Dance floors have long been sites of resistance. From queer people of color dancing 'til daylight in Chicago warehouses to kids raving against Thatcherism in muddy London fields, electronic music's history is closely tied to politics. But creating safe spaces for music fans isn't as simple as throwing a bunch of them into the same room. The fragility of safe spaces was thrown into high relief in 2015 at the Bataclan in Paris, and in 2016 at Pulse in Orlando, At the Ray-Ban x Boiler Room Weekender in Pennsylvania, just a few days before Donald Trump was elected president, police cracked down on the rural Philly rave for reasons that were almost unanimously considered racist. The day after the election, futurist music festival Moogfest settled on a new theme — Protest — for its three-day celebration of all things synth. Other themes for this year include Black Quantum Futurism, Techno-Shamanism, Hacking, and STEAM.
Moogfest actually began considering the Protest theme back in May of last year. Political tensions in the festival's new home state of North Carolina were already escalating as protesters rallied against HB2, the so-called "bathroom bill." Months later, and days after Trump signed his first Muslim ban, the festival issued an open letter about its commitment to making North Carolina a welcoming space. "The fight against inequality echoes our own mission to design radical instruments for change and reflects the legacy of Bob Moog, the inspiration behind Moogfest who believed that true innovation comes through collaboration, not exclusion," it read. Moogfest kicks off tomorrow with synth-loving futurists including Princess Nokia, Flying Lotus, and Mykki Blanco, and Suzanne Ciani. Ahead of liftoff, we talk to the festival's creative director Emmy Parker about protest, privilege, and why science and spirituality should operate in tandem.
With all the musicians and tech companies boycotting NC in the wake of HB2, why did it feel important to find other ways to condemn the state's exclusionary politics?
We feel a responsibility to use our resources to encourage change from the inside because North Carolina has been home to the Moog factory for almost 30 years. Our families are here, our friends are here, this is our community and we want to be a part of a positive outcome for everyone. The protest stage is one way we can bring new tools for change to the forefront of the conversation.
You have really increased the focus on minority-focused workshops and talks in recent years. How do people of privilege tend to navigate these spaces?
Moogfest is populated by synthesists — folks who are a little revolutionary, somewhat utopian, and partially alien. As synthesists, we are bringing together diverse elements to create something new. The open and welcoming environment of Moogfest encourages people to be more accepting of their fellow humans. Exploring the far reaches of human potential through collaboration in intimate spaces allows people to let their barriers down. Everyone is chill.
There also appears to be an increased spiritual aspect to this year's schedule, from talks on techno-shamanism to a witchcraft-themed coding workshop. What is the link between spiritual and scientific schools of thought?
Spiritual schools of thought preserve cultural heritage and are an alternative lens through which to view our shared reality. By transcending the status quo, we have additional tools to explore the future, stimulate creative thought and to keep the conversation inclusive. Technology is embodied philosophical thought given physical existence and it's important not to limit ourselves to one dominant philosophy.
How does the theme of transhumanism relate to those of protest and oppression?
Oppression denies the autonomy of the individual and transhumanism is about empowering ultimate autonomy. By looking at the larger themes of what it means to be human, it empowers us to have a more wide-ranging conversation about injustice and inequality.
Electronic music has historically been linked to resistance and inclusivity, whether through cathartic collective experience or groups like Discwoman. How does this relate to the legacy of Bob Moog?
As human beings we resist anything that denigrates our humanity and seek authenticity and freedom. Creating and defining our own sonic space is inherently liberating, and the central premise of electronic music is that the instruments empower you to do that. Bob's inspiration was to innovate tools that allow artists to open new portals of creativity, and through that to create art that illuminates humanity.
How do you see the dancefloor manifesting inclusivity and compassion moving forward? Do you think there is room within these "safe spaces" to engage with the opposition?Lessons in compassion and inclusivity that are learned on the dance floor can and should be taken into the practice of daily life. At Moogfest we explore future thought during the day and at night we take those lessons and move them into our bodies and let loose to future sounds. The dance floor is the great equalizer; within that environment even your opposition is to be respected for their essential humanity. As Bob Moog said, "To be human, to be fully human is to need music and to derive nourishment from the music you hear…"
Text Hannah Ongley
Photography Mike Belleme