FESTIVAL. DAY 1. SATURDAY. 5.26.
It’s 7p.m. and I’m still a bit hung-over from my prior night/morning in Chicago. I am definitely lacking sleep and despite my cute outfit I am well aware I look haggard. Not the easiest way to begin a three day extravaganza of techno, dancing, and drugs. But to hell with it; this is Detroit!
Every year - for three full days - people from around the globe come to Detroit, Michigan to keep the party goin’. I’ve proudly been a part of the hype since 2001 and I’m not gonna start lettin myself down now. Keep, keep dancin – THIS is Movement, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival.
After picking up my press pass and saying a quick hello to Shannon, one of Paxahau’s notable staff, I make my way to the tent I know to be always kickin. It’s the tent by the lawn on the river. This year it’s better known as the Beatport tent. The music showcased in the Beatport tent is largely that which is available on the music-downloading website – the most progressive and influential techno available to date. This music is sharp, glitchy tech that keeps booties hoppin, not swayin.
I stand by a relatively pitiful break circle for a moment, run into some friends made in Detroit years prior, then head to the main stage to see what’s goin on.
What’s goin on is King Britt providing some house-laced techno and lots of smiling people in the audience. It’s a bit more of an Ibiza vibe over here – more sun and beaded bracelets. Some guy appears front and center of the sea of people and waves his arms maniacally. He seems to be convinced he is pumping up the crowd. To my right a gorgeous young couple is dressed in coordinating geisha-inspired costumes. They salsa and pop together. I smile and ingest the dripping euphoria then head back to Beatport where things seem a little more real.
A man named Guido has hips twitchin and the crowd is jumpin. I dance until my faulty lungs tell me it’s time to go underground for a breather – maybe there will be some gritty techno or jungle below.
I am shocked and angry at what I find underground – no stage! – Nothing but projections of DJs on giant white screens. Bad move, I think. (Note to Paxahau: Please bring back our underground! We Techno Soldiers need our darkness).
Speaking of darkness, it’s getting dark and the festival’s soon closing for the night. It’s time for the afterhours festivities to begin. But first a quick trip to the river’s edge to see the sunset and check out the characteristically chill Pyramid Stage.
There are fewer people than usual out here but the men on stage, Rhythm and Sound, are really something unique. It’s dub-meets jungle-meets Detroit techno. There are moments of deep bass, heady reggae drum bits, and a vocalist who reminds me of LTJ Bukem’s most featured MC. It’s a heavenly sound combined with the river and sunset on the Potomac.
AFTERHOURS – NIGHT 1
The crew is gathered and lookin good again. We hail a cab to the Masonic Temple. Cab rides have proven to be a risky task in Detroit in past years. We are impressed when our cabbie turns on the meter without much fight and request him return to us later.
The line outside the temple includes an extremely drunk, stumbling, dirty man slurring obscenities and standing far too close to party-goers and the various cars lining the street. The line doesn’t move after 20 minutes so we finagle our way in. We ride the elevator 3 stories to relief – or so we think.
The music is definitely worthwhile – Ryan Elliot is currently on deck and soon enough Audion will take over. But damn, did we just take an elevator into the center of a volcano? It’s hotter than a bunny’s asshole in here! Cozy. But not exactly danceable.
I am immediately drenched in sweat and find it hard to get completely into what I know to be fantastic music. Not being able to dance to fantastic music is far more unbearable than not dancing to horrible music. It’s like not being able to get it up for a hot girl or get wet for a hot guy. It’s a personal let-down.
We stick it out for a few hours then seek shelter at another party at Bert’s on Broadway. It’s nearing 5 a.m. and the vibe is still thick here. I’ve popped a few Vicodin to keep myself awake and to abate the yells of pain from my worn-out leg muscles. MUST KEEP DANCING. We stay until it’s necessary to wear sunglasses then hit the hotel for a few hours’ sleep.
FESTIVAL. DAY 2. SUNDAY. 5.27.
