Unicorns Do Live In Asheville – A Mountain Oasis Experience

*written by A’Damaged Pro for Electronica Life

AC Entertainment and Asheville, North Carolina have fostered a symbiotic relationship over the years. AC’s influence on the region is easily recognized when you examine the musical landscape. Whether it be bringing global headliners to local venues, such as “The Orange Peel,” or taking the reins and collaborating with local organizations to raise the national awareness of the local music scene, AC’s presence has helped move things forward. This year marked the inaugural year of AC’s newest brainchild, Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit. With Bassnectar, Nine Inch Nails, and Pretty Lights as the headliners, it was destined to be a success.

I would like to think that I’ve always been of the mindset that adventures are not something you should shy away from, unless there’s a really good reason. The only person who might disagree with my claim is my mother and were not asking her on this one, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I don’t remember exactly how I found out about Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit, but I do remember that the feeling of excitement spread through my entire body. How could I not want to go? This was an opportunity to: travel to a place that actually has seasons, visit my parents that had recently moved to the area, and experience a diverse lineup that I feel I am shortchanging by calling it “amazing”.

Day 1

In my experience, adventures can be characterized (at least at the beginning) into two ways, those where everything goes right and those that don’t start off on the right foot but the inconvenience eventually turns out to be funny when you share the story later. It’s bittersweet for me to admit that this adventure was definitely the latter. What follows is not a rant about TSA’s personnel, protocols, or implementation. It is simply an account of how things can get awkward when trying to fly out of New Orleans.

I tried to follow all the rules. I downloaded the app. I checked in early. I paid the additional fees for “convenient” seats on all of my flights. I put all of my toiletries in my one checked bag. I arrived with plenty of time to spare, or so I thought. As I’m making my way through the security line, all I can think is that I hope I can make sure that I move faster than the people that are in front of me, that apparently were in no rush at all.

Maybe it’s my fear of unnecessary radiation, but whenever I approach that portion of security I tend to get nervous and that’s when the hijinks began. I had one tennis shoe with my laptop and I sent it down the conveyor belt. The other shoe was in the bin with my camera bag. I approached the radiation terminal. Not sure why but I close my eyes whenever I’m being irradiated. I stepped there only to find that my belongings had not followed with me. The faint glimmer of hope was when my laptop and the first shoe proceed on through. I could see my camera bag on their monitor when the TSA agent called for a bag check and bomb personnel. I have forgotten to take things out of bags before going on trips and this has caused some confusion, but this was a brand-new camera bag and I made sure I only had essential material in it. So I’m standing there like a pelican with one shoe on, feeling like I’m the victim of some elaborate practical joke or the unwitting star of a TSA training video since I was surrounded by five of them at this point. Their “security expert” began to slowly unzip my bag, he asked me all of the standard questions about if this is my bag and if I packed it and such. I wished I could have taken a picture of their collective faces when they located the suspect item that caused all the hoopla. What was it, you ask? Is the suspense killing you? It was a plastic bag full of high-gloss business cards. To their machine it looked like a bag of floating liquid, coupled with the camera gadgetry… I can only imagine what they thought it was.

I made it to the gate with two minutes to spare and I can’t help but believe that all the awkwardness was finally behind me. I was wrong. I overheard the lady at the desk tell a woman, who was waiting on standby, that they were all full and waiting on one person to check in for the flight. That person happened to be me. I apologized for my lateness and my confusion and wished her the best of luck. She did not appreciate my early-morning candor. I boarded the plane and prepared myself for the exciting weekend that was about to happen. In an interesting twist of fate, the two empty seats in front of me were filled by none other than the lady who was waiting on standby and her friend, with an equally poor attitude. My brain has since deleted her snide remarks. I do not know her story nor how long she had been waiting, so it would have been unfair for me to judge her. I told her again that I hoped she has a good weekend because I knew magic was waiting on me in Asheville.

