Electronic music is not just to be heard, it must be experienced. And while electronic sounds have been essential to American popular music for well over 30 years, many are still hesitant to delve into the art-forms roots. As the birthplace of techno music, Detroit has tried to break down these barriers and showcases some of the world’s greatest techno, electro, experimental talent, and even some bro-step to as many people as they can fit on their beautiful waterfront.
Now in its 12th year, Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival (DEMF), which now goes by the title Movement, doesn’t just showcase the various genres, but the city itself. Driving into Detroit is like entering a half-abandoned ghost town; instead of traffic and noise, downtown Detroit is often oddly silent. Remarkable given the pure size and history of the city, plus its many museums, public art installations, and late-night hangouts. But come Memorial Day weekend, crowds of 30,000+ per day ascend on the Michigan city, pumping much needed tourism dollars into the city’s coffers. So even though techno fans had the option to experience all the excitement at home via webcast, there is no substitution to putting on some candies, making a few new friends, and busing out some of your best or most embarrassing moves.
Saturday, May 28th
For an urban setting, Detroit’s Hart Plaza may be the perfect venue for a multi-stage, electronic music festival. Set in the shadows of General Motor’s lavish, if not gaudy, headquarters, and situated just blocks from where the Detroit out-of-towners are warned against, the location symbolizes techno itself dirty and raw, but with an increasing level of excess. The 14-acre Hart Plaza may not seem large enough to host competing sets by Skrillex, Felix da Housecat, Monolake Sound, and Richie Hawtin, but with three intricately designed levels (the Movement Stage is literally set underground beneath the main walkway) sound overflow is kept to a minimal, and navigation even for non-natives is remarkably easy.
Even with rain in the forecast, Hart Plaza filled quickly as techno fans, both foreign and domestic, anticipated America’s greatest authentic-techno showcase. And aside from a few showers to cool the early evening air, Mother Nature and all the bass kept Detroit’s skies crystal clear.
Matthew Hawtin Beatport Stage 12:00 p.m.
On Saturday, Movement’s Beatport Stage was book-ended by the brothers Hawtin. Given the two have worked together in the past, the similarities are quite evident. The younger Hawtin’s three-hour long set opened the festival with the perfect amount of early-afternoon energy, slowly transitioning between minimal-ambient works (ala Richie’s Platikman) and more aggressive Detroit techno.
Due to the nature of electronic music, styles change as quickly as technology. So for 2011, Movement served up a three hour set focused on Electrobounce odd given the sets of DJ X-Change, Croatia’s N-Ter, DJ Godfather, and Coon Daddy have very little similarities. From a pure musical perspective, N-Ter’s live set stole the three-hour exhibition. Working from a Apple laptop and AKAI MPK 49, N-Ter crafted a set of tight electro-breaks, inspiring members of the audience to assemble into an impromptu break-dance exhibition, which would continue for the remainder of the collective’s set. For all electro fans, N-ter has made Croatian underground electro a genre most definitely worth exploring. And for the record, a chick stole totally stole the floor.
Ambivalent Beatport Stage 4:00 p.m.
Born Kevin McHugh, Ambivalent literally shook the first few rows of the Beatport stage. With a set built on deep/acid house, and some ultra-bouncy beats, one could feel the the energy pass from the speakers, through theirr body, and out to the rest of Detroit. Ambivalent’s ambivalence to genre boundaries led to an amazing set, both pleasing and testing the limits of the audience’s palpablility of bass.
Hudson Mohawke Red Bull Stage- 5:00 p.m.
In the world of electronic music, 25-year-old Hudson Mohawke (HudMo) is whats next. Signed to Warp Records, the Scotland native deconstructs multiple genres to create a truly schizophrenic live performance. During the hour and 10 minute performance, HudMo transitioned from remixes of Aaliyah’s Are You That Somebody to metal-infused techno. The kid, who looks like he’s straight out of 10th grade, not only pleased the crowd, but earned props by both Daedelus (who allowed the set to go longer) and stage headliner Skrillex, who was in attendance for most of the performance.
Daedelus Red Bull Stage 6:00 p.m.
