Movement 2017 Review: Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival

Movement 2017 Review and Recap

The uncharted makes Movement festival a monumental and historic event time and time again.

The banter started months ago; if not half a year. It began trying to decide on the appropriate accommodations for Movement 2017. I felt like a bride trying to wrangle my bridesmaids into making decisions for my bachelorette party. Which, in fact, I did have to do for my actual bachelor party for Movement/DEMF weekend a few years back. A very similar set of assholes were also in attendance (they would agree, trust me).

From there we traversed many group text message tangents over the course of the next few months. Most ranged within simple reflections of earlier times: long lost parties from late 90’s Detroit, memorable sets and djs, how a reclusive artist ends up in the national news for ordering a TV online and receiving a rifle instead, even a few scanned rave photos cracking daylight for the first time in years.

Some flirted with darker realms. Anywhere from accusations of man-crushing Richie Hawtin, to inviting each other to a 90s party of has-been djs, to crude innuendos involving Sarah Palin and throwing Kogel Viennas down the Windsor Tunnel. And that was the nice stuff.

A host of other rude comments and opinions flooded our cellular networks for weeks. It was not uncommon to leave the office to 187 messages awaiting your amusement. It gave you a chance to catch up on the last 4 hours of general mockery and drop a few one-liners to show you having lost your touch. These things may bring a lesser group of friends past fighting-words. And at the very least would leave at least one member in tears at night. Usually from uncontrollable laughter, but quite possible from actual deep, root-infested hurt.

Needless to say a group of five ol’ school, dedicated house and techno heads were once again ready to take Detroit head-on for Movement weekend.

Friday: A Little Techno History

The first stop once we arrived in Detroit was Atwater brewery. Atwater makes a few of my favorite beers. We wanted to stop for a few drinks while awaiting more peeps to come through. Unfortunately they were playing the worst pop music station imaginable. Two drinks were all we could handle. Unacceptable for Movement weekend in Detroit.

After sliding by the hotel to pick up another member of the crew it was time for some long overdue lunch. Off to Mudgies corner deli in Corktown for some of the best sandwiches in the country. I was ecstatic Submerge had open hours for the entire weekend. We decided to hop there Friday before the festivities got into full effect (and the wax got picked over).

This was my first time shopping at Submerge and it was exactly what I expected. Upon stepping out of the car we were immediately greeted with Kenny Dixon Jr.’s “Prince house.” A big red brick home complete with wide open windows to let long, purple sheets free-flow in the wind–granting the the funk and soul music to pour out onto the street.

Once inside Submerge we headed downstairs to peep the records in stock. To the left there was a quick pop-up shop more dedicated to soul, funk, and Detroit house. In the main room to the right was Detroit techno of all kinds. Classic cuts, new releases from Detroit labels, some imports and used obscure EPs. They had four listening stations setup and a majority of UR crew on hand to assist. I picked up some classic cuts from Transmat, Metroplex, a few newer Planet E releases, and even a couple used original Nine Inch Nails singles.

submerge detroit record store

techno museum detroit 

Before walking out with our bags of wax we hit the Techno museum on the ground floor. The room was full of display cases with everything from the classic Roland drum machines that helped kick-start the Detroit sound to releases that put the city on the map. The ceiling was lined with artist passes from years of UR events across the globe and on the back wall was a small enclosed studio.

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After stocking up at Submerge we headed to Greektown Hotel to settle in and await the remainder of the crew to arrive. Before our opening Movement party we needed a good meal. We hit Selden Standard for some amazing small plates. We headed to the Smartbar Movement Opening Party & BBQ at TV Lounge for the night. Delano Smith in the main outdoor area was killin’ it. Such a smooth and groovy set; great mixes and fire tracks. The highlight of the night for me. The other stand out set was Jason Kendig during his b2b with Derek Plaslaiko; rocking it from the alley stage. Everyone was in a great mood and sharing positive vibes throughout the night. Close to each stage was pretty packed but there was plenty of room to walk from room to room. There was enough space to dance and conversate. TV Lounge is always a safe bet to start a festival weekend and it did not disappoint.

