Before Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers burst onto the pop world, Moby was widely regarded as the man destined to break techno into the mainstream. So when the New York musician seemed to abandon the electronic genre this year with an album of aggressive, fractured guitar-rock called "Animal Rights," many fans felt betrayed.
"The reaction from my hard-core dance fans was very negative," concedes Moby, 31. "I had become kind of disenchanted with the dance scene. It was not something that I really wanted to be part of."
In a surprising about-face, though, Moby has once again embraced the world of synthesizers, samples, beats-per-minute and rave culture. He's headlining the Big Top tour, an ambitious, electronic concert arriving in the Los Angeles area Saturday that includes such acts as deejay Jason Bentley, global-groove group Loop Guru and techno-trance outfit Eat Static.
Why the turnaround?
"I was dancing at a party last February and a friend of mine was deejaying house music. It excited me more than anything I'd heard. I've realized that I love a lot of the music and I think the culture has a lot of vitality to it," the composer-deejay-producer explains. "There's a big part of me that says I can't turn my back."
Indeed, Moby appears to be returning to his boundary-busting techno with full force. In addition to playing on the Big Top tour, he has just released "The End of Everything," a soothing, guitar-free soundscape recorded under the moniker Voodoo Child. On Oct. 7, he will put out "I Like to Score," a compilation of his film soundtrack work.
Moby was recruited for Big Top by tour organizer Marci Weber. "Big Top's like camp on the road, only you can dance to it," she says. "It's a wonderful answer to all the skeptics who thought that the medium couldn't translate to a live setting. These artists are not standing there twiddling knobs."
Indeed, Moby, who in January described live dance music as "boring," is now reveling in being on stage. "One of my strengths as a performer is that at heart, I'm really a populist," says the musician, whose given name is Richard Melville Hall. "I really love performing. I love jumping up and down and screaming at the top of my lungs. I also really love the people that I'm playing for."
Moby gravitated toward the scene in the late '80s, when the energy of late-night raves ignited his creativity and fostered his musical vision. "It was very utopian--open, free and nonjudgmental, a very wonderful thing," he recalls.
In 1993, however, Moby saw that promise become stifled by hard-line views on creativity and ample amounts of what he calls "antisocial" drugs.
"It started to become more conservative, with strict parameters placed on acceptable heights of creative expression," he says. "That, combined with suddenly seeing 14-year-old kids passed out on dance floors, turned me off."
He was vocal about his disappointment, but Moby says he never stopped making electronic music. "I saw 'Animal Rights' as one part of the whole picture, but a lot of people saw it as exclusively representing where I was musically. While I was making 'Animal Rights,' I was making the Voodoo Child album, doing dance mixes, writing symphonic stuff for movies. . . . "
Though he's pleased that such acts as Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers have moved beyond clubs, Moby still looks to the obscure basement singles and the energy generated on the dance floor for inspiration. "The true strength lies with the anonymous people who pay their $20 at the door and go in and dance. That's the heart and soul of the whole scene. There are still a lot of phenomenal, wonderful people involved who genuinely love the music and love the culture--and that's what renewed my faith."
The Big Top festival, featuring Moby, Loop Guru, Eat Static, 808 State and others, Saturday at a location to be announced. $25. (310) 288-3436.