An exploration of techno tradition coming full circle to form an unexpected experience.
Movement Detroit 2016 Recap: Movement celebrated its 10 year anniversary this year in 2016. A decade is a substantial amount of time. We like to measure time in decades. It’s a nice even number that covers pivotal moments in history. Movement’s 10 year anniversary comes in after half of the ’10s are already over, giving it a strange mix from two separate decades in time. Looking back at the decades in history, a majority of climatic changes–be that technological, social, political, or musical–seem to happen in the latter half of the decade.
It feels like we are touching on one of those critical points in history right now as Movement puts a decade in the books. It’s a bit crazy to think Movement has been here for 10 years already. It’s even crazier to think back on the fact I have attended nearly every Detroit electronic music festival since it’s inception in 2000. That is 17 years in total, half of my current life on this planet.
A lot of things can happen in a decade. And surely quite a lot can happen in 17. One thing that has not changed–but quite the contrary–is the city of Detroit’s deep passion and embracing love for techno; the genre of music born right here and now synonymous with the city itself.
Festival goers once again converged from around the world to pay homage to the birthplace of techno this memorial day weekend. They were presented with a mingled blend of artists, both classic and up-in-coming, local talent and international superstars, covering a wide spectrum of electronic music.
Saturday: Where would we be without Kraftwerk & Tresor?
To begin this festival weekend we started with something fast becoming a tradition for us of sorts–Bloody Mary Bunch at Grand Trunk Pub. They have a wonderful array of eggs benedict. Knowing Paxahau had made the proper adjustments to the festival grounds ticketing and will-call areas, we should have quick entry and hit our Movement 2016 opening acts with no issues.
First up was Detroit local based Project 313, from record label Blank Code and Modified Artist collective, setting the tone for Saturday’s Underground Stage with their live blend of melodic and slammin techno. It’s worth noting here that the scheduling for the Underground Stage was dramatically altered for 2016. Over the past several years or more the underground was the place to find the harder, darker, well… underground techno all weekend long. This year that theme continued on Saturday for sure, but the remainder of the weekend was not the case.
For me personally, this was both a blessing and a disappointment. A blessing as I usually regret having to spend the entire weekend trapped in a concrete cave just to catch the techno I prefer (that’s what after parties are for, not an entire outdoor festival). A disappointment because instead of that style of techno being substituted at another stage, it seemed to be absent all together. I see the ease of having a particular “theme” at each stage but I would prefer to see various styles at stages so fans get to see all of the festival grounds. It looks like that was the attempt this year with the various showcases across the stages, in which Paxahau did an excellent job, but the harder, darker style of techno traditionally represented at the Underground seemed to be left out for the ten-year anniversary.
After Project 313 we stepped over to the Opportunity Detroit Stage to check out Israel Vines (live). Like many in the electronic music scene, Israel’s music was relatively unknown to me prior to this set. He brought a wide range of genres and eras to the stage as festival goers warmed up the grassy turf of the OD Stage.
We headed back underground to catch some of Andrei Morant‘s set. I’m glad to see Andrei popping up at events in the midwest and abroad more frequently these days. He’s a Dj and producer I followed closely in the ’90s and ’00s and has always brought uncompromising techno from his home in Texas.
Guti was not an artist on my schedule to see for the weekend but it was time to get a taste of the Beatport Stage. Given the layout of the Beatport Stage, and simply the popularity of the acts there, the crowd tends to surge and bottleneck at the entryway–sometimes leaving it less than desirable for seasoned vets. It was surprisingly well controlled not just Saturday but all weekend long. The VIP stage in the back gave a comfortable and elevated view of the crowd and the sound. With the Renaissance Center commanding the backdrop, an American flag flapping in the wind and a decent breeze emerging from the Detroit River, Guti’s live set seemed quite appropriate.
Next we were back at the OD Stage to catch two mid ’90s Detroit scene icons, Mike Servito and Derek Plaslaiko. Both of these accomplished Djs are now also known for their contributions to the infamous Bunker New York events and being able to rock any party, with any style, that get asses shakin. This B2B set for Movement 2016 was no different with both Djs having a blast being the decks.
I bounced over to DeWalta & Mike Shannon (live) on the Main Stage to before catching Ann Arbor’s prolific Matthew Dear on the Made in Detroit / Thump Stage. Dear, as a Dj, never seems to disappoint. He continues to make strides in production be it dance, experimental, pop, or a mix of all. He recently re-birthed one of his original monikers, Audion, for a brand new album “born from modular synthesizers, drum machines, computers and a good old fashioned head nodding.”