When my parents met me at the airport in Charlotte, I couldn’t be sure who was more excited, them or me. To my knowledge, my mother has not taken a position with the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, but that didn’t stop her from using the two-hour drive from the airport to their house to regale me with highlights, local points-of-interest, and other various reasons why I should move to Asheville. As my weekend unfolded, it was transparent to see how they fell in love with this hidden gem of North Carolina. Enough about travel. The real adventure was about to begin. Did I mention I was bringing my dad to work with me for the first day of the inaugural year of Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit (MOEMS)? I asked him to take a look at the lineup and he said Bassnectar looked like it could be fun. My dad would be my Asheville liaison, and I would be his guide into the EDM-centric world that I have grown to know and love. Armed with my camera, my “alarming” business cards, and a Cheshire cat permagrin, we set out for the evening.

Lineups encompassing such a wide spectrum, as the one offered by MOEMS, afforded the festival goer a unique opportunity to vary their experience as well as maintaining an inevitable progression to their headliner of choice. This being my father’s first foray into the world of electronica, we decided to make our first stop the ExploreAsheville.com Arena, in the U.S. Cellular Center, to experience the workings of a gentleman by the name of Claude VonStroke. Originally hailing from Detroit, Michigan, Claude has experienced the most prolific chapter of his musical career mixing house and deep house in San Francisco. You only felt like he was opening the festival for the first three minutes. After what he deemed to be an appropriate warm-up period, he started bringing the heat. The dancefloor was ablaze.  People that were strangers five minutes ago were now friends after being united in the music. The festival was officially underway, and by the looks on everyone’s faces, the masses couldn’t be happier about that.

The evening was abuzz with anticipation for the next act. I must admit, I wasn’t too familiar with the work of Purity Ring, aside from some pre-festival googling and Soundcloud activity, but according to our new friends they were definitely something that we didn’t want to miss. I was at a loss for how to describe the sultry and extraterrestrial sound of this Canadian duo, but I was captivated. Corin laid down a phenomenal baseline on his synth-drum machine to bring the audience together, while Megan’s deep and powerful vocals transported us to another realm. We had just stepped through a musical vortex, courtesy of Purity Ring and the night was just beginning.

The first venue change of the evening was upon us. My dad and I decided to take a leisurely stroll from the Cellular Center to the critically-acclaimed venue, The Orange Peel. “The Peel” as the locals affectionately call it, has been home to countless national and global acts throughout the years. This venue has fostered a particularly close bond with AC Entertainment, the company that was wholly responsible for throwing MOEMS. When you stepped through the doors, you were instantly met with the echoes of music’s past.  Glasgow’s son, Rustie, was our reason for the visit. Anyone’s sounds that have been described as “wonky” instantly piqued my curiosity. I was more than pleasantly surprised. In addition to the exposure to new music my dad and I ran into a very interesting group of individuals, captained by a young lady dressed as a banana. My dad and the banana were discussing world travels and the beer-brewing styles of Germany when I was separated from the group.

Ironic as it may be in a tech-laded world, my dad doesn’t know how to text. I left a voicemail saying that I had to hightail it back to the Cellular Center to get into the photo pit for Bassnectar. I left him in the care of a talking banana. What could be the worst thing that could happen? The arena was packed. Familiar faces from earlier as well as the BassFam I had yet to meet had convened, because church was about to be in session. Bass Church, that is. You were advised to open your third eye and be prepared to be bathed in the healing power of the BASS. Lorin the Wizard aka Bassnectar did not disappoint. Once he hit the decks, he owned you. This night was no different. A delight to the senses and a journey for the soul, I was left breathless. When I finally found my dad after the show I was pleased to hear that he had a similar experience and was now an official member of the BassFam. No idea what ever happened to the Banana Crew that night, but I’m certain if they were at Bassnectar, their night was just as splendid as ours.

(click the picture above for more Day 1 photos)

