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FORWARD MOVEMENTS

Detroit's annual Movement Festival has evolved into a mecca for unity, love and hope

words: ORESTES BENITEZ/JOE ROBERTS

Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit is venerated as an event for those who feed on the sound of techno, a pilgrimage required of all who abide by the belief that man and machine can make hypnotic, transcendent music.

This year, Memorial Day weekend played host to myriad festivals across the US and abroad. While many EDM fanatics were torn between EDC New York or Mysteryland, only one destination sat firmly on the itinerary of techno loyalists globally - Movement Electronic Music Festival in Detroit. The ninth edition of the three-day festival and its host city, the birthplace of techno, left an indelible impression on the tens of thousands who attended, and left many already vowing to return for the massive 10-year anniversary.

On the first day of the festival, directly across the street from Hart Plaza where it's held, staring squarely at the Monument to Joe Louis known as “The Fist” (symbolizing Joe's power in fighting his opponents inside the ring, and racial injustice outside of it), the stories about Detroit's recent economic history seem incongruent with the smiling masses congregating on the corner of Woodward and Jefferson.

The familiar and inviting 4x4 kick drum is heard as soon as we enter Movement from the Made In Detroit stage, Sean Deason cranking classic Detroit techno through the speakers. The Horace E. Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain situated in the center of the event provides the perfect vantage point for all the different stages around it. To prevent audio spillover though, which is heard from here, it’s essential to go deep into the crowd of the particular stage you choose in order to immerse yourself completely in the music.

Figuring out which stage to hit is a challenge given the wealth of talent at Movement is truly top notch. The festival programmers have weeded out the ubiquitous mainstream acts whose sounds are polluting other festivals. Instead, across six stages, the best acts in techno and other underground sounds are manning the decks and pouring every ounce of their souls into their sets. The reality of the festival is that there is not really any such thing as a main stage.

While the Red Bull Music Academy holds perhaps the best known acts, including Richie Hawtin and Carl Cox, and is visually stunning with its stone amphitheater seating and high rise backdrop, this caliber is repeated wherever you turn. The music is just that good; there is no wrong place to venture.

The setting sun's rays bounce off the Renaissance Center, just north of the festival, casting a warm glow as we wander between festivalgoers moving their bodies to the deep sounds of Michael Mayer and Damian Lazarus.

Metro Area twist Tronco Traxx's “Walk For Me” into their live NYC disco template, while Green Velvet is dropping stomping techno by the Detroit river, at the consistently jammed Beatport stage. As darkness sets in, however, the Underground stage, literally housed in a concrete bunker beneath the plaza, begins to beckon with a line-up that includes Black Asteroid's decayed grit and CLR honcho Chris Liebing, the latter of whom closes out the stage with his trademark muscular techno.

It's Underground Resistance's Timeline show on the Red Bull Stage that is the real coup tonight, however. Assembled by UR main man “Mad” Mike Banks, Timeline's set-up blurs the lines between live show and DJ set. Hamilton Bohannon's disco classic “Start the Dance” appears aside UR's own “Timeline” and Joey Beltram's punishing “Energy Flash,” all the while accompanied by live sax, keys and percussion.

At times it dissolves into pure jazz, saxophonist De'Sean Jones and keys player Jon Dixon leading the improvisation as images from Detroit's famous New Dance Show mingle with the visuals behind them, yet another side to the city's cultural heritage. Considering that, amongst plenty of die hard fans, the gathered audience also includes enraptured teenage candy ravers, it’s a bold statement about Movement's rich and wide musical appeal, and something that few other electronic music festivals this size would dare to attempt.

Despite this, we still also manage a sneak peak at the Moog stage. Having hosted pro-weed New York MC Action Bronson and freaky Texan RiFF RAFF earlier in the day, it's closed out by the classic UK D&B pairing of Ed Rush and Optical, MC Armanni Reign dropping the lyrical flow over their tech-step beats – a fearsome echo of their peerless productions in the '00s.

