There’s something about Detroit that gets under your skin.
A mystery wrapped inside an enigma, to borrow a saying, it’s both what you expect, and also the opposite. For a first visit you’re primed for streets of boarded-up houses, but come back a second or third time and the thriving farmers markets, art galleries and restaurants tell a parallel story. Detroit, many people on the ground say, is a city reinventing itself from within.
Something helping bring people to the city to experience this is Paxahau’s Movement Electronic Music Festival. Welcoming DJ Mag back over Memorial Day Weekend for the 16th annual edition of the event, the first six under various different management, Movement’s three days certainly celebrate local talent.
This year, Metroplex host their 30th anniversary, while the Thump Made In Detroit stage is stacked all festival with Detroiters done good.
This deep pool no doubt helps Movement book electronic acts from further afield. Sunday boasts a brace of Berghain DJs, with Rødhåd, Marcel Dettman and Ben Klock playing in the brutalist, concrete surrounding of the Underground stage, while Beatport’s always overflowing dancefloor is presided over by stars of house and techno, such as KiNK and Catz ‘N Dogz, beside the Detroit river.
All this has made Movement increasing popular, both in the US and with European travellers. Last year it reached a record attendance of 104,000, and before the doors open for 2015 organizers suggest they’ll top even this. But there’s one booking that suggests that Movement may have its eye on competing with the crowds pulled in by festivals on America’s EDM circuit.
Having already had a hazy, but well documented, dalliance with reggae as the ludicrously named Snoop Lion, Snoop Dogg has entered into the celebrity DJ market under the moniker DJ Snoopadelic. A quick Google search reveals that he’s been flogging this concept via a Las Vegas residency, so how will it sit in the city of hi-tech soul?
The walk to Hart Plaza is a procession past Hare Krishna handing out free biscuits and hip-hop MCs hawking their CDs, but the popularity of this year’s edition is soon apparent. With queues for different ticket types bleeding into one seething pool of people, amid talk of three-hour waiting times, something has gone wrong. Press credentials get us in quicker, but it’s an incident that stirs up plenty of online complaint.
At the RBMA stage, the opening Saturday is curated and headlined by Disclosure under their Wildlife banner. Kerri Chandler’s soulful vibes provides an easy start to the day, but we soon stretch our legs to go see Soul Clap. Climbing the concrete pyramid to the side of the Beatport stage, the duo are still doing their best to channel the ‘90s, dropping UK rave breaks while clad in over-sized sportswear.
It’s not enough to top Disclosure though, who’ve trumped them in the retro stakes by booking Method Man. A few tracks, like Wu-Tang’s ‘Method Man’, serve as an energetic blast of nostalgia, but his in-between-songs chat of “Where the bitches at?” is a charmless reminder of the casual misogyny rife in the music industry.
Instead we take a trip to the main stage, with its huge welcoming amphitheatre. There’s something in the air today, even Dixon reliving the decade much of his audience was born in. He might have shunned the fluro on display everywhere else, but his flowing shirt and floppy fringe shout shoegaze bands and shoegaze house.
In fact, after ‘house, house and more fucking house’ the past few years, it’s Movement’s Underground that provides respite, by offering no respite. Hemmed in with only psychedelic, strobing visuals for illumination, this is the bunker to genuinely lose your shit in, rather than indulge in the hand-waving half-dance of people pretending that they’re having the time of their life. The acoustics are not the best, but there’s something about the sheer booming wall of noise coming from Cell Injection that has us pogoing like teenagers.
It leaves Carl Craig and UR’s Mike Banks, who close out Thump’s Detroit Love Showcase, feeling sedate by comparison, the equivalent of coming off a motorway and 30mph suddenly feeling like a speed you could run. Or maybe it’s the seeming disinterest of the performers, Craig stony-faced as he drops techno that’s certainly far more nuanced than in the depths below, Banks facing across stage as he blasts out funkified keys.
It’s a late start on Sunday thanks to an after-party called Club Toilet (possibly because it seems to have just one toilet), the Black Madonna one of the DJs keeping us dancing into the early hours from a booth behind the crowd.
