Moogfest 2018: HiFiLoRau, Treee City, and a surprise appearance by CALAPSE
by: Andrew Cheek
On a gray and humid Saturday during Moogfest, I sat down with two Durham-based musicians with the monikers, HiFiLoRau aka Tommy Rau, and Treee City aka Patrick Phelps McKeown. We sat at the picnic tables outside of MotorCo as a light rain fell. Accompanying me (throughout Moogfest) was local photographer and videographer, Jason Wolonick. After our interviews, we captured HiFiLoRau and Treee City with a 360° camera that produces immersive and interactive photographs (see below). The Durham beat making collective, Raund Haus, hosted performances all festival long on a special stage in Parts & Labor adjacent to MotorCo. HiFiLoRau, Treee City, and CALAPSE (more on him to come) were among the featured musicians.
Andrew Cheek: What is the meaning of HiFiLoRau?
HiFiLoRau: It came from my twitter handle and it’s a play on Hi-Fi, Lo-Fi, and my last name. The music I make is a cross between analogue and digital.
Cheek: What stories are you telling through your music? And how do they relate to who you are and to Durham?
HiFiLoRau: For me, I’ve always been really into experimental music. I studied jazz, I’ve been an upright bass player since I was a school boy…. But I was always wanting to do free jazz and more savant stuff and, yeah, then I got really into electronic music in college. I’ve always tried to find a way to express myself through this weird love of being a bass player and a keyboard player and then beats, because I love beats, and just experimenting with sound. I love found sound and the sounds that you hear and then trying to turn that into a story.
Cheek: What new technologies are you using to enhance your live shows?
HiFiLoRau: Well, I have an acoustic bass. So that’s no technology [laughs mildly]. But um, lots of synthesizers. Mainly synthesizers and the acoustic bass. And a laptop, that counts as technology.
Cheek: Which artists and art forms shape and influence you and the music you create?
HiFiLoRau: I’m a huge Four Tet Fan. This guy Prefuse 73 is an artist I’ve always loved. I also love movie scores, they’re one of my favorite things. A lot of the stuff people are doing now – the synth revolution in movie scores. Well, it’s more of a re-revolution. Also, John Cage is an artist I’ve always really liked both as a visual artist and as a musician. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, who was here [at Moogfest], has the past few years been somebody I’ve loved a lot…. I think I actually heard of her maybe at Moogfest two years ago and I really love what she’s done.
I also listen to a ton of hip-hop. Pharoahe Monch has been one of my favorite rappers for a long time. El-P who did Run the Jewels with Killer Mike also. One of the hip-hop albums that probably influenced me the most was The Cold Vein, by Cannibal Ox, which El-P produced. I love a lot of hip-hop. Jay-Z is awesome. Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, any of those dudes. Our local G Yamazawa is crushing it.
Treee City interview
Cheek: What are you expressing through your music and what are you bringing that is new to the Durham scene?
Treee City: Probably the desire to make people dance. A lot of emotion. It’s expressing wanting people to transcend their individual ego-selves for a temporary amount of time and just exist as a body, or, a felt experience with a bunch of other people. As far as what I’m bringing that’s new, there aren’t a ton of people in Durham or the Triangle that are making house music. There are a few. And that’s kind of a more recent thing for me, getting into that lane. FootRocket, Lady Fingers, maybe DJ Bosslady produces, yeah. Just specifically going for electronic music that’s aimed at getting people to dance. That’s hardly a new thing but that’s where my head is right now.
HiFiLoRau: I wanted to ask Patrick (Treee City) if the third E stands for something in particular.
Treee City: The third E stands for search engine optimization. Because there is another Tree City that’s from Ann Arbor, and they got all the good domain names and twitter handles and everything. [Laughs quietly.] And actually, Treee City with three Es is also some dude in the Ukraine who hasn’t tweeted since 2010 and, yeah. I’m just never getting that. I’ll have to go travel to central Europe to track him down and be like “You’re not using this, bro. Come off your twitter handle.”
Cheek: How are you using new technologies to enhance your live shows?
Treee City: So, I recently got this drum machine – a Roland TR-09 – which is a tiny re-issue of the 909 (a classic house and techno drum machine). I’ve been incorporating that into my live set. I’m playing tracks in Ableton, throwing effects and stuff on them, and then I’m also separately using the drum machine… I’m adding patterns and layers on top of that. So, it’s a combination of pre-recorded stuff and live improvisation.
Cheek: Which artists and art forms shape and influence your music?
Treee City: I listen to pretty much anything. As far as what I’ve been making recently – I put out an EP in February and that was heavily influenced by classic, OG house music. But also, straight up disco honestly. John Carpenter, kind of Stranger Things-esque ‘80s horror-movie synth sounds. I really like the warm sci-fi, futuristic, nostalgia vibe. As far as specific artists, I’ve definitely taken a lot of influence from Caribou and Daphne and Four Tet. I really love people who are making dance music that’s more hardware-based and feels more human and less of the super-intricate layered, loud, EDM stuff. I like music that feels like it could be a band.
Cheek: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Treee City: Tell people to go to the Raund Haus Bandcamp and just pick a random album and buy it for $420.69. If just one person does it…
While recording the sound bites for our 360° interactive photo (in which HiFiLoRau and Treee City introduce themselves) another Durham musician, CALAPSE, appeared, pulling up in his sedan beside the mural on the side of MotorCo where we were having an impromptu photo shoot. CALAPSE was also playing a set on the Raund Haus stage. He is friends with HiFiLoRau and Treee City. Yes, he said, he would love to be interviewed briefly for a Clarion Content blog.
Andrew Cheek: How did you start making music?
Calapse: I was playing drums in experimental rock bands and we had a hiatus of about a year or two, and in those two years I felt the need to keep creating stuff on my own. To fill that void of rehearsal schedules and shows and so I just started booking my own shows, doing my own recordings, and it just happened to be synth and drum-machine based. As a drummer I gravitated towards the rhythmic aspect of electronic music.
Cheek: What new instruments and technologies are you using to enhance your live shows?
Calapse: Midi. It’s been around since the ‘80s I think. I do what’s called Midi mapping a lot of stuff to different controllers, and different physical objects that you have then control over – digital parameters, effects, changes, that sort of thing. There’s a lot of power to be had in customizing the way that you map things that is not straight out of the box.
Cheek: Who are some of your artistic influences?
Calapse: I’d say that Jon Hopkins, who is playing Moogfest (he played last night), is a huge influence. I was talking to somebody yesterday about the movie Annihilation, which came out recently, and that stands out to me as a significant digital and film influence. I thought that movie was a new 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This interview has been edited lightly for punctuation and clarity.
Andrew Cheek is the Head Writer and Content Coordinator for Beaumonde Arts Agency. He graduated from North Carolina State University and is in process of polishing the manuscript for his children’s novella. With a background in literature and film, and a taste for half-marathons, Andrew’s inspirations range from Virginia Woolf to Wes Anderson to his Adidas running shoes. You can find Andrew on Twitter and LinkedIn.