“Detroit Michigan. If you ain’t ready to party, take your bitch ass home. T-Shirts!”

Saturday

On the way to the festival Saturday afternoon a street vendor shouted a line that defined the now Mantra for Movement weekend, Detroit Hustles Harder. “Detroit Michigan. If you ain’t ready to party, take your bitch ass home. T-Shirts!”

Once inside we first caught a bit of Alton Miller‘s set on the Made In Detroit Stage. He was playing those soulful vocal tracks that hit. A few mixes were sub-par but a fun set to start the festival. We hit Matrixxman at the Underground Stage next. They kept the Underground Stage setup the same as last year, which sounded the best in years. The sound was still great this year, but wow, it was already aggressively loud. Not even in the pit the bass was thunderous, earplugs were definitely necessary.

Matrixxmann, underground stage, movement 2017

We headed to Luke Hess on the Main Stage to support and represent. What a good set. Early on there was a noticeable, consistent clicking coming from the right stack. But Paxahau staff was on it and remedy a quick fix. Josh Wink, up next after Hess, was to Luke’s right cheering him on and having a great time. I always feel like a bit of a tool holding out my phone for a quick photo or video. But after seeing Wink whip out his phone for some photos of the crowd, I though… yeah it’s acceptable.

redbull music academy stage movement 2017

We popped over to the Redbull Music Academy Stage to catch the tail end of John Arnold‘s (live) set just to head back to finish off with Hess. We headed back to the Underground to catch Rrose (live). His live set from Movement 2013 was amazing. His music is on the more spacial, heady, and surreal side of techno the sound was still crazy loud. We found a spot to the right of the stage that had the most agreeable sound.

After Rrose it was off to one of our favorite stages for every Movement weekend–the Stargate Stage to see Octave One (live). Octave One was great as always, but we could not miss our chance to see Larry Heard, a king of house, live. Heard had a live vocalist on stage with him while also layering his own vocals on top for choruses. His set was honestly a little tough to get into at first. I assumed it may be as it was not quite party-mode enough for 7pm open day. I didn’t stick around for the entire set but I heard by the end he brought his A-game to Detroit.

Next I caught a bit of Nicole Moudaber on the Main Stage from VIP. I was also very much looking forward to seeing Ben Klock (as always). He’s an amazing Dj to which I have never seen a bad set. Always quality, always on point. I was excited because the last two times he played at Movement he was at the Underground and now we got to see him outside at the Pyramid Stage. Well, we tried our best. We made our way to a decent spot on the floor but there was a steady stream of people flowing both in and out of the stage area. It was to much to bare. We tried several spots and half the group ventured to the VIP stage atop the pyramid structure. This newly added section was also overflowing and lacked good sound for the set. Earlier in the day the Pyramid Stage sounded great from the Beirgarden. We decided to have a bit of a rest, grab a few drinks, and see how Klock sounded from the garden. Out of luck again. The sound was not as full as earlier and was now competing with the Main Stage. Good thing I’ve seen Klock many times.

Next I made my way to the Main Stage to secure a good spot for The Belleville Three.

Titans of Techno: The Belleville Three & Richie Hawtin

the belleville three movement 2017

Having seen each of The Belleville Three perform solo numerous times over the years I’ve grown accustom to their unique style, music, and stage presence. I wasn’t sure what to expect having all three of these influential figures on the stage performing together as one. The group had attempted a similar outing back in 2010 at Amsterdam’s Awakenings Festival to which they deemed a disaster. Taking that as a lesson they premiered the new project at Coachella this year to critical acclaim. It was now time for these three to bring it back home and show the hardcore techno fans of Movement what they had in store.

The set began with a dark, lush, and ominous soundscape backdropped by nothing more than a visual of three triangles joined together as one, pulsating on a black background. These three triangles represent each figure from The Belleville Three and together form their official logo. Kevin Saunderson positioned in the middle, Juan Aktins to his right, and Derrick May to his left.