I caught a bit DaM-Funk‘s dj set with lots of time spent spittin’ on the mic and even a hop onto the table with a sermon to the crowd before exiting stage left. Next up I couldn’t miss Scuba‘s set underground. I’ve been a fan of Scuba’s production for quite sometime and loved the 2010 album Triangulation but started to distance myself from there as his work and label, Hotflush, grew more mainstream. After hearing Scuba’s face-melter, live at XOYO in London mix, I was excited to see what he brought to Detroit. Mr. Paul Rose came proper and kept the underground shaking his whole set.
Len Faki continued propelled the energy Scuba started once he stepped to the decks. His set was pounding and extremely hard to part with, but starting shortly was a performance I have never seen and may never get the opportunity to see again.
As they continue through the myriad of hits and memorable productions the sheer weight of their influence on this city, the music, artists, and now its new generation of followers grows immense.
Kraftwerk need absolutely no introduction but they do deserve absolute respect and due-allowance from anyone who enjoys any form of electronic music. After forming in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1970 this band has made an immense impression not only on techno but pop culture throughout the world over the last forty plus years.
We didn’t start with the prime spot but throughout the performance slowly made our way close enough to feel the heat from the 3D screens on our faces.
Straight out the gate they get to business with Nummern (Numbers) off their 1981 album Computerwelt. The midnight-black background and unmistakable green pixellated numbers, known from early computing, set the stage for those unfamiliar with Kraftwerk’s common themes of technology, machines, robotics, and repetitive modern transportation and travel.
The 3D visualizations were much better than I expected and honestly one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in my life. The absolute mastery of these four gentlemen, both within the studio and on stage, is something to truly be revered. As they continue through the myriad of hits and memorable productions the sheer weight of their influence on this city, it’s music, it’s artists, and now its new generation of followers grows immense.
Early Detroit productions, especially those of Juan Atkins, wouldn’t have even been a glimmer in the sky if not for Kraftwerk. Aside from the annexation of sound from Düsseldorf to Detroit it’s too hard to ignore the almost infinite amount of producers across all genres of music, but most notable throughout early and modern-day hip hop, who have sampled Kraftwerk over the years.
We were just closing out day one of the Movement 2016 festival and I already confirmed this would be the defining performance and a true highlight not only for the weekend, but a lifetime for a dedicated electronic music enthusiast.
I would have been satisfied calling it a night after that achievement but I was convinced to venture out to the Tresor 25 Year Anniversary after party at the Tangent Gallery. To be honest, I had mixed emotions about attending this party. Yes, the lineup had some great names who’ve contributed greatly to Tresor and techno in general throughout the years. But with that mixed bag of classic Djs I wasn’t sure how cohesive the atmosphere would be.
We didn’t have presales but it turns out, sometimes it pays to just show up with cash in hand. Sure, it cost us a few more dollars, but we swung right up to the front and we were dancing to Claude Young before the folks in the presale line could trip over each others shoes. Not having seen or heard much from Claude Young in quite sometime I was a bit apprehensive. Stepping into the front room at Tangent felt like a time warp to the late ’90s on all fronts. Not just because we used to attend parties at this very spot, but because you have Claude fucking Young slamming out techno and house at maximum BPM, sratchin with this elbows and smiling the entire time. He had a fun set for sure. For the crowd and for himself.
A second apprehension I had about this party was Moritz Von Ozwald. Now, before you go chanting heresy hear me out. I am a huge dub techno fan and Basic Channel’s influence (fuck it, creation) is unquestionable. I had the opportunity to hear Moritz at the Movement Main Stage a few years back and was hugely disappointed. I’ll also point out I am a fan of the Moritz Von Ozwald Trio work as well. Granted, it was a daytime set but it was boring. I’d witnessed a very pleasing set from his counterpart Mark Ernestus not long before that and was looking forward to his set. Never having heard Moritz perform in an after party environment, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Needless to say, the master came out to play that night. He rocked it. Moritz, a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, was clad in a nice sweater with a collared dress shirt beneath. He very well could have been performing at an astute theatre then a Detroit warehouse party in the wee hours of the morning. He barely moved and inch behind his gear but it was absolute destruction coming from the speakers. Well done sir.
