Moby’s Area: One breathes fresh air into the concert scene

Daily Herald Music Critic

I imagine a radio station that effortlessly plays hip-hop, then indie rock, followed by some jazz.

Impossible? Sure is. With so many radio programmers insisting its listeners only want more of the same, festivals such as Lollapalooza, or this summer’s Area: One, prove listeners are comfortable with diversity.

Area: One, which arrives at the Tweeter Center in Tinley Park Wednesday, is the brainchild of Moby, the techno pioneer, who expanded the genre with his soulful and wildly eclectic breakthrough, “Play” (V2). Born Richard Melville Hall, Moby gave a human face and an emotional sound to the otherwise dry and static world of dance music.

Featuring Canadian pop diva Nelly Furtado, Philly hip-hop collective the Roots, hard rock band Incubus, cosmic hip-hop duo Outkast and an all-day DJ tent featuring Carl Cox, The Orb and Paul Oakenfold, Area: One is a breath of fresh air when you think about the nostalgia acts and one-dimensional rock bills that dominate the arena concert scene this summer.

But as much as they’re critically raved, most of the festival’s performers aren’t getting major commercial airplay.

Moby took time to speak last week about that strange dichotomy the morning after the tour’s opening night in Atlanta.

Q: When you first thought about Area: One, was it in reaction to anything you saw going on in the music industry?

A: My main reason for putting the tour together was, on a very simple and naive level, I thought it would be a fun thing to do. On the other hand, it was a reaction against two things. One thing it was a reaction against was this musical pigeonholing that seems to be going on in the past few years where a lot of people in the music business assume that people who buy records only buy one type of record. In my experience, everyone I know likes a lot of different types of music and I like different types of music, so I thought it would be nice to put something that was, by definition, quite eclectic. On another hand, I’ve been to some of the more hard rock oriented festivals. I like hard rock, I like heavy metal, but there is a sort of intolerance and misogyny you find at these aggressive festivals and I kind of wanted an alternative to that. Hopefully to have the only festival that none of the bands will tell women to take their shirts off. I wanted to create an environment that as a tolerant environment and an open-minded environment but first and foremost just a celebratory environment.

Q: There really hasn’t been a choice out there with so many packaged tours running out of stream in the past few years and disappearing.

A: A few years ago there was Lollapalooza, and Lilith and the H.O.R.D.E. tour. I did Lollapalooza in 1995 and I had such a nice time; that was in some ways an inspiration for this. Going on this type of tour is kind of like summer camp, you wake up in a different city every day, but you have breakfast with the same people, and you see the same people every day and it’s nice. It’s warm outside, you walk around, get a little bit of a tan.

Q. Most of the Area: One lineup are critic’s favorites, but aren’t in the mainstream. Was choosing them a kind of statement on the mainstream?

A: Well in some ways the musicians who are on the bill with me, I got lucky because they call come from a sort of underground background and they all make really interesting, experimental records and they all had had lot of success. Nelly Furtado for example, when we approached her to be involved in the festival she hadn’t sold that many records. But now, the strange thing is she’s first on the bill but she’s selling more records per week than anyone on the festival.

Q: But she’s not necessarily on the radio as, let’s say, Britney Spears. If Area: One is a success, do you think it’ll be a wake-up call?

A: I don’t know. I never worked in radio so I don’t understand it. I know if I did work in radio, I might get a little bored playing 24 hours of music that all sounds similar, the same way if I sat at home and played 24-hours of music that sounded similar I would get pretty bored. I grew up with radio stations that were diverse and eclectic, they would play a Elvis Costello song and then a Bruce Springsteen song. It seems in the ’70s and ’80s and up to the early ’90s, radio was perhaps a bit more experimental. And I miss that. I can’t be so presumptuous that our festival will affect radio. But it would be nice if people in radio come down to our festival and see that the people jumping up and down for Incubus and are the same people in the dance tent dancing to (DJ) Paul Oakenfold.

Q: Things are so segregated at radio more than I can ever remember.

A: I think in my whole life I’ve only met five or six people who only listen to one type of music. And people who listen to one type of music tend not to very much fun to hang around with. Back in the hardcore scene, I knew people who would only listen to a certain type of hardcore punk. They wouldn’t listen to the Dead Kennedys because that was too commercial. This was 1983. Oh, well. In my experience, if I approach music with a more open-minded attitude, I just enjoy it more.

Q. If this is a success, can we expect you back next summer?

A. It was our sort of presumptuous home that calling it Area: One, there will be an Area: Two and an Area: Three. But who knows. Last night in Atlanta was our first night and it went a lot better than anyone had ever expected. If we have a good experience with this we will definitely try it again next year.

Q: What about expanding it even further musically?

A: In my heart of hearts, I’d love to do something that was really, really diverse. I’d love musical juxtaposition. So I’d love to have a speed metal band next to a jazz group next to some world music group next to a hip-hip group. If we do do it next year, we’d include a third stage. There were a lot of bands who I really wanted involved this year but we didn’t have room for them, really obscure stuff like Magnetic Fields and Mercury Rev.

Q: How did organizing this tour affect your plans to follow up “Play”?

A: My touring ended last January, so basically from January to now was spent making my next record. I guess I’m taking this month off to listen to the stuff I’ve recorded and get a better sense of it and when the tour is done hopefully I’ll go home and be able to sit down in my studio and make another record.

Q: This is all in your home.

A: I do everything at home. It makes me nervous to work in outside studios.

Q: You mentioned Lollapalooza was a direct influence on Area: One. Tell me about that summer back in 1994. What was your best memory?

A: My best memory was watching Sonic Youth, they were my favorite act on the festival. And one day (SY guitarist) Thurston Moore came over with some of his friends played one of his long, experimental noise jams on a second stage, which was really great.

Q: “Play” was really an example of an album that broke down barriers that the industry never thought could be broken down. I’ve given it as a gift to both teenagers and 50-year-olds. Was that a surprise to you that it found such a wide audience?

A: When we put record out, our pie-in-the-sky dream was that it was sell 250,00 copies worldwide. And it sold about 8 million so far. Honestly, I didn’t know who was going to buy it, I didn’t know why anyone would buy it. I had this weird experience recently when I was in this airport and this man, he must have been in his late 40s, came up with his son and they both wanted autographs. I think routinely the music business underestimates the people who buy records or listen to music I think almost everyone who lives music are interested in being exposed to new things. Whether they’re 10 or 20 or 50 or what have you.

Q: The album itself did the marketing for you.

A: It was completely accidental. Whatever marketing was done, the goal was to get people to listen to the music.

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