The intro resonated the presence of Juan Atkins, the Originator. The ambient sounds built into minimal Detroit techno as the screen visuals progressed in tandem. A simple vocal repeating “Detroit” layered over the haunting sounds while the visuals projected images of the industries that built the city. Inversed black and white videos crisscrossed the Detroit skyline, the very scenery we were witnessing live. This imagery gave a glimpse into the apocalyptic conditions of late 1970’s Detroit that helped fuel the creative ambitions to conceive what we now know as techno.

The set morphed into the juxtaposition of the soulful sound Detroit became known for and the dark, pounding minimal Atkins provided. As each new track was added you could feel who’s selection it was. Each member bringing their unique styles together as one and playing upon their strengths on stage. The performance was planned to sound very much like each individual was playing their own set, yet glued together as one cohesive piece. Aktins presumably played live. Saunderson, the hulking figure in the middle, controlled the main mixing board as he cut in tracks and used effects for the break-downs. May flipped through vinyl as he added tracks to both a turntable and a CDJ, working the mixer by chopping the crossfader and track faders and manipulating the EQ’s like no one else can. The group ripped through a myriad of songs during the performance. Everything from their own hits to music that inspired them (Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock”) fused with 2nd and 3rd wave Detroit artists their music helped inspire (Jeff Mills’ “The Bells”).

The Belleville Three did a beautiful job crafting the peaks and valleys that make for an unexpected and energetic set. The meshing of these three solitary styles and egos worked remarkably well on stage. As expected with three strong and creative individuals each working on the same timeline, the performance was not without the occasional hiccup. Tracks would go slightly off-beat or out of phase. At times Atkins or May would peer over to Saunderson for a visual confirmation, but the three always ventured forward moving the crowd in-sync. These longtime friends who always pushed each other creatively over the years, and not without a healthy dose of personal competition, forged their own paths into the music industry. Each creating and managing their own labels and careers. But tonight, for this performance, after all the years of success and failures, ups and downs, and the countless electronic acts who have also found success in the wake of their own, the Belleville Three came full circle, bringing old fans and new fans alike under one banner.

Arguably the most well known artist that emerged from the earlier Detroit scene was next up on the Main Stage. Richie Hawtin brought his new “CLOSE” concept to Movement 2017. As did The Belleville Three, Richie also debuted this new performance at Coachella. He was now primed to rock the audience here in Detroit. Rich has always been at the cutting edge of Dj performance technology. He is one of the best at matching tracks to mix, has a great stage presence, and he knows it takes more than just talent on the decks to be the best… it takes inventive marketing genius.

Richie Hawtin CLOSE Movement 2017

CLOSE is Richie Hawtin’s attempt to remove some of the shrouded mystique behind Djing (but while also adding back in some amaze and bewilderment). Nearly all electronic artists perform from behind a console outfitted with a mixer, a computer, and either turntables or CDJs. The gear, while necessary, also serves to separate DJs from their crowds. Hawtin wanted to remove this barrier and bring the crowd closer to what we was doing while on stage. The result is a stage setup that removes the wall in front of him and instead splits his gear between two tables angled towards the crowd. This gives amble space to view the entire body of the performer, not just a head and torso.

The performance doesn’t end with opening up the Dj physically to the crowd. Hawtin performs his improvised mix while cameras directed at him create abstract representations of his mixing and controlling in real time. In effect showing his fans exactly what it takes for him to mix up to four tracks and samples at a time while also layering in multiple effects. These visuals are amplified by sets of lighting across the stage synchronized to his beats. The lighting stared as simple yellow globes pulsating on the pitch black stage. Until all at once waves of lights blast across the stage emerging the crowd from the depths of anticipation.

