 - Cut Copy at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

2013-10-27 - 39 - Cut Copy at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

2013-10-27 - 44 - Cut Copy at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

2013-10-27 - 45 - Cut Copy at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

2013-10-27 - 51 - Cut Copy at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

2013-10-27 - 56 - Cut Copy at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

By that point, no one in the U.S. Cellular Center was ready to stop dancing, which made Cut Copy’s following set in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium an incredible atmosphere. It was just one of those moments at a festival where everything comes together perfectly: it’s likely going to be the last time friends see one another for a while as they’ll head back to their everyday lives the next day, adrenaline for reaching the finish line is bubbling forth, and also, you know, the fact that Cut Copy was on the stage and that pretty much automatically means a good time will be shared. The Australian quartet performed a blistering electro pop set full of crowd favorites as well as largely unheard tracks from their upcoming Free Your Mind LP, and every song was greeting with enthusiastic glee from the crowd. It was shockingly sparsely attended, but there wasn’t a single person in the auditorium not having a blast. There was dancing in the aisles, jazz hands, lots of jumping up and down, ecstatic smiles all around; simply put, it was a great Cut Copy show. The moment of the festival for me was the set-closing “Lights and Music,” a summation of the entire event, of all events like it really, where the band and fans achieve that rare singular experience of being there in the moment, together. The memories of looking over and seeing my girlfriend dancing and singing with a huge smile on her face, and up to the front row and seeing friends doing the same, those are the things that last from these festivals  — much longer than some grainy photos, anyway.

2013-10-27 - 57 - Pretty Lights at the U.S. Cellular Center

2013-10-27 - 59 - Pretty Lights at the U.S. Cellular Center

However, since part of the reason I was there was to take grainy photos, I headed to see a little bit of Pretty Lights once Cut Copy finished. I had seen the Colorado producer, Derek Vincent Smith, a couple of times prior, but never with the full band that he brought along on tour this time around. The added instrumentation gave songs like “Hot Like Sauce,” a song that always sounded somewhat robotic in a live setting, a more organic feel as well as bolstering the seamless transitions between tracks with more ornate embellishments. Simply put, it seemed more impressive. Pretty Lights wowed the crowd with a spectacular display of his namesake to a beefed-up remix of Bob Marley’s “Exodus,” certainly a crowd favorite amongst the masses in the packed U.S. Cellular Center. His set drew possibly the biggest turnout of the weekend despite the fact that Sunday was a little lighter than the other two days. The dubstep take on Marley was a great nod to those that paved the way for the likes of Pretty Lights, but it was also a reminder that I had somewhere to be: the Orange Peel, closing things out with dub-techno legends, The Orb.

2013-10-27 - 64 - The Orb at the Orange Peel

2013-10-27 - 69 - The Orb at the Orange Peel

The long-standing duo of Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann have been celebrating their 25th anniversary as a band by touring and giving fans, old and new a taste of their greatness. What was supposed to just be a cool way to end the festival for me turned out to be one of the most ridiculously fun sets of the weekend. The Orb brought out all the stops. They were supposed to play until 12:30. They played until after 1.They shook Biltmore Avenue with bass. They projected insane videos on the Orange Peel screens. They provided me with my first and last bro sighting of the entire weekend (oddly enough). They looked like a “science teacher and a P.E. teacher,” as my friend Tom put it (who I later found out was kindly escorted from the building afterwards because the staff couldn’t sweep the empty venue with him moonwalking in the middle of it to “Thriller” on the P.A.), and they absolutely rocked the house. The Orb’s set drew heavily upon their explorations in dub, with “Slug Dub” and “Towers Of Dub” anchored by performances of the fiery “U.F.Orb” and “O.O.B.E.” I really had no idea what to expect out of this set and they did not disappoint. It was a great way to send Mountain Oasis attendees on their way — with one last burst of dancing (Paterson even displayed some expert footwork on stage at one point). Friends gathered around and enjoyed the moment together one last time, shared their last hugs and goodbyes with one another, and went their separate ways. Until next year, anyway.

 

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