We arrive back at the main stage to hear Josh Wink, his mechanical jack like a pitched-down Dance Mania cleaned up of offensive lyrics for pre-watershed play. Art Department follow, the streamlined line-up of just Jonny White revealing a surprisingly driving sound.
Resident at The Bunker in New York but Michigan-raised, Mike Servito’s set for the Ghostly International Showcase features a succession of gurgling acid tracks to usher in night. But as soon as he finishes we head off to catch Eddie Fowlkes opening the Metroplex party, which comes after a set from local hip-hop hero Danny Brown.
Now acknowledged as the fourth piece in the puzzle of techno, alongside the Bellville Three, Fowlkes’ debut for Metroplex, ‘Goodbye Kiss’, helped prompt Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson to get in the studio.
Back-stage there’s a coming together of techno’s first and second waves for a celebration of the scene that’s inspired generations of European producers too. Mike Banks is hanging out with an extended crew, Steffi pushing to the front to get a view of Juan Atkins’ live Model 500 show.
Atkins looks as ice cool as his sci-fi futurism still sounds, despite its thirty metaphorical candles, Mike Banks again adding his prodigious, tight-jawed musicianship to the mix. This is the kind of moment you can only imagine happening at Movement, a glimpse into the social circle that’s had such an influence around the world.
Later that night we catch Robert Hood throwing down at one of Movement’s many official after-parties at Populux. Half-dead on our feet, he uplifts spirits by working a sped-up version of The Bucketheads’ party-starting ‘The Bomb’ into his techno flow.
Sunday is a biggie by anyone’s standard. Patrick Topping’s early set of thumping, loopy house on the main stage displays just why Jamie Jones and Hot Creations have thrown so much weight behind him.
Meanwhile, over at Red Bull, Jets, aka Jimmy Edgar and Machinedrum, gradually work the crowd with a steadily building set of stomping house, their own eye-popping visuals firing up a hypnotic mix of cartoonish words and images. They’re followed later by a typically varied selection from Joy Orbison.
Having heard Kevin Saunderson give a talk in the beautiful Detroit Grand Library the week before Movement, next stop is his Origin’s takeover of the Thump stage. With sons Dantiez and Damarii following in his footsteps, their set demonstrates a firm schooling as they pump out Carl Craig’s classic remix of ‘Falling Up’ by another D-town legend, Theo Parrish.
They may not be from Detroit, but Chicago’s Phuture inspired the abuse of 303s worldwide. After some worrying flirting with EDM, Pierre is back at what he does best, joined by Spanky as they tweak out twitching acid and ominous booming vocals. These days their original 303 may take a backseat to the newer Roland AIRA TB-3, but the sound is still as primal.
Trying to cram in as much as possible means a whistle-stop tour of the stages. There’s the tail-end of Clark finishing his live set in Underground just as Nina Kraviz rushes on stage late, and Marshall Applewhite introducing us to the sound of Detroit sludge on the small newly-minted Sixth Stage.
Teenwolf-a-like Lee Foss gesticulates wildly as he drops wonky house back at Origins, and MK rolls out a procession of his own inimitable tracks and remixes, Skream inexplicably coming on to mix in ‘Burning’, down his drink, then leave.
Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May step up to close out the stage with a combination of CDJs, drum machines and a live percussionist. As they start, though, there seems to be a problem with the sound, giving us a professional pause to check out Snoopadelic. His set starts incongruously enough with the Dre-produced ‘The Next Episode’, Snoop singing along to hype up the biggest crowd we’ve seen at the festival yet.
Then he hits play on Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It’. It’s a fitting manifesto, since the rest of his set is the kind you could hear from any DJ in any bar in Miami, yet presumably Snoop is getting paid big bucks to stand at his laptop, rather than doing it for drinks. For the most part, sadly, his crowd don’t seem to care either.
Saunderson and May are in the groove by the time we get back there, their gathered fans crowding around in solidarity at what is happening just a few hundred meters away. There’s another social media storm the next day, and rightly so.
Movement’s appeal, at least in Europe, seems to be precisely that its Detroit heritage allows it to put on a show like nowhere else. By stepping too far away from this, the danger is that it will alienate those it’s built its reputation on.
Words: Joe Roberts