The visuals continue to grow and interact with the music, blurring the lines between electronic artist and performance art. Deep reds are projected upon the massive screen behind while blinding lights shine directly behind Hawtin as he reaches across both tables to his side, flipping back and forth between his gear. The lighting seems to lift the man, elevating his on-stage persona to almost godly, unattainable heights. Rich has always been a master at constructing the dramatic within his sets. Using effects during extended breakdowns followed by massive drops and powerful beats. The introduction of digital djing, and the unlimited possibilities to loop samples and create on-the-fly remixes, has allowed electronic artists to concoct a perfectly timed tension and release that makes for dazzling mixes. Richie has now harmonized this sonic technology with the visual artistry rock bands have been using on stage for some time.

richie hawtin on the main stage movement 2017

One thing I can say about Richie’s sets is they can at times become predictable. Every few minutes or so I expect a break with his unique mash of effects culminating into an immense drop that drives the crows wild. It still gets me, I admit, but without everything else this new concept has to offer, I want to ensure the music still surprises me. Which is one thing I’ll give to The Belleville Three performance. Even though I’ve heard most of the tracks they played for years, I could never confirm exactly how the mixes would play out. The reverse seemed to be true for Hawtin’s sets. I rarely recognized the tracks, except for his signature Plastikman samples and effects, but I almost always knew how the mix would play out.

The crew and I do like to clown on Rich fans as they’ve gushed over him and his various accomplishments throughout the years. But that’s only because we’ve been with him from the start. There was a period within his CLOSE set which festival goers were throwing glow sticks from high elevated areas of the stage down into the pit. Which propelled those fans to throw them again and lead to numerous plastic glowing projectiles shooting across all manners of the crowd. This isn’t Woodstock kids (I know, I was there in 1999 too). Enjoy the music. Respect your neighbors. If they only knew how Rich used to ban glow sticks and flashy raver toys from his early parties and instead paid homage to the dark entombed warehouse vibe with either a single strobe or one color bay of lights. And of course with absolutely no smoke machine.

I agree what used to work best for the dank basement clubs and abandoned warehouses of the 1990’s does not transfer well to the festival space in 2017. Hawtin has transformed his music and his performances many times over the years, usually leading the trends and at times inventing them. It seems like all his years as a live performer, electronic artist, and Dj may have led up to this point. I applaud him for moving that needle once again.

The first day of Movement 2017 was a success. There was almost to many acts to see to close out the night. I was disappointed not to catch Function (live) or Robert Hood (live). I’ve seen both of these sets before and no one can foretell when or if I could see The Belleville Three or Richie Hawtin CLOSE again.

Tresor in Detroit, Once Again.

tresor after party movement 2017

After such an amazing ending to the first (official) day of the festival it would be challenging to top. Topping one performance is not always the hope for the next. Like any great mix you must invite the ebb and flow of the day and night, from set to set, to guide your experience. The Tresor after party was actually the only thing we planned before the festival besides Movement itself. We had a great time last year and I love the Tangent for events.

Claude Young was on in the side room when we arrived and Silent Servant was in the main room. Claude was putting down a good mix with classic industrial influences such as Nitzer Ebb, Depeche Mode, and lots of good electro. I love that music and these have been huge influences of mine as well, but it wasn’t what I was looking for at the time. I kept waiting for him to break into those groovy, banging house and techno tracks he played lasted year at Tresor. He did break out some of his mixing and turntable skills, such as his signature cross-fade with the nose trick, but a Movement after party should keep the party going right off the bat, not ease into it.

There was a surprise guest coming on at 4am and I saw Function in the building. Given I had missed his set earlier in the night and heard it was great (as always) I was crossing my fingers. Civil Defense Programme (live),  Roger Semsroth’s (aka Sleeparchive) experimental noise project, was coming on in the main room and Thomas Fehlmann + Terrence Dixon (live) was taking over the side room

Civil Defense Programme was way too heavy, and well, noisy, for my attention at this time in the morning. Terrence Dixon was in fact some of the reasoning behind us choosing Tresor for the night. Earlier in the week I was geeked to find a Terrence Dixon set on Slam’s podcast.

“What a great way to get me pumped for his set Saturday night,” I thought. Unfortunately the podcast was quite boring. It had a 38 minute intro for a 53 minute set and didn’t pick up much after that. Needless to say the set Saturday night at Tresor wasn’t much of a difference, even standing there live. I’ll also note that the sound, the low-end particularly, in the side room was a bit underwhelming. When a name like Tresor comes to town for a single night you bring your A-game on all accounts. During Movement weekend no less. Not to mention just days after developer Fernando Palazuelo broke ground at the legendary Packard Plant where Tresor boss Dimitri Hegemann vows to construct a new club in Detroit.

Finally! Someone brings the fucking heat to the floor.

Christina Sealey, one half of the duo that form Orphx, was next up in the main room bringing a hybrid live / Dj set. Finally! Someone brings the fucking heat to the floor. It was an inventive set of broken beat techno, interesting tracks, and low-end heaters. Up next in the main room was the surprise guest. No, it was not Function (though he was billed as the surprise guest for No Way Back at Tangent Monday night); it was Dj Deep. I had never heard Dj Deep before and didn’t realize he played the festival earlier in the day. I wasn’t sure what to expect but he as well brought a quality set. He started out with some more house to techhouse tunes for a few mixes then dropped the heat for the rest of his set.

We spent a fair amount of the party traversing from room to room, outside in the back area, and also out in front. During one of our longer stints out back we noticed a small team setting up a tent. We got wind that Dan Bell would also be appearing for a surprise Dj set outside! Great news and completely unexpected at a Tresor after hours. We stuck around to watch the sunrise during the smooth and funky grooves Mr. Dan Bell brings to the decks so well.

The end to a very solid opening day for Movement 2017.

Sunday

Sunday started how Sundays in Detroit usually start–at the Grand Trunk Pub for $2 Bloody Mary refills. The Lobster and Spinach Benny hit the spot and three bloody’s took the edge off. Most of the crew wasn’t quite yet ready to face the day. We contemplated hitting the Resolute day party to keep the Dan Bell vibe going, but I decided to head down to the festival solo.

This day was mostly filled with acts playing the Underground Stage and the first one I caught was Orphx (live). The bass and volume seemed to be toned down just a bit at the Underground Stage today (which was a good thing). Orphx and their rare form of live improvised industrial-techno sounded great. I caught them a few years back, also in the Underground, and the set was good, but the sound that day in the Underground did not do it justice. I was pleased this year.

The weather decided to start not cooperating Sunday afternoon. First a bit of rain, then tapering back to just a sprinkle. I was trying to get everyone down to the festival before it got too objectionable, but then the real rain reared it’s ugly head. I wasn’t planning to see Ryan Elliott this year. Last time I saw him at Movement his set was just ok. This year he brought some serious sounds. I was very much hoping to see Audion (live) on the Stargate Stage. Mathew Dear is always a solid choice and after hearing his new release “Starfucker” on Hot Creation just the night before I was ready.

I hate to be a fair-weather raver, but shit… I didn’t bring any rain gear and didn’t feel like walking around in wet clothes the rest of the day. It’s a good thing Ryan was bringing a proper set. I decided to stick around and stay dry. Unfortunately so did a bout half of everyone in Hart Plaza. I’ve never seen it so packed in the underground at that time of day. I had to squeeze my way through the crowd and find a spot way off in a corner just to breathe.

Towards the end of his set the sunshine started too peek out once again. Which was perfect as I wanted to get a decent spot to catch Sleeparchive (live). I’ve heard plenty of live sets from Sleeparchive and own plenty of his tracks but never the chance to see him live. The set was exactly what I was expecting. His signature sound of hard, dark, and uncompromising techno channels earlier works from Regis and his Downwards imprint. There were very few breaks in the menacing bass. Which seemed to scare most of the crowd out of hiding in the underground and out to sunnier pastures. These sounds have been a part of my techno DNA for decades and they still have their place and time. I will admit as my interests and tastes flow through the years and the seasons this style of techno just isn’t what I’m seeking at this particular place in time.

I needed a break from the underground and the crew was finally making it through the gates. I opted for a rest in the open air and a chance to re-connect with friends. We first popped by Cajmere at the Stargate Stage to catch the Chicago house and techno legend do his thang. He was putting down a good set as always. Though IMHO he was lopping and holding on to the breaks way too long. At times he would drop the beat in, then go straight back into the break. I felt like half my time spent there was just waiting for the beat to drop.

Paranoid London (live). An instant classic!

We swung by the underground to catch the start of DVS1. Maybe it was because I just came from Cajmere but DVS1 was playing noticeably fast for techno these days. I didn’t tap out the bpms but it was mid 130’s at least. Admittedly I don’t know much about Paranoid London but my boy was destine to see them play live so we ventured over to the RBMA stage. So glad we did as this was the surprise set of the weekend. Paranoid London has a wide range of house/techno music and let gets down and dirty with dope ass bass lines, thumpin kicks, and of course signature live vocals. They have managed to create tracks reminiscent simpler times in dance music with some fun and dark twists. Paranoid London (live) was an instant classic!

BXT Movement 2017

BXT was next on our schedule. I was thoroughly impressed with Amp Fiddler with Will Sessions live last year at Movement so I was very excited to see what he and Niko Marks bring together as BXT. We talked about leaving Paranoid London to catch the opening of BXT. It was a tough call. We were having such a great time with PL and it was a known vs and somewhat unknown. We had to stick around to finish PL. Once we arrived at BXT at the Made in Detroit Stage… Whoa. We did question the choice to stay at PL. Honestly I wish I could have just seen both full sets, B2B. (Festival Choices…)

BXT at Movement 2017 Made in Detroit Stage

BXT is the next generation of Detroit soul and funk. Period.

BXT is the next generation of Detroit soul and funk. Period. The duo’s vibe together on stage is transcendent. Both artists are exceptional on the keys as they flip positions and allow each other to shine. Both radiate brilliant presence while remaining humble and poised to feed off each others energy.  Another highlight of the weekend. Cannot wait to see more from these two.

After awakening our pineal gland with Detroit soul it was time to see Amsterdam’s legendary techno icon Steve Rachmad as his Sterac alias. It doesn’t matter where or what alias Rachmad is playing, he is consistently one of the best Djs of all time. There was just enough room to grab a good spot outside of the pit when we arrived. Shortly the place was massively packed with people sweating and grooving to the proper techno Sterac was laying down. I’m sure the rain that had now returned steered a few unsuspecting Testpilot fans towards the underground and could now not escape the alarming, yet irresistible, techno hammering out of the subs. I believe the rain also delayed some sets around this time, but fans of Testpilot and Juicy J still got to see their shows that night. I’ll leave it to Sterac to end out my night for day two of the Movement festival thanks.

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Unfortunately this is where my Movement festival weekend comes to a close. Responsibilities led me from Detroit before any of the solid activities got started on Monday. For those that stuck around it was off to Industry Brunch at Tangent for daytime party vibes where FBK from Ohio threw down a live set full of dark techno.

One of the main highlights from the festival was the Ben Sims B2B Truncate set. The duo added some rave-time fun to close out the Underground Stage for the weekend. Lots of classic jackin’ techno mingled with new grooves.

Then it was back to Tangent for The Bunker NY party. Function came through as the special guest with a three deck CDJ set. Hot Mix (Mike Servito, Justin Cudmore, Gunnar Haslam) served up some tasty deep house and techno with a side of acid (yum!). Antenes was the surprise hit for this Movement close out. Electro and varied styles of techno were fair game for her mixed vinyl and CDJ set.

What It’s All About

While the friendly ridicule and chaffing brought my group of friends together leading up to Movement festival, it’s always the music and camaraderie that keeps us coming back year after year. It is the obvious that brings us to Detroit for Movement: the artists we know, the dj’s we can count on, the performers we’ve been waiting for. But it is the uncharted that truly makes Movement weekend a monumental and historic event time and time again. It’s the surprise sunrise sets from your favorite djs. It’s the artists you anticipate holding the torch into the next generation of Detroit. It’s stumbling across a stage and staying for the entire set. It’s you discovering something that has never existed before this moment, and will never again be present in the future.

Movement Detroit and the events, happenings, and beliefs behind it have grown into a living entity. It’s nothing you can touch or hold. It’s difficult to describe to those who cannot already feel it. It is an abstract concept that unifies thousands of minds, bodies, and souls from across the world. It’s a movement for the city of Detroit and the music that feeds the soul of it’s people. It remains admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering for fans of electronic music in the year two thousand and seventeen. And I see it feeding their souls for years to come.

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