In the main room Regis was on it. The stage was set with a simple backdrop of Detroit building cutouts, set at several depths behind the performer and lit-up with deep blues and purple lights. No crazy flashing lights. No huge screens or 3D visualizations. Just the artist, their gear and the music. I’ve had the opportunity to see Regis play several times over the last few years and this was definitely his best set I’ve ever seen. He was very into it, grooving and feeling the beats, and the heat just kept coming. It turns out the Tresor 25 party was not to be missed; living up to the Tresor name and all the seasoned performers on the lineup.
Sunday: A Detroit tour and not-so-cool afterparty access
We got a late start on Sunday. A blessing in disguise as not much was on the Sunday festival lineup until early evening, giving us some time to experience a bit more of Detroit than Hart Plaza. On my way into Detroit Saturday morning I made a quick stop to a coffee shop and restaurant to which I had never had the pleasure. Corktown is on the way into downtown so I decided to find a place for a quick espresso. Le Petite Zinc is a cute place with a local organic feel, a quant interior and a nice exterior patio and garden area. Waking up Sunday I realized they were doing an Ambient Brunch and thought it would be the perfect place for breakfast. Turns out it was actually a deep house brunch given the music the Dj was playing in the patio area. They have an interesting selection of light and fresh French affair that proved to be just what the Dr. ordered.
We had a few new-comers to the group this year. Not only new to Movement but also first time visiting Detroit. We had some time to kill so this was perfect for a quick tour of some Detroit staples. We were already in Corktown so a visit to the old Michigan Central Depot was a no brainer. Afterwards we took a trip north on Woodward Ave to gaze at the wonderful historic churches leading to and past Midtown. We cut over to the Eastern Market and caught the Sheppard Fairy mural he completed during Movement 2015 weekend. All with a bit of an intertwined history lesson (the best I could provide).
We finally made it to the festival to catch Chicago’s Smart Bar resident and Creative Director, The Black Madonna. She brought a fun fix of Chicago house but at points was a bit too disco for my taste at that particular moment. The plan was to at least make it down to first see Matador live, but it just wasn’t in the cards.
We caught a bit of Art Department at the Made in Detroit stage and Magda was throwing down quality beats as usual over at Beatport. Since the Beatport Stage sounds great from the bier garden this was a good time to catch up with friends, have a beer and sit in the shade.
We had to catch Detroit icon Mike Huckaby bring his unique blend of house and techno to the Opp Det stage and enjoy some sunshine on the grassy dance floor.
Getting my early lessons in techno in the mid to late ’90s Swedish techno quickly became a staple in our record collections. Lots of those releases come from the Drumcode label and various other imprints from Adam Beyer. Adam’s label and tracks have surly shifted and transformed over the years into more digestible sounds to the general populace of global electronic music fans. He has gained considerable fame and generous bookings at the hottest clubbing spots across the globe. His style isn’t quite up my alley any longer so I didn’t plan time to check his set. That being said as I walked past the main stage at several points during his slot he was putting down a quality, energetic and thumping techno set. Hands-down he’s still a great techno Dj and brings what’s needed to a city like Detroit.
The combination of Will Sessions, one of Detroit’s must-see live bands, and the funk keyboard wizard and vocalist Amp Fiddler, was almost magical. The presence of Amp Fiddler and genuine heart and soul from Will Sessions on the RBMA stage was powerful. A truly memorable set.
Next up Tale of Us rocked the night air at the Beatport stage. We moved over to see what all the hype was about with Dubfire:Live Hybrid. During and since the festival I’ve seen a number of fans praise this set. While the visuals and stage props were cool, the over-simplified, ping-pong minimal techno left my thirst un-quenched.
Here’s a Movement Detroit rule to live by: When all else fails, check out the Made in Detroit Stage. We swung by and caught a solid classic Detroit techno set from none other than the fourth member of the Belleville Three, Eddie Fowlkes. Though Eddie has been in the game since day one with early renowned productions and dj sets, he’s had to work hard for his respect. I’ve been seeing his name across lineups worldwide quite a lot lately as his talent and reputation as a Dj continues to spread and solidify across the globe. He lived up to his old “Flashin Fowlkes” nickname with his quick mixes and entertaining moves on stage.