Off stage, Daedelus is one of the most personable artists one can ever come across. He loves his music, his monome, the technology, and talking to fans that have an appreciation for the art form. On stage, the dude is an amorphous animal, creating sets that fit a city’s history and fanbase. Speaking to Daedelus prior to his set, he hinted that he would go fairly techno given the festival. And he definitely delivered on the promise. After dropping some furious techno beats, he transitioned into more electro-house, and to give the audience a break, broke into downtempo breakbeat three-quarters into the hour long set. With sweat dripping, and wearing a smile as wide as Lake St. Clair, Daedelus blew the audience with experimental hi-energy to finish up the set.
Tortured Soul (Live) Vitamin Water Stage 7:00 p.m.
With so much brain rattling tech music, Brooklyn’s Tortured Soul was a welcome addition to Saturday night’s lineup. Comprised of John Christain Urich on drums and vocals, JKriv on bass, and Ethan White on keys, the trio blend soul, pop, and funk to create energetic live dance music. Some may even say baby making music. Urich possesses silky smooth vocals, but when the three-piece starts to jam, fans cannot help but boogie – which was especially the case at Movement, where even a mild downpour couldn’t slow their set. While the act may not have been the typical festival performer, their sound brought back the memories of Motown’s many great soul/R&B artists of the ’60s.
Richard Devine Movement Stage 8:30 p.m.
You may not know his name, but you undoubtedly know his sounds. He has designed sound patches for Native Instruments Absynth, Reaktor, Battery, and Massive, plus has his own signature sound library available through Sony Creative Software. As such, Richard Devine pushes the limits of his hardware, software, and his audience’s eardrums. Saturday night’s set was a relentless experimental showcase: ultra layered and ultra processed. In other words, the show was the electronic equivalent to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music definitely not for the casual listener.
Felix da Housecat Vitamin Water Stage 10:00 p.m.
As a Midwest-native, Chicago’s Felix da Housecat still rests near the top of my list of house musicians. Not only does he always put on a stellar performance, but he’s a relentless showman. While some DJs prefer to stay nestled behind their controllers, Felix maintains his old-school charm and creates a dialogue with his audience. Even with eight studio albums and 23 years of experience under his belt, Felix remains fresh, creating a symbiotic relationship with his crowd. Playing against Detroit legend Richie Hawtin, a massive crowd still showed up to hear Felix dish out Chicago-house, and his own brand of electro-clash. To cap off his performance, Felix scored a disc from the audience and created an entirely new track on the fly.
Richie Hawtin Beatport Stage 10:00 p.m.
To the joy of tech fans, Richie Hawtin left his minimal Platikman persona at home. Residing in Windsor, Canada, just across the border from Detroit, the stage was littered with old friends and family during Hawtin’s two-hour set. The performance didn’t really bring anything new to the table, but it wasn’t supposed to, really. Instead, it was a celebration of classic Detroit Techno, ranging from thunderous bone-rattlers to more minimal vibes. Even with two other huge names performing (Skrillex and Felix), very few at the muddy Beatport Stage wandered off during the fan-favorite performance.
Skrillex Red Bull Stage 11:00 p.m.
Two Words: cluster fuck. As the current electronic-festival whore, the crowd to see Skrillex was approximately three-times too large for the Red Bull Stage. Due to an insane bottleneck, fans already at the Red Bull Stage could not leave to enjoy other stages, and fans trying to hear Skrillex’s bass-music had to find alternate means of watching the stage like climbing atop a giant pillar (which happened to be my point of access). Unlike what has been described as bro-step, Skrillex adds a level of melody and texture to his bass music, creating a divide between his tracks and those other bass music artists. During the set there was ample time for moshing, booty-shaking, and fist pumping, plus an awesome remix of La Roux’s In For the Kill. For those that showed up early, the set remains a highlight of the weekend.
Sunday, May 29th
Within the broader Christian dogma, Sunday has been billed as the day of rest – not so much at Detroit Electronic Music Festival. While the day did not feature the most popular of names, it did offer a unique blend of diverse international talent – and one monster Detroit legend Carl Craig.
Com Truise (Live) Red Bull Stage 1:00 p.m.
Go for the name, stay for the music. In the DJ’s own words, Com Truise‘s sound is mid-fi synth-wave, slow motion, super textured funk. You don’t see that bin too often at your local record store. Live, his sound was a blend of bottom heavy atmospheric house and periods of distortion heavy glitch-hop. For a live set, the transitions seemed seamless and unlike many bass musicians, the bass added body and didn’t just serve as the principal part of the arrangements.
