Moogfest, scheduled for May 17-20 in downtown Durham, began in Asheville in 2004 as a celebration of Bob Moog, the synthesizer pioneer who brought his operation to that city in the late 1970s. The festival relocated from Asheville to Durham last year. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO
Moogfest, scheduled for May 17-20 in downtown Durham, began in Asheville in 2004 as a celebration of Bob Moog, the synthesizer pioneer who brought his operation to that city in the late 1970s. The festival relocated from Asheville to Durham last year. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Entertainment

‘Gender is not a genre,’ singer says while exiting Moogfest lineup

By David Menconi

dmenconi@newsobserver.com

December 07, 2017 12:33 PM

DURHAM

Moogfest’s focus on showcasing gender diversity at its 2018 music festival this spring – an effort that received mostly praise – took a negative turn Wednesday after an artist pulled out of the Durham event to protest how her appearance has been marketed.

The electronic-music and technology festival received a positive response Wednesday when it rolled out the first part of its lineup. Organizers announced Chelsea Manning, a transgender woman, as a keynote speaker and multiple acts who are female, transgender and non-binary musicians.

But Caroline Polachek, a Brooklyn-based musician, tweeted out strong objections to the announcement, saying she was “furious” to be included in the group and wasn’t consulted beforehand.

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The Magic of Moogfest

A Moog Music engineer, Amos Gaynes describes the magic of synthesizers and Moogfest​ on the festival's opening day, Thursday May, 18, 2017, in Durham, NC.

“Furious to be (without approval) on an all-female & non-gender-binary announcement list for @Moogfest,” tweeted the musician, formerly of the band Chairlift. “Gender is not a genre. I don’t need a sympathy pedestal, esp from a male curator. Take my name off this list and put me in the pit with the boys.”

Several hours later, Polachek followed with another tweet announcing that she no longer would be performing at Moogfest this May.

Furious to be (without approval) on an all-female & non-gender-binary announcement list for @Moogfest. Gender is not a genre. I don't need a sympathy pedestal, esp from a male curator. Take my name off this list and put me in the pit with the boys. pic.twitter.com/6XWcWgldZC

— Caroline Polachek (@carolineplz) December 6, 2017

Moogfest issued an open-letter apology, published on numerous music websites, that thanked Polachek for “starting this conversation” and noted that the event is curated by a team of people, not a single person or man.

“We apologize for reframing you in a way that takes focus off of your artistry and talent and we regret that you will no longer be taking part in Moogfest 2018,” the letter said. “Today’s lineup announcement was inspired by and coincided with Always On, a celebration of voices that are traditionally underrepresented. Our intention is to showcase an initial lineup that further amplifies those voices while supporting others in a way that challenges the manner in which festival lineups are typically presented.

“We believe that using our platform to center women, non-binary and transgender people is an important tool to combat the erasure and invisibility that can occur when these identities are kept on the periphery,” the statement continued. “Please know that no musician was booked for Moogfest for any reason other than their own unique artistry, and today’s announcement is just phase one of our 2018 lineup. As always, the full Moogfest artist roster will be a diverse lineup of talented performers across a wide spectrum of gender, culture and politics.”

Caroline Polachek, left, is a Brooklyn-based musician who used to perform with Patrick Wimberly in Chairlift, right. She exited Moogfest 2018 music and technology festival after objecting to how her appearance was marketed.
Chairlift Facebook

Thursday, Lorna-Rose Simpson, Moogfest director of programming, declined to elaborate on the statement.

“We made our public response, and that is all we’re going to say on the matter,” Simpson said. “We don’t want to discuss it any further. We did thank her for the opportunity to open the conversation and bring this into our current dialogue in discussions about the complexities involved in this instance.”

Numerous social media responses followed Polachek’s announcement with some siding with her objections. But others said they appreciate that the music festival, which moved from Asheville to Durham in 2016, is highlighting artists of all backgrounds, especially in North Carolina, which has seen polarizing debates surrounding which bathrooms transgender people can use.

one hundred percent with you. this is something that infurated me endlessly in my own experience as a musician. Thank you for giving a platform to this side of the conversation.

— Very Fresh (@soveryfresh) December 7, 2017

Sheez. Harsh. I think sure Moog’s intentions were pretty pure here. Unless I am missing some details here (which may very well be the case), this just seems an outsized and mean-spirited response to a well intended curator(s)

— Ryan Tingle (@FreedomFriez) December 7, 2017

Togetherness. An intelligent woman often surpasses man. It is required that at least be considered equally. You can get it, do not get discouraged.

— Diego Canós Benajas (@dcb_greywolf) December 6, 2017

About the social media response, Simpson said, “We don’t really get involved in what people said about things.”

Moogfest, scheduled for May 17-20 in downtown Durham, began in Asheville in 2004 as a celebration of Bob Moog, the synthesizer pioneer who brought his operation to that city in the late 1970s.

Over the years, Moogfest has featured well-known electronic heritage acts like Gary Numan and Kraftwerk alongside rising upstarts. The festival has always had an activism component, too, such as this year’s “Protest Stage.”

Moogfest offers panels and workshops by day and concerts by night. Manning’s appearance will be about technology as a disruptive force in politics and society.

Manning was born a man and served with the U.S. Army as an intelligence analyst under the name Bradley Edward Manning. She was convicted by court-martial in 2013 for leaking classified intelligence documents to WikiLeaks. She was sentenced to 35 years at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, but her sentence was commuted by former President Barack Obama earlier this year after she had been incarcerated for near seven years, including time while awaiting trial.

Accompanying Wednesday’s lineup announcement was “Always On,” a 50-hour livestream of performances by female, transgender and non-binary artists. That can be viewed at AlwaysOn.Live.

The rest of the Moogfest 2018 lineup will be announced in January. For details, see moogfest.com.

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi