DJs: The Secret Luxury of Moogfest

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I never thought a festival like Moogfest would be accessible to me when it first moved to Durham in 2016. Three years have passed and somehow the music heads and synth nerds of central North Carolina are still blessed with the opportunity to come together every spring and enjoy the electrifying music sensation that is Moogfest.

For four days, Moogfest transforms Durham into a synthesizer haven. The myriad of workshops focused on the production and construction of synth hardware complement musical performances that incorporate synthesizers into their sounds. Past lineups have included well-known artists like Kelela, Grimes, and Animal Collective and sets from amazing artists unfamiliar to the general public. The first time I went to Moogfest, I was genuinely surprised to see a wide array of live sets being played, from experimental sounds to synth dream-pop to popular house classics. A multifaceted audiovisual experience is guaranteed with the selection of events available in this four-day festival.

Personally, my favorite part of this festival is hearing live sets from the DJs. While most headliners may come in with a set list of what will be performed, you can count on hearing thrilling improvisation from local talent. I had the opportunity to talk with Bull City grown DJs Gemynii Black and Patrick Phelps-McKeown to get a sense of their experiences of Moogfest 2019.

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Patrick Phelps-McKeown, better known as Treee City, is an NC native electronic musician that performed in Moogfest for the third time as of 2019. His first set in 2016 featured music by other artists native to North Carolina.

I wanted to showcase how many amazing artists there are in this region. There are a lot of people doing really cool stuff in this area”, said Phelps-McKeown.

In 2018, I did a set in the Raundhaus showcase at Parts & Labor/Motorco. I had just released an EP, so I wanted that set to reflect who am I and the music that I make.

For this year’s set with Party Illegal, he decided to switch things up and improvise.

This year was probably my least planned set. I knew that I wanted to play music that I liked and music that people could dance to instead of making some kind of statement as an artist.”

Right now, Patrick’s main goal as a DJ is to create a fun environment where people can come to dance and let loose. Gemynii has similar intentions for her performances this year.

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Honolulu-native Gemynii Black moved to Durham in November 2011. She began DJing officially under the tutelage of New York based producer DJ Play Play in 2016. In the spring of 2017, Gemynii birthed The Conjure, a show with the intention of providing a space where black femmes, women, and queer persons of color can perform and be celebrated for their talents. Last year she performed a live set for the Raundhaus showcase at Motorco. This year for Moogfest she had the opportunity to bring The Conjure to the stage with Party Illegal.

Gemynii and I spoke honestly about how we thought the festival would turn out without a DJ presence.

So, what do you think the festival would be like without the DJs?” I asked.

I think it would be weird!” she said. “Some of the music presented at the festival is meant to be experienced as art.

This year, Moogfest featured a performance by Indiana-native electronic musician Jlin. Her latest album, “Black Origami”, falls into the broad category of dance music, but is better represented by the footwork and experimental genres. The frenetic and intense nature of her music is better enjoyed by some as art to be experienced than as music for dancing.

After experiencing these great pieces of arts, and I can’t speak for everyone, me and my friends were ready to hear music we could get into and not just witness” Gemynii says. “I wanted to hear music that made me want to move. This can be really hard to find sometimes, but on Thursday night, the first night of the festival, the locals really showed out and represented for dance music. That was probably one of the best nights of the festivals. Friday was weird, it was hard trying to find that danceable music.”

Luckily, Gemynii and her crew were able to find the dance music they were looking for at the Durham Fruit Company later that evening. Moogfest often features a diverse lineup of music, from synth-pop to experimental footwork to disco house.

DJs like Patrick and Gemynii are the backbone of electronic music festivals like Moogfest.

The headliners and workshops may draw people to the festival, but the DJs are the unwavering heart of Moogfest, pulsing electronic music throughout the Triangle area. Moogfest is the only festival in Durham where you can expect to see people partying at a venue until 5 in the morning.

If you’re interested in hearing synthesized beats and live DJ sets, be sure to grab a ticket and experience this unique festival next year.