Christian Smith takes over the main stage at 4p.m. but I find myself bored and wandering until 6p.m. when the beautiful Misstress Barbara gets the Beatport Tent shakin. The Misstress is commonly known for her hard, blast-beat techno style. So I am surprised to hear so much progressive house influence in her set. But I’m not disappointed. She is a master of her craft and works the crowd brilliantly. (Check out my interview with Misstress Barbara in which we discuss her new style, thoughts of the Midwest electronic-music scene, and her upcoming album). <<<<>>>>>
The party doesn’t stop at Beatport. Next up is “America’s Favorite House DJ” (BPM – 2006), Chicago-based Bad Boy Bill. The crowd goes wild as the speakers blast out wave after wave of bangin house. A unified chant of “Bad Boy Bill” erupts. A young man climbs the light stack. The chant predictably changes to “DE-TROIT!” boom. boom. “DE-TROIT!” It’s a chant that always makes me smile. A chant that resounds from every stage of the festival at least a few times every year. Must keep dancing.
At 8p.m. influential German duo, Hardfloor, is playing on the main stage. I remember going to see them in my raver days but haven’t heard the group in ages. They pour out a set that easily blows all other acts thus-far out of the water. The layers of the music are complex but the bass is consistent and not one person in the amphitheater is standing still. I sweat, sweat, sweat. Must keep dancing. Two break circles erupt in the center of the bowl. Detroit is alive and breathing techno.
It’s 10p.m. and Model 500 f/ Juan Atkins is on the main stage. Considering Atkins’ notoriety and respectable status I’m stoked for an impressive set. It starts out strong with some fresh, move-making tracks. But soon enough I’ve lost interest and head to the Beatport tent once again.
On my way I strike gold. One of the goals of myself and my crew for DEMF 2k7 has been to find out if there’s another Ghostly after, after, after party to be held on Monday morning. We were fortunate enough to be in-the-know in 2006 and it was definitely the afterhour event of the festival. En-route to the Beatport tent I spot a drop-dead gorgeous man I spent many minutes trying to be sneaky (and most assuredly being obvious) about staring at while at the aforementioned party last year. I decide that this may be my last shot at finding the elusive afterhours. “Heyyy, weren’t you at that after-after-after hours last year?” He reveals a lopsided, knowing grin and hands me a small flyer. Fuck yeah.
I enjoy the last hour of Steve Bug’s set with about 100 other techno soldiers. There’s a couple dancing in the same corner with me that I have seen a couple of other times today. This is one of the beautiful things about the Detroit Electronic Music Festival: people find their niches and wind-up seeing one another over and over again despite attendance being in the 100s of thousands. I always leave Detroit with new friends I will see again every year for as long as the festival exists.
AFTERHOURS – NIGHT 2
Deciding which afterhours events to go to is one of the most difficult parts of DEMF. We drink and take some ecstasy in order to restore our minds to something resembling awake. Around 1:30a.m. we have decided to get some hard techno and a little drum and bass into our lives. We re-visit Bert’s On Broadway to check out Deetron, Punisher, Mindbender, Angel Alanis and many other talents.
All three levels of the club are buzzing with a vibe reminiscent of early-90’s raves. No candy-kids but people of all ages and dance styles and drug states. The music is raw and electric. I run into a lot of people from the Steve Bug set at the Beatport tent. Techno soldiers unite! Must keep dancing.
I think it must’ve been a good party and not just the ecstasy when the lights come up and the whole place is still packed and the DJ keeps spinning and the crowd keeps dancing. I know for certain it wasn’t just the ecstasy when the chant finally breaks out: “DE-TROIT!” boom. boom. “DE-TROIT!”
A motley, sweaty, nearing-deaf crowd is released back onto the streets of the motor city at 5a.m. We still have two hours to kill before the Ghostly party begins. We find ourselves in a loft seven floors up with no working elevator. Dancing all night is one thing, climbing stairs is quite another. It’s a killer pad. Almost makes me want to live in Detroit. …. .Almost.
No booze. We head back to the hotel to freshen up. More Vicodin. More whiskey. Change shirt. Alright. Ready to go!
AFTERHOURS – MORNING 3 – Ghostly Party
Walking into the after, after, afterhours this year is akin to going through a portal. One moment we are crammed into a Detroit taxi, the next we’re walking through what looks like an old white grandpa’s garage in rural Illinois. There are stacks of boxes lining the walls. Old car parts sitting around, an ancient pool table, road signs on the walls and a juke box showcasing skinhead oi and roots country and bluegrass. None of the couches or chairs could have been manufactured after 1967.