I had several commitments for Sunday after parties but we wanted to get an early start to Interface:Scene to catch Cassegrain‘s 12:45 set at the Works. The set was pretty impeccable sonicly and the groove exactly matched my favorite tracks from their studio productions. It was a perfect set to start the party but I was ready for some higher energy. Adam X was up next in the main room and brought his heavy industrialized style techno back to the Motor City. I’ve seen some great sets from Adam over the years in Detroit and the style and sounds of those sets has varied greatly. You may never know exactly what you’ll get from Adam. There has been a resurgence in the pounding industrial techno sometimes favored by Adam X lately, but my tastes have been growing farther and farther away from it.
The Midwest’s own Kyle Geiger was up in the front room and he brought a proper set to keep the speakers thumpin. I tried several attempts to spend some time back in the main room and outside on the patio to check out the sets, but I kept finding myself back in the front room for Geiger. While the rest of my posse had already called it a night and I had plans to hit anther after party. I still had a chance to catch the Headless Horseman back in the main room. I was very impressed with the sounds. His broken-beat, dark techno layered with electro highs and cemented with gritty bass and kicks was the perfect addition to close out my night at the Works.
My plan next was to hit the OK COOL party at TV Lounge. I already heard the line was intense at this point in the morning but after giving it some time I thought it would be safe enough to make my way in. I made it there sometime around 4:30am. Security stopped me as I stepped out the cab and told me it would be 2 hours before I could make it in and the party may get stopped by the fire marshal. Whether or not either of those are true I refuse to spend two hours in line for any party, especially just to see the lights turn on once I finally make it in.
I knew I should have stayed at the Works… I called it a night.
Monday: Traditions aside, Acid is back and the festival again comes to a close
Even after staying out later than the rest of the crew I was up earlier and had a powerful lust for a decent brunch. I headed out solo to Dime Store, a great breakfast place just down the street. Packed as usual with a wait but being a single I was able to skip to a spot at the counter. Feeling refreshed I headed back to the hotel to wrestle everyone else up and decide on plans for the day. Since my afterparty plans last night got somewhat foiled I thought hitting a daytime party would be sweet redemption in the southern Michigan sunshine.
Everyone else still needed some eats so we decided heading up to Monday’s tradition Need I Say More party at Old Miami and hitting nearby Honest John’s for some chicken and waffles was a good course of action. It was around 1pm and I thought this may be a good window in which the line would die down at Old Miami. Quite the opposite as the line still circled around the block. This party has so many positive aspects to it: it starts at 7am, runs all day and night, brings in wonderful and unexpected talent, is cheap and has grown to almost folklore-ish proportions. Unfortunately so many positives can advance to some negatives as well. Being a smaller venue with such popularity leads to some outweighed demand. A demand that, for myself, doesn’t warrant standing for hours in the hot mid-day sun while under-nourished and more than likely dehydrated.
We had our Uber driver roll right past and drop us off at Honest John’s for some grub. After our meal we took one last glance at the line, felt the uncompromising sun rays beating down, and hailed a cab straight back downtown.
I was intrigued by the Acid showcase at the Underground Stage for Monday. It seems fitting as there has been a resurgence in the Acid sound over the last few years and has remaining steady. First up for the showcase was Ann Arbor’s own 2AMFM (live). It was an interesting set of what I would classify mostly as electro peppered with effected vocal blurbs.
We bounced over to catch a bit of tINI on the Beatport Stage which had the PLAYdifferently presents PROTOTYPES tour showcase for the day. After that, the 6pm time slot was a busy one. We caught the start of Joseph Capriati‘s set from the bier garden right after tINI. We then set forth to the underground to see what Tin Man had in store.
I love what Tin Man has been up to production-wise and he is really a driving force in the new Acid movement. His 2014 album ODE on Acid Test truly brought him into the radar. This effort exhibiting not only his passion for the acid sound and sheer skill on classic Roland gear but also his ability to incorporate beautiful vocals into electronic music without sacrificing integrity; a sought after talent for any producer. Next his collaborations with adept artists such as Cassegrain and Donato Dozzy added a new layer to his proficiency. His set here at Movement was impressive. Very clean, slightly harder and darker than his productions and dj sets I’ve heard in the past. Towards the second half of the set he did tone it back a bit focusing on some of his own tracks.
We couldn’t miss catching a set from Detroit legend and innovator, Delano Smith. Rocking dance floors as far back as the late 70s and early 80s Smith helped influence the creation of Detroit techno and the producers behind it. Now coming full circle as he again stands shoulder to shoulder with the greatest producers and djs across the world. A fun, soulful set with a touch of class and irresistible dancing grooves.