Sunday's second day line-up is simply too massive to plan thoroughly. With so many talented DJs, including Marco Carola, John Digweed, The Martinez Brothers, Julio Bashmore and Robert Hood, there are obvious conflicts and tough decisions to be made. Ultimately, it comes down to the vibe and the beats. Jimmy Edgar's tough, Dance Mania-styled jack is rocking at Red Bull in the early afternoon, but with no respite from the sun we head to Move D back at Moog for one of the highlights of the weekend.

Grinning at the ever growing crowd, and shrugging off any vinyl skips, he drops deep house gem after deep house gem, Liz Torres' “Your Love Is All I Need” a particular highlight in the cool shade of the trees surrounding the grassy dancefloor.

Venturing from Max Cooper to Golf Clap to Adriatique also sets an incredibly positive and invigorating mood for the rest of the evening. Catching both Dixon’s and Maceo Plex’s full sets at the Beatport stage is exhilarating, but they're topped by Windsor/Detroit native and techno master Richie Hawtin, who provides a jaw-dropping closeout.

Walking back to the hotel in downtown Detroit, the energy is still high as attendees prepare for the after parties, which are multiple every night of the festival's duration, and on Sunday include Marco Carola at Bleu and Flying Circus at City Club. While the city of Detroit has a well-rehearsed narrative in the media, there is a vitality, creativity and matchless pride amongst many of its inhabitants, which gives hope that this city can thrive again.

It’s written across the faces of the locals, their eyes filled with kindness and a welcoming spirit. It just might be that the music that was born here can help its revival.

The third day is most anticipated, with Movement 2014’s finale boasting a line-up that includes acts like Jamie Jones, Loco Dice, Lee Foss, Pete Tong, Kevin Saunderson, Bonobo and techno/house giant Carl Cox.

There’s also the annual Visionquest hosted party held at Detroit staple, Old Miami. Old Miami (an acronym for “Missing in Action Michigan”) is an old Vietnam War veteran’s bar with a large open backyard, which each year hosts a party going on from early Monday morning until the evening. This year's, featuring performances from DJ Tennis and Dixon, has been exceptionally buzzed about, which is evident from the line that stretches around the block to get in – Seth Troxler handing out water to fans in the queue and assuring everyone that they'll eventually get in.

Several vets are amongst the crowd. One in particular stands out, telling us that as the result of the action he saw with the First Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1968, he developed PTSD. He then came home to see his city slowly deteriorate in front of him. We're soon exchanging hugs and thanking him for his service. Between tears, he tells us: “I need this… the city needs this… these kids just don’t know how much this means to us.”

This is the theme of the entire weekend. Some of the city's streets and services might have deteriorated but the spirit of its residents has not. And while for some visitors it's just a weekend of music and partying, for the locals it's an opportunity to give the city another chance.

Between Old Miami, a few hours black out unconsciousness and a trip to Underground Resistance's Submerge home to interview the Timeline collective (see our feature this issue), we're not back at Movement until late in the evening. There's still time to catch the youthful, bleeping trap energy of Flosstradamus lighting up the sky, and probably just lighting up, at Moog.

Dirtybird's J.Phlip is also ruffling feathers with her last minute replacement as headliner at the Beatport stage, dropping bassy house bombs from behind its elevated decks. It's Detroit's own, however, who steal the show, the Burden brothers of Octave One signing off the weekend – bar a quick visit to The Wizard himself, Jeff Mills, performing magic in his Underground lair - with a soaring live rendition of “Black Water” on the Made in Detroit stage.

On the ride to the airport, we chat with our cab driver, eager to tell us stories of the glory days of Detroit and its vibrant music scene. As we get out, he leans out of the window with a smile and shouts “Make sure you say something nice about Detroit, will ya?”

While the story of the Movement is one side of coming to Detroit, a parallel narrative emerges from those words. The people of Detroit are empathetically proud to showcase their city. It feels as if the entire place is there in support of the festival. In that moment it cements our decision that we’ll be back again, for years to come, as long as the city will have us.

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