Nospectacle Movement Stage 2:00 p.m.
Nospectacle‘s set was all about juxtaposition. Set on the basement stage of Hart Plaza, the minimal-tech set was played against visuals of bustling city life. The set seemed completely improvised, the three hours spending considerable time examining one anothers computer prior to an ever so subtle change in the tracks’ textures. With ample time between shifts, the trio found time to sip on Champagne a nice light Sunday brunch. The set would be a perfect playlist for you next trip or journey down the K-hole.
Pulshar Beatport Stage 3:30 p.m.
Comprised of Pablo Bolivar and singer Sergio Sainz, Pulshar‘s reggae and dance hall influences fuse to create a unique form of dub-techno. While Bolivar taps out live drum beats, Sainz serves as lyricist and part-time laptop DJ. The mixture of live production and vocals, turns the mainly electro-outfit into a formidable live show.
Livio & Roby - Beatport Stage 6:00 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Moog Music, Inc
Livio & Roby run their sets like a tag-team match – the guys against the decks. Working on CDJs, one member would shuffle through their vast CD catalog, while the other manned the decks. The style would seem like an added challenge, but the duo transitioned flawlessly between Caribbean-infused beats. And were even left with enough down-time to make some cocktails up on stage.
Ana Sia Red Bull Stage 4:30 p.m.
If the decks are like gym class, the boys got beat down by a chick. The petite Ana Sia controls the crowd like a beast. Kicking off with the with some minimal bass music, Sia constructed a slow build that developed into straight-in-yo-face techno. From there Sia flowed in and out of electronic genres, creating a powerful club banging set. The 90 minute performance featured minor afro-bass, nu-disco, electro-dance, hi-energy, and some beats out of a 1980’s horror film. If you do not know Sia, start now!
Soul Clap Red Bull Stage 6:00 p.m.
As their name Soul Clap implies, this pair of DJs create soul heavy sets, with a significant amount of hip/hop and remixes to keep the kids happy. The set started out a bit slow as the duo were just reading the crowd, but the energy picked up tremendously half-way into the performance. Aside from their electro-soul beats, the pair also spun a series of remixes including I’ve Got The Power.
Eliot Lipp Red Bull Stage 8:00 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Moog Music, Inc
After sustaining an extremely high frequency over bass heavy funk, Eliot Lipp performed one of the biggest drops of the weekend. The drop occurred near the end of the set, but each note from beginning to end kept fans dancing and planted at the lively Red Bull Stage. Due to the amount of bass sustained through the set, and the electro-hop, R&B, and streaking synths, Eliot Lipp’s aesthetic was a crowd favorite but nearly impossible to characterize. Whatever the name, it gave mad props to Detroit’s funk history.
Beardyman Red Bull Stage 9:00 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Moog Music, Inc
Consequence of Sound has already mentioned Beardyman in both our Ultra and Coachella reviews, but that’s just how good this beat-boxer-turned-improv-musician has become. No matter the genre, tempo, or melody, Beardyman can replicate it with just one instrument: his voice. And oh yeah, the five Kaos Pads and numerous other digital toys that he line his table. Sunday night’s set featured drum and bass, a little jazz, reggae, dub, and a considerable amount of remixes. After receiving a note from authorities about his profanity, he had a song immediately ready for Detroit’s boys in blue as well.
Loco Dice Beatport Stage 10:00 p.m.
Undoubtedly, Loco Dice had the biggest turnout of the night at the Beatport Stage. In a weekend filled with techno, and innumerable repeated measures, even the best DJ began to disperse into the thick Detroit air. To separate himself from other talents, Loco Dice has a very interesting way of juggling beats, not simply transitioning from one phrase to the next (which is super easy on all the new DJ gear).
69 (Carl Craig) Vitamin Water 11:00 p.m.
There is something extra fascinating about electronic artists in masks – old-MSTRKRFT, The Bloody Beetroots Deathcrew 77, and, of course, Daft Punk, added a level of mystique by spinning behind their costumes. Performing under the moniker 69, Carl Craig arrived with a mask all his own, but, most importantly, with his legendary Detroit-techno sounds in tow. As soon as Crag plays a single note, fans know who they are listening to. The kick drum echoes through your brain, and he has ability to create an unmatched level of tension and release the epitome of great tech. Unlike other DJs who reuse and recycle other artists’ beats and sounds, Craig creates sounds with extra texture and depth. Aside from the the standard set of live equipment, Craig used his voice magnificently as an additional tool to his already lethal arsenal, and propped the set atop retina-popping visuals.
