Q’s With Moogfest’s Lorna-Rose Simpson; N.C. Event To Feature Kelela, Mouse On Mars, Conversation With Michael Stipe & More than 100 Workshops

Kicking off today is the always-progressive Moogfest, named after synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog and running in various capacities and locales since 2004.  It’s been called “TED filtered through a distortion pedal” by the Huffington Post and describes itself as the synthesis of music, art and technology.
With an artist lineup topped by Kelela, Mouse On Mars, KRS-One and Jon Hopkins May 17-20 at The Armory in Durham, N.C., Moogfest is heavily involved with artists in that it also features extensive daytime programming with more than 100 workshops with artists, educators and innovators. 
Just announced were former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe added to its conversation program as well as performances from legendary hip-hop artists Pete Rock and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest fame. Also performing with full band is Moses Sumney, who recently joined Sufjan Stevens onstage at the Grammy Awards for a performance. 
Those artists will perform at a free stage Saturday in the heart of Durham’s downtown American Tobacco Campus.
It was previously announced that Stipe’s audio-visual installation “Thibault Dance” will be featured in downtown Durham, and now the artist himself will appear for a conversation on Saturday at Carolina Theatre for a discussion about his audio-visual art post-R.E.M.
Nine artists, including the delightfully experimental Mouse On Mars, Jenny Hval and Yves Tumor, will implement a new high-tech A3 Audio Cubed Spatial sound system into their performances. 
This year its first talent lineup announcement was solely female and non-binary artists, including a technology keynote from transgender activist Chelsea Manning who pleaded guilty to leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks and whose sentence was later commuted by President Obama.
Pollstar spoke with Moogfest programming director Lorna-Rose Simpson, who’s been with Moogfest for five years, about the event’s artist lineup, daytime programming and its commitment to being inclusive with its workshops and performances. 
Pollstar: Is it safe to say that Moogfest’s artist lineup is very much about artist discovery?
Simspon: It is definitely a Journey. Going hand in hand with a very curated program, it’s a lineup of artists that not everyone will recognize. I think that’s What’s really interesting for us and to the artists that come to us because it is about that discovery.  
You can obviously check out a lot of these artists in advance, but still come to the festival and experience something totally new, in a really exciting environment. 
Moogfest is very much about putting the artist in a different context, about live performances in intimate environments.
Scott Legato / Getty Images
– Kelela
Electronic and R&B artist Kelela is headlining Moogfest in Durham, N.C., which takes place May 17-20 with more than 100 workshops and a lineup featuring many female, transgender and non-binary artists.

It’s really great for us that an attendee can see Kelela, who is a name they already know, but in a seated theatre. The same with KRS-One, in a seated theatre. 
What is that relationship between the artist and the venue? The way that i approach the program is very systematic. In every venue it’s very carefully decided who will play in that venue and what that lineup is every night.
So when you come to the festival you can kind of see that thread that runs through the entire program. And that’s also true to the daytime program.

How much has the daytime programming grown in recent years? There are more than 100 workshops this year.
That’s something that we as as the festival have been entertaining and developing over the years as well. In 2014 when Moogfest was still in Asheville, the daytime program then was pretty small. We had just really started introducing it then. We had maybe seven or eight workshpops across the weekend. Contrast to now, and last year we had 112 workshops. This year is set to be pretty much on par. The daily keynotes are the anchors of the program and we really build out from there. Really the reason we do it is just because there is such a huge appetite for it.
MIchael Stipe
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
– MIchael Stipe
Performing at “The Music of David Bowie” tribute concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.
Why’s that?
The Moogfest audience is a very switched-on one, very engaged. They’re interested and want to participaite in a dialog and want to learn.
And the artists participate with that also, just as much. It’s interesting because when you speak to an artist about hosting a workshop or being part of a conversation or presenting another part of themselves, sometimes it’s a little daunting and artists aren’t sure what to make of it. But we work with them very closely and kind of help to develop and suss out and what the daytime participation can be.
We are making a workshop that is very specific to them, their artform, or sometimes maybe doing something that’s completely different but they have an interest in.
I think the artists really enjoy the opportunity to show another side of themselves and the audience loves to be on the other side of the artist they love or are discovering. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and is such a unique part of the festival. When we announce the workshops, they sell out within days. Attendees have to sign up to attend the workshops. 
How about the female, non-binary and transgender initial artist announcement? How important is it for Moogfest to be inclusive? 
There’s a thought process, not that other festivals don’t think of who they’re booking, but there’s definitely a very specific process of the artists who we invite to the festival.
So that does allow some flexibility, freedom, and license to be able to invite this incredible lineup of women to perform at the festival.
That’s why in December we had that announcement which was purely the female, trans and nonbinary artists playing the festival, because we wanted to celebrate them.
Talking about gender can be uncomfortable but that’s also why it’s necessary.
It should be something we can talk about more easily, and the only way to do that is to bring it to the forefront, and say look, this is what we’re doing, these are the incredible artists and they happen to be female, and we’re going to celebrate that.
People have their opinions and we welcome that. We’ve always said the festival is a platform for dialog and conversation and debate.