Day 2

Still reeling from an evening that I put unequivocally in the “W” column, I set out for my Day 2 adventures. I made it to downtown Asheville with a few hours to spare before my first show of the evening, so I decided to go on a little walking adventure. In my experience, letting your inner-tourist guide your journalistic side normally results in some unexpected surprises. I wouldn’t offer of the lead-in like that if it didn’t happen. Following up on an interview lead, I make plans to meet up with Molly K and Dave of Paper Tiger. They empathized with my “fish out of water” scenario and offered to take me on a walking tour, during which we coordinated a walk-and-talk and grabbed a bite to eat before the madness begins. I had only spoken with Molly at this point and I was eager to see how the dynamic between Molly and Dave was fostered by their respective musical attitudes. Under their guidance, we agreed on a place to take a load off and conclude the interview. The conversation was flowing well and I was thoroughly enjoying their answers. Just listening to them talk, anyone can tell that they absolutely love music: the theory, the creation, the production. We were nearing the end of the interview when we were interrupted by a man claiming to be a monk. I’ve never claimed to be an authority on the life of a monk or what a monk should look like, but this guy did not fit the bill for me. The only thing remotely monk-esque about this gentleman was the books on Krishna consciousness that he was “offering.” I marked this day on my calendar as the first time I had ever been hustled by a monk, yet oddly I was left smiling.

The situation with the monk kind of the derailed the remainder of the interview, and made finding a new location and activity the order of the day. I had read about an art showing in the MOEMS program, featuring local artists, and decided that was right up my alley. On the way over to The Apothecary, I noted the numerous examples of graffiti that salt-and-pepper the downtown landscape. The Apothecary was a quaint little do-it-yourself space that was being featured as a small gallery with live music this afternoon. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the featured artists, Gus Cutty, about the graff scene in Asheville. He mentioned that Asheville tended to embrace all avenues of creative and artistic expression, and graffiti was no exception. The city even had a public skate park that wass utilized as a canvas for the “aerosol artist.” Asheville’s ability to rise above the stigma that is traditionally associated with spray paint (only gang members “tag”) art really embodied how truly progressive this city is. I didn’t want to let my parents know, outright, but every encounter I was having reinforced all of the wonderful things they said about Asheville. Either way, it was time to make a move and start the music for the evening.

First up on my personal lineup for the evening was Daniel Martin-McCormick aka Ital, at The Orange Peel. Something about starting the evening with a little deep house just seem to suit my mood. He infiltrated my brain with some smooth mixes and subtle undertones and a visible enthusiasm that made it impossible to remain “un-pumped.” The crowd had a few people that were embracing the “whirling dervish” style of dancing, while the majority embrace a mystified look and the standby head bob. No matter how you analyzed the situation, people were enjoying themselves.

I had been waiting for the opportunity to hear Robert DeLong live, for some time now. Something about his style speaked to me. Maybe I was a sucker for anyone who can merge house and moombahton. What I identified with in the music was relatively inconsequential. What mattered was that this guy came to play. He utilized sharp baselines and crisp melodies to work the crowd into a frenzy. I knew there was a moment that he knew he was responsible for fostering a direct connection within the crowd. There was something quite soothing about seeing an artist smile because they know they were responsible for the positive states of mind for everyone in the audience. Robert Delong, well played, sir. Well played.

I made my way back to the Cellular Center to get my first live dose of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Any Canadian band that named themselves after a 1970s black-and-white documentary about a Japanese biker gang, warrants my immediate attention. Featuring a non-traditional classic ensemble against a backdrop of erratic looped footage, you had no choice but to buckle your metaphorical seatbelt and enjoy the ride their dark power ballads intended. I closed my eyes at one point and tried to isolate the message of each instrument. The richness of sounds overwhelmed me as their collaborative harmony filled the arena. While the last notes hung in the air, I felt as if the grip, from the audio massage I had just received, on my brain was slowly loosening.

The tranquil lull of the intermission was short-lived. If you were in the arena, you knew exactly what was coming. Gods of Rock were about to destroy this place. I tipped my metaphorical hat and opened my heart to the experience that was to follow. There was no escape. Who would want to? Nine Inch Nails were about to descend upon this place and bring with them the Horsemen of the “musical Apocalypse.” Trent Reznor’s words, dipped with the harsh venom of reality, instantly catapulted you to the chapter of your life where those words held the most significance. Something paradoxical and transcendent, at the same time, about having your brain in one place but your mind in two different realities simultaneously. Fear. Jealousy. Panic. Love. The arena was awash with a swirl of raw emotion. The intensity with which the music bombarded your soul was relentless. Last night, we were bathed in BASS. This night we were bathed by the BEAST.