Monday, May 30th
The final day of Movement had all the ingredients for an epic Memorial Day celebration: grilled food, ample alcohol, close friends, and body-moving beats. To lift a line from Fatboy Slim’s Acid 8000, If you don’t make your booty move your booty must be dead.
Paranormal Tek Made In Detroit Stage 2:00 p.m.
Born Phil Schlosser, Paranormal Tek started the day with a straight-forward, bouncy Detroit-techno set. Tek’s juggled low end beats and rapid fire techno instigated a beak dance spectacle that turned nearly every eye from the DJ to the fleet feeted break dancers. Much like hip-hop, techno isn’t just about the music, but an entire culture in itself.
Franki Juncaj aka DJ 3000 Made in Detroit Stage 3:00 p.m.
The early evening set by DJ 3000 was a much needed change of bass for the local stage. The 90-minute performance contained customary massive drops and dance party mixes, but also exhibited a dynamic range unexpected from Detroit techno. Key work in the upper registry and filtered down tempo highlighted the set which quickly became a hooper-favorite.
District 909 (Live) Made In Detroit Stage 5:00 p.m.
District 909, aka Tim Baker and HD Substance, busted out a plethora of analog synths to bring some old-school techno to the growing crowd. The two didn’t just stay stationary at their respective tools, but shifted around the stage continually building upon the other’s beats. In an era where the laptop is king, there is a simple joy in watching the live exploration.
Scuba Red Bull Stage 7:00 p.m.
Scuba normally experiments with the deeper side of house and techno, but Monday’s performance was heavy on the electro-clash and multi-break phrases. As the audience was getting into the grooves, Scuba turned things around and introduced some Nu-disco. While some rejoiced, others left to catch Sci-tech sounds of Dubfire.
Dubfire Vitamin Water Stage 7:30 p.m.
Dubfire is deep bass. The Iranian-American created a set with so much bass, even the main stage speakers seemed to have trouble controlling all the decibels. As his label Sci-Tech suggests, the set explored the depths of Dubfire’s equipment, including pitched frequency distortion and phazers to the max. With legends Green Velvet and Fatboy Slim up next, Dubfire’s techno primed the sweaty audience for an energetic Memorial Day evening.
Green Velvet Vitamin Water Stage 9:00 p.m.
Although Curtis Jones has only released four studio albums under the moniker, Green Velvet, he is undeniably one of the most influential artists in Chicago-house music. Even with an audience averaging in their late-20s, too young to have been a part of Green Velvet’s first rise, the Vitamin Water Stage was packed to witness the live performance. With a voice that has been repeatedly compared to Prince, and a punk edge developed in the 80’s, Jones chose to stay clear of the tables and emcee the set, with support from a pair of Chicago’s FootworKingz. Like the Green Velvet sound, the visuals were kept dark and minimal, with the spotlight rarely shining on Jones. For those in attendance old enough to still remember vinyl, ample opportunities were available to co-deliver classic Green Velvet lyrics.
Flying Lotus Red Bull Stage 10:30 p.m.
For anyone not familiar with Flying Lotus during the closing set at the Red Bull Stage, he summed himself as soon as he took out his laptop, I’m not going to be playing the same beat all-night, I am going to be all over the place. At a festival based on strung out repetition, FlyLo challenged the crowd with his experimental break-beats. The highlight of the set was a remix of Tyler, the Creator’s Yonkers, but the sounds of Fatboy Slim quickly pulled me away.
Fatboy Slim Vitamin Water Stage 10:00 p.m.
Fatboy Slim didn’t waste a single minute pumping out the crowd favorites, immediately performing Praise You, Put Your Hands Up in the Air, and In Heaven. But Slim didn’t just rest on his hits; instead, he crafted a raging DJ set. The performance included mashups with pieces of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, LMFAO’s I’m in Miami Bitch” (with a Detroit spin, of course), and The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up. Even after 30 hours of face-melting bass, bouncing techno beats, and international electro, the crowd returned every bit of energy that Slim put into his set. To make the hit-heavy electronic set even more captivating, Movement set up an all out light-show, that actually required the approval of the FAA.