Mountain Oasis 2013 :: Electronic Music Summit

The first edition of the Mountain Oasis was wonderful and the mix of artists made for an interesting festival.

Pretty Lights

Pretty Lights

This October 25th-27th marked the first Mountain Oasis festival in Asheville, North Carolina. This weekend had previously held the Moogfest for the last three years so the expectations were set pretty high. While the name may be different, the two festivals hold a lot of similarities due to the same promotions company being used. Billed as an Electronic Music Summit, the festival was an interesting mix of large scale dance acts (Bassnector, Pretty Lights) and more obscure electronic acts (Raime, The Bug, Actress), as well as classic and influential acts (Silver Apples, Sparks, Gary Numan) and a few rock acts (Bosnian Rainbows, Godspeed You Black Emperor) mixed across the three days. As with Moogfest, the festival was held at the Explore Asheville Arena and adjoining Thomas Wolfe Auditorium with smaller events being picked up at the Orange Peel, Asheville Music Hall, and Diana Wortham auditorium. Despite having events spread across town, Asheville’s small size made the events all accessible within a ten minute walk.

One of the festivals biggest draws was having both of Trent Reznor’s projects on the bill. Sadly, How to Destroy Angels was one of several cancellations that occurred. Of the replacements, Purity Ring fit the sonic space that HTDA would have filled and played a bass heavy set full of glitch rhythms and playful vocals. Nine Inch Nails came across as a well oiled machine despite the ever changing line-up. The current incarnation of the band includes Alessandro Cortini (Sonoio), Josh Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv), Robin Finck, Pino Palladino and Ilan Rubin as well as the surprising addition of two female backup singers. Accompanied by an amazing light show, Reznor and company belted through tracks off of 2013’s Hesitation Marks as well as their hits from the last two plus decades. The one noticeably absent track was their hit Closer. While Nine Inch Nails are arguably the kings of industrio-rock, they were somewhat upstaged by Gary Numan earlier in the evening. What Gary Numan lacked in visuals he more than made up for with stage presence and performance. The majority of his set was made up of new material including a fair number of tracks off his newest album, Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind). His classic, Cars was represented in a gritty and much heavier new form.

Zola Jesus and J.G. Thirlwell’s performance was definitely one of the standouts of the festival. The pair, along with a string Quartet had been performing a series of concerts mostly in museum settings over the last several months and the festival setting was a bit a different context to hear these interpretations. Zola Jesus (Nika Danilova)’s voice was completely lush and the new arrangements of her tracks came across quite successful J.G Thirlwell assumed the calm roll of conductor (a far stretch from his wild days as Foetus).

Raime were perhaps one the most low end heavy performers of the fest. Both performing on laptops with minimal lighting, they mixed deep sub-bass tones with synthetic ambience to an end that was both creepy and engaging. The slow evolution within their music was accompanied by images moving at what felt like a frame every few seconds. While Raime were able to effectively conquer the art of effective minimalism, the subtle changes and nuances were lost on William Basinski’s performance which featured tape loops with little to no variation over his entire set.

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails

As can be imagined, with the dropping of the Moog name, a fair amount of Moog’s presence was also absent with Mountain Oasis. Perhaps the biggest difference was the reduction of panels and daytime events. Whereas Moogfest had numerous there were only a few during Mountain Oasis—A maker’s panel with representatives from Moog, Makenoise, etc., and a candid interview with Gary Numan. This gap was filled by many of the more technically oriented by the Trash Audio event which was also in town that same weekend. As well as featuring equipment demonstrations from the likes of Electron, 4ms, Makenoise, Harvestman, and Keith McMillen Instruments there were modular and vintage synth performances by Alessandro Cortini, Richard Devine as well as others.

Film scoring was represented in a couple of great performances over the weekend. While a name that is not recognizable to many, Alan Howarth has been responsible for scoring numerous big screen films over the years. His best known contributions are to the John Carpenter films The Thing, The Live, Escape from New York, and parts of the Halloween franchise. He performed an excellent solo set on synth, laptop and for a few numbers on guitar. Accompanying his performance were grainy projections of the films that looked as though they had been copied from VCR tape numerous times. Tara Busch (as I Speak Machine) also performed a live scoring of the short Sci-Fi film Silence (Produced & Directed in part by her partner Maf Lewis). The music fit the film perfectly with her voice and Minimoog moving from quiet to chaotic and back again.

Ambient masters, The Orb were a trip down memory lane to a simpler time. Their style dub heavy sample collage style really hasn’t changed much over the years and their visual projects were straight out of the early 1990’s rave scene. The classics such as “Little Fluffy Clouds” and “Spanish Castles in Space” were present and presented in great form. Their chilled atmosphere served as for a good closer or the weekend of music.

Overall, the first edition of the Mountain Oasis was wonderful and the mix of artists made for an interesting festival. In regards to highlights, there were many and as with any festival of this size decisions have to be made as to what act to watch and for how long. I think my only complaint would be that things could have been spread better across the three days and less density on Saturday night where I found myself bouncing around for a good deal of the night. Hopefully, this will end up becoming a yearly event and return in 2014.

For more information about Mountain Oasis, visit mountainoasisfestival.com.

Coverage by Robert Galbraith.
All photos by Thomas Fang.

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