(click the picture above for more Day 2 photos)

Day 3

There’s was always something in the air the last day of a festival. It’s the last opportunity to hang out with your new friends or to find those that have “disappeared” over the past few days. It’s bittersweet because you knew all good things must come to an end, but you’ve been given one more night for “musical communion.” For me, the ExploreAsheville.com Arena was once again ground zero for the evening. Four artists in one location. My “spidey-sense” told me that I didn’t want to miss any of them.

Ladies and gentlemen, being ready was your only option. The first act to the stage was the Montreal-based dynamic duo, Adventure Club. Christian and Leighton were no strangers to the big show and they acted accordingly. They didn’t waste any time with prolonged rising action before they started dropping the bangers. AC is known for finding that happy balance between merging the new school with the old, in a seamless transition from one electro-symphony to the next. The only inevitable disappointment to the set was that it had to come to a close. My only solace was that I knew the frenzy they had worked me into would be perpetuated by the next act.

PANTyRAID, comprised of Ooah and MartyParty, were known for bringing a diverse style to their shows. Drawing on elements from hip hop to dubstep, they incorporated all aspects of the dance music spectrum, ensuring the resulting music was responsible for making the people dance. They utilized some very effective crowd-interaction methods as well. Four “HYPE” girls that twerked, bounced, and reminded the crowd to “Turn UP” and that it was “Booty Time,” were key examples of how knowing your audience can turn a good concert into a great one. The two pyramids of inflatable dice that had graced the stage were scattered through the audience. Manifested as their namesake, the crowd was bombarded by handful after handful of panties. Seeing people later on in the evening, that treasured their relics from the show, were instant reminders of magic that was just shared through music. The communion was growing.

I found it extremely intriguing that such a diverse crowd was packing the area for the next act. Each person I asked had a different reason why what would follow was going to be a memorable experience. I entered this weekend with an open mind and I was not about to allow any seed of doubt to take sprout at this point. Enter, Disclosure. Do not let the respective ages of these brothers from the UK fool you. They are world-class musicians who have finely honed an aspect of their craft so masterfully, that you can either nod in subliminal approval or commence with your own personal brand of dance. The Brothers Lawrence, Guy and Howard, rattled the very fiber of the our collective being, regaled us with contemporary classics off of their debut album, “Settle,” and filled the arena with smooth beats and remarkable visuals.

The screams and cheers that greeted the last act of the evening were filled with happiness and enthusiasm. All of those banners and flags I had seen proudly toted throughout the evening had finally found their moment to shine. For the Pretty Lights Family in attendance, this was the zenith of their MOEMS experience. For those new to the workings of Derek Vincent Smith aka Pretty Lights, their night, that was already filled with pleasant memories, was about to take an “electro-soul” ride into the outer atmosphere. This tour featured a landmark incorporation, in the form of, a full live band, which complemented the smooth beat foundation that Derek is known for bringing time and time again. There was no hesitation. With true-to-form Ballerado swag, Derek and the boys (they are not from Colorado but the positive attitude is wildly contagious) merged a flawless synth foundation with the crisp sounds of live instruments in a very successful attempt to elevate the respective minds and souls in attendance. I’m certain the music would have had transportive powers even with your eyes closed, but the elegant, and at times delightfully overwhelming, light and laser show was a gentle reminder that pleasing all of the senses is part of the Pretty Lights mission statement. Game. Set. Match. Pretty Lights. Seeing people leaving the arena with a permagrin on their face and buzzing positivity should have been proof enough that the music and the motivation were pure and received well.

One of the things I love about festivals is that you don’t have to know who everybody is on the lineup in order to have a good time. You can migrate. You can meander. A stranger’s recommendation became the way that you discovered your next favorite band or artist. “Have you ever heard so-and-so live? They are awesome. You should totally check them out.” If you were visibly excited to share new music with another person, that person could tell. Add my impulse control issues and I’m easily swayed. Being united by the music transcends the spectrum of emotion. Having Asheville as the setting for this amazing event was a masterful touch, adding a dynamic element that can only be present there. Mountain Oasis, you came, you saw, and you conquered. Thank you kindly for opening your arms and your heart to your fellow music wanderers. I came for the music and fell in love with the city at the same time. I can’t wait for next year.

(click the picture above for more Day 3 photos)