Next we headed back underground for another great force who has influenced countless artists throughout techno, house, and of course, acid–Dj Pierre. He no doubt came with those classic sounds to the Acid showcase this year at Movement, a genre of music he pioneered.
I caught a bit of Chris Liebing on the Main Stage whist bouncing around across the festival grounds. Danny Tenaglia was also putting on a thumping set over at the Beatport stage. He had a large gap to fill for fans as he extended his set to cover for Richie Hawtin who was unable to make it due to last-minute visa issues (there’s also one visa issue each year).
Being a Modeselektor fan since their 2005 album Hello Mom! I was super excited to see them live. Their music progressed over the years and continued to show supreme force with the 2007 album Happy Birthday! and teaming with Apparat birthed the savvy collaboration Moderate in 2009. Their unique style brought together Aphex Twin style electronic music (that was danceable), infused with funky reggae and hip-hop vocals and swagger, all topped with a silly, sometimes absurd, humor that was a recipe for world-renowned rave success.
What makes the live experience of techno great is the unforeseen, sometimes startling and amazing energy and animation that comes from an artists on-the-fly manipulation of tracks and sounds.
It was amazing to see (and feel) them live on stage right here in my favorite city in the world, backed by thousands of fans and a massive sound system. Having a chance to slow the pace (and my dancing) down to hip-hop style breaks and vocal cuts was refreshing. Their best known tracks are undeniably catchy and unforgettable. I will confess I don’t love every Modeselektor track. Unlike a dj set when an unfavorable track comes in and is already backed by another track and quickly mixed, the nature of Modeselektors track-by-track live performance creates great pause. I also quickly grow weary of electronic artists whom play track-by-track without mixing, leaving out live interpretation and experimentation. The purpose and love behind a great electronic event is the flexibility the technology provides. What makes the live experience of techno great is the unforeseen, sometimes startling and amazing energy and animation that comes from an artists on-the-fly manipulation of tracks and sounds. I want to hear something different than I could from playing a CD on a massive sound system in front of thousands of people. And I don’t mean periodically jabbering at the crowd on the mic in-between tracks. In fact, please don’t do that. You’re not Liberace performing behind the candelabra. Stick to the music. And make it live and unexpected. That being said a few of the moments during their performance were some of the most memorable of the weekend. I could feel the festival coming to a close and the love and emotion was still running high.
Hearing Kevin Saunderson close out Movement Detroit 2016 almost feels like tradition. Rightfully so he gets the opportunity to play the closing set quite often. Given his early commercial success within the techno scene Kevin has an irrefutable ear for triumphant techno. That’s never more apparent than during one of his closing sets at Movement. His somewhat overused pop cuts such as the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” were dignified by following up with quality techno tracks but unfortunately, for me, his spirited stage presence didn’t counter balance drawn out tracks quickly mixed into the next 5 minute stretch only to be broken up by a long string of effects.
(I’ll call it) complacent laziness aside, listening to Saunderson once again close out Detroit’s electronic music festival, bringing good-time grooves and happiness to all those within earshot left me feeling whole walking out of Hart Plaza.
Instead of digging through crates to find that diamond in the rough you stumble across stages, meet up with old friends, and follow your ear to unpredictable, and sometimes fruitful music.
Movement Detroit 2016 Recap
Having a decade of Movement festivals under their belt Paxahau has seen many changes within techno and electronic music. They’ve also not been immune to their share of growing pains. While it’s sad to see recent negative publicity surrounding other electronic music festivals with multiple drug overdoses, deaths, and full-out cancellations… it remains grounding to know that Movement, dwarfing the size of the aforementioned events, is a safe environment where responsible fans definitely know how to have fun, but also know why they are truly there.
While initial thoughts of the lineup seemed disproportionate to a ten-year anniversary, I left this weekend feeling more satisfied musically then recent memory can provide. The advantages of attending an electronic music festival, especially one confined within one large space and not throughout several locations across a city, are the same things that make electronic performances great… the unexpected.
Not having a full, predisposed and planned out lineup scheduled this year gave me the opportunity to wander and see many acts I may not normally see. And that’s what is great about music in general, especially for Djs, the discovery. Instead of digging through crates to find that diamond in the rough you stumble across stages, meet up with old friends, and follow your ear to unpredictable, and sometimes fruitful music.