I rest my weary legs and take in the establishment. Where the hell are we? Where’s the techno? What the fuck?
I go to the bar and overhear someone placing an order with one of the female bartenders sporting a shaved head. “I’ll take two Harps and a Jameson on the rocks.” Then, to a patron beside him, “I’m from Ireland.”
The venue is different this year but the motif is pretty much the same: choosy, moderate promotion, remote location with outdoor stage, the world’s top minimal techno dj’s, every European attending DEMF, and tequila sunrises at 7a.m. When I venture outside I walk into yet another world. Whereas just before I was in a skinhead garage bar, I am now in a chill, vibrant techno world. Only the most beautiful, most fashionable, most talented people are allowed to roam. I am flattered to be a part of it. I would like to say I hate cliques. But I can’t. I love this clique. Who can complain about 100 or so people dancing as the sun rises to Ryan Elliot, Luciano, Matthew Dear, and other talented techno dj’s in the middle of Detroit outside of a skinhead bar? Why would I complain about the fact that I would gladly have sex with 90% of these people? I won’t. It’s simply too grand.
If you’ve ever been unsure of what delineates the difference between a techno fan and a techno soldier, this is it. If you are one of the hardcore few to be in attendance at the Ghostly International party from 7a.m. – 3p.m. on the third day of Movement, you’ve completed step one to soldierdom. If you are there without sleep, you’re closer. If you are there without sleep, dressed well, dancing the whole time with drink in hand, and actually know who all of the DJ’s on stage are – you’re there. You have reached that level of techno-love which is far beyond the love most people reserve for pets and children.
FESTIVAL. DAY 3. 5.28.07
Make it to the festival in time to see John Aquaviva and MD! f/ Bombscare. Still no sleep. Goin on alcohol and pain pills now. My muscles can shut the hell up. I’ve got Techno to attend to!
Aquaviva’s set bores me a bit. Maybe I’m just too sleepy. But maybe not, because over at the Pyramid stage the drum and bass gets me throwin fists. At 6p.m. Luciano plays in the Beatport stage. After seeing him early this morning, I can’t get enough.
6:30p.m. – Stacey Pullen plays at Real Detroit stage. FUN! My feet go quicker than they have all weekend. A little, maybe 6-years-old aspiring B-boy top rocks with me. I love the dance community.
7p.m. – Meanwhile, back at the main stage…. A Guy Called Gerald impresses me with unique, danceable beats.
9p.m. – Booka Shade….. BOOKA SHADE!! Who knew I liked this duo so much? I sure as hell didn’t. They whip out some badass synthesizers and electronic drums and despite my fatigue I CANNOT stop dancing.
9:30p.m. – I try to switch it up and catch some Richie Hawtin, considering he’s a living legend and all. I am pleased to find his set a little less downtempo than norm, but still not enthralled. I respect Hawtin with every ounce of my being, but I’m never fully pulled into his live sets.
10:30p.m. – I am looking forward to Jeff Mills’ set after hearing a lot of good things about him. I am disappointed to hear train-wrecks and boring, overused tracks. But it doesn’t matter how much he fucks up. This is DEMF and people are partying no matter what. Everyone dances. Some fantastic break circles occur. I even muster up the courage to show-up some girls after sitting on the outside of the circles all weekend. MUST KEEP DANCING.
The festival comes to a close and the cheers last a while. But the night is not over. This is Detroit afterall. As a DEMF-made friend of mine from Brooklyn says, “No sleep till Brooklyn.” Time for the last afterhours.
AFTERHOURS. NIGHT??????. 2007
I danced. I remember that. MUST KEEP DANCING. Stacey Pullen played. I love Stacey Pullen. I hated his set. I kept thinking about the gorgeous guy I’d met just as the festival came to an end. I kept thinking that the pill I’d taken had sure been a lot stronger 3 days ago. I kept thinking this is Detroit. MUST KEEP DANCING. So I did. And I enjoyed the last night of DEMF with two very fantastic new friends whom I will see again next year.
I’d like to think that the party never stops. I’d like to think that every time I visit Detroit I’ll find the same fun. That isn’t the truth. But for three days a year (maybe 3 ½?) Detroit transforms into something ALIVE. It becomes DEMF and it becomes techno and those of us that thrive on such things breathe in more life than we could ever imagine living.
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