Photo by Reed Benjamin
Kode9 shook The Durham Armory Friday night
Friday, May 20, 2016
Despite a week of foreboding from area forecasters, the rain has mostly steered clear of Moogfest’s big debut
in downtown Durham. It poured ahead of dawn on Saturday morning, but a blanket of low, gray skies and the occasional drizzle were Friday’s only very slight meteorological miscues. For now, at least, the skies are clear, a woefully wet Moogfest thankfully averted.
But Friday, in spite of the marquee outdoor sets of Grimes and Odesza, I actually didn’t mind being indoors in two of the city’s underutilized city-owned venues—the PSI Theatre at the Durham Arts Council
and the remodeled Durham Armory
. Two weeks ago, Art of Cool
used both spaces, too, with headliners like Kamasi Washington rolling through the Armory and a spate of much more intimate shows in the two-hundred-capacity PSI. There will continue to be a lot to consider about the relationship between Durham’s two late-spring music festivals, but their temporal proximity certainly made one thing clear for me yesterday—when used properly, these are two of the best unconventional venues in the Triangle.
The Armory is essentially Moogfest’s bass-loaded dance club, with massive speakers and subwoofers lining the ceiling and floor alike. Last night, standing in the first few rows for a brilliant set from dubstep demigod and Hyperdub impresario Kode9, the sound rattled my body—brain and teeth and temples and all—like a thin window. The room’s shotgun-style configuration lets an impressive sound system work well, with lows vibrating through the floors and highs hovering overhead. And the wide stage allows for enormous, immersive projections (in Kode9’s case, a video game, played in real-time, by a partner to his right) and for the night’s slate of producers and DJs to alternate seamlessly by setting up shop as the preceding set began to end. As Bicep’s hypercolor live debut ended, they shook hands with Robert Hood and smiled, and he got directly to work with a low-end cacophony that slowly spilled into a massive beat. The sound radiated through downtown Durham, a heartbeat that required no stethoscope to detect.
The mood in the PSI, meanwhile, is much more mellow, the chill-out tent or warm-up spot of sorts to The Armory’s overwhelming scope. Yesterday afternoon, I watched as Moon Ribas,
seated behind a single bass drum at the center of the small room’s stage, deliver a musical interpretation of the last several decades of worldwide earthquakes. A computer connected to the sound system would call out the next year every ten seconds or so, and Ribas would respond with her drums, her low rumble or booming hits reflecting the magnitude of that respective period's quakes. Sure, it sounds precious, but in PSI’s close quarters, the piece was more visceral than I had anticipated, more efficiently indicative of the wobbly world in which we live and which Ribas experiences more than most.
Later in the day at PSI, an all-star cast of musicians, all set to take turns improvising with vintage Buchla synthesizers, led to an overflow line that held as many people as the room itself. You could hear murmurs from inside, but for the most part, those waiting were left to talk amongst themselves.
It was a programing mistake for one of the festival’s most exciting bills, but it’s understandable, as maybe now we’re finally figuring out how to use rooms like the PSI and The Armory. The Art of Cool and Moogfest have both made that a necessity, one that shouldn’t be limited only to events in late May. The city should do its part to help make that happen.