The one time of year we make the 12 hour pilgrimage from Charlotte, NC to Detroit, MI to experience the proclaimed birthplace and home of techno. The one place we’re guaranteed to hear some wholesome auditory goodness, an escape from the prevalence of edm pop we reluctantly endure in the South. This is my 11th year, so I’m no stranger to the sounds and environmental experiences in Detroit. And why I always call “Movement”, DEMF or Detroit Electronic Music Festival! The original name of the festival.
This year however, everything did not go according to plan. Does anything, always? Between a failing lens, unseasonably cold weather, not getting stage access, unscrupulous venues, to the drenching rain on Memorial Day, we still made the best of our 3 festival days. What follows is not just my review of the event itself, but the whole experience.
We made the trip this year, again by car, during the day. First time for me, as I have always driven through the night to avoid traffic. For those coming up I-77, almost to Cleveland, it’s actually quite an impressive stretch of road to witness outside your car window. Minus the 3 toll stations in the middle of nowhere West Virginia. Mostly rural until you get to Charleston, West VA and Akron, OH, it’s quite the beautiful drive. Unfortunately, I haven’t taking the time yet to stop and take photographs. Blasphemy from a photographer like myself, but being on a 12 hour road trip doesn’t lend itself to much patience.
When we arrived in Detroit about 9pm we checked into our “hotel” at the Inn on Ferry Street, a huge Victorian style property we’ve made our DEMF home the past few years. This place comes highly recommended because of it being such a nice place to stay in rusty and occasionally dilapidated Detroit and because it’s just minutes from Greek Town and Hart Plaza. We put our stuff in the room and immediately went out to eat after such a loooooooooong ride and thanks to my trusty Yelp app, we found ourselves for the first time at the Detroit Beer Company. Sounds like a bar, but it’s much more than that. It’s a brewery with a cool ass tasty menu. A local highly recommended I get the “gourmet” Grill Cheese and Bacon Sandwich (“What“, I said!), and so I did. Though it wasn’t exactly enough for me, it was a cheesy delight. The craft brews supplied the rest of the sustenance I needed. The Detroit Red Dwarf (Ale) was my favorite brew and from reading Yelp comments, I’m not the only one. By the time we left it was past 12am and instead of going out we decided to rest for the evening to prepare for Saturday’s festivities.
Saturday May 25, 2013
Instead of immediately heading out to the festival, we took a quick detour to the Dearborn Best Buy to resupply myself with a couple larger memory cards (for video and high rez images) and camera bag for the “new” Nikon d7000 I purchased earlier in the week from Adorama. The Nikon d7000 was actually refurbished and purchased from the recommendation I read on Ken Rockwell’s popular photography website. At only $719, I figured it was a steal. I would find out otherwise later that day.
As a tip, you never need to pay for parking in the various lots around downtown over Memorial Day weekend and I recommend instead parking on the street for free, unless it explicitly states that you can’t. Of all the years I’ve been coming to Detroit on Memorial Day weekend for DEMF, I’ve never once paid to park in an overpriced lot or on the street. Most of the time I can easily find a spot just a couple blocks or less from the entrance to the festival. Further, the challenge of such a large festival with 5 stages is the logistical planning that goes into who to see/listen to and when, with the understanding that it’s not possible to see every artist on the lineup. My goal is generally to listen to artists I generally cannot see or hear anywhere near my home in Charlotte, NC.
We arrived and preceded to see if the media credentials I previously applied for were actually going to come through. In Detroit, you really never know what might happen. Surprisingly, we checked in fairly quickly and received our media passes, which come to find out really only equates to a VIP ticket, and did not include stage or photo pit access. (Still, I sincerely appreciate the media pass, just wish it included actual stage access.) Security was never on the same page, even on opposite sides of the same stage. Very disappointed, because that was the primary reason for me applying for media credentials, to get more professional photos. Found out later that Paxahau, DEMF organizers, generally only gives stage access to media “partners”, apparently meaning folks that generate more buzz (and thus $$$?) for their events, etc. Seems there’s a segment of VIP designated only for the ultra VIP. A bit frustrated, we walked around for a few to see if anything had changed in the layout of the festival. Aside from a new security company, Paxahau also felt it necessary to erect not just one, but a two layer fence strategy, which you can clearly see in this picture. Serious business.
The fairly new furnishing of a beer garden or Biergarten for the weekend long event is now a must, even with its overpriced brews. Still a massive improvement over the nasty 16oz cans of bud light served everywhere. The beer garden was moved to the back of the festival this year, sort of hidden behind some food vendors near the riverfront and Beatport stage. Strange location choice.
Being near the Beatport stage we decided to go ahead and check out the UK duo System of Survival first. They pleased us and the crowd with some soulful deep house as I managed to get a pic of Alex Carpentieri looking at me after giving his set the proverbial thumbs up. Thanks for the warm up guy, definitely an excellent start to my weekend. The Beatport State was strangely moved by the waterfront pyramid where the Red Bull stage has been the past few years and a stage called Electric Forest (after the overpriced outdoor Michigan festival in June) popped up in its place over by the Detroit Princess riverboat. Admittedly I paid little attention to the Electric Forest stage over the weekend because I wasn’t familiar with many of the names on the lineup and because most every time I purposefully went out of my way to check out an unknown artist I was subjected to dubstep. Anyone that knows me knows that I am the “smallest” fan of that wobbly dubstep bass. From overhearing the conversations of others, I surely wasn’t the only one.
We then headed for the Underground Stage to capture a glimpse of Nina Kraviz and sure enough her music and perhaps even her slightly “controversial” Between the Beats interview with Resident Advisor brought out the masses. Far more than security was prepared for, which was painfully obvious as we watched masses of people struggling to come and go from the pit area. First time I’ve seen that. The Underground stage area has always been difficult sonically, as the echoes and reverberations off the walls creates an environment that is hard to listen to. Have never really liked the sound quality down there and it hasn’t been improved much in years, even with the sound dampeners. Sure, there’s a ton of bass, but unless you’re in the pit, mids and highs are nearly nonexistent. Nevertheless, she delivered a nearly flawless set under baking hot conditions.
Back in March or so, I originally purchased VIP tickets and decided that since we had successfully got into the festival with my media credentials with little hassle we needed to sell them soon to some lucky festival goers. We headed over to the ticket area, which was chaos. At only $200 for two VIP tickets I assumed it wouldn’t take long to be rid of them. Luck was on my side (and the two chill guys whose names I have unfortunately forgotten), because 10 minutes later we were on our way back to the Red Bull Stage (main stage this year) for Moodyman. On our way we stopped by the Made In Detroit stage because of some funky house coming from local artist Bruce Bailey, whom I’m not familiar with. Grooved to several chunky funky tunes and seamless mixes from him before heading down to the front of the “Plaza Bowl” for some Moodyman, also in anticipation of Dave Clarke, whom I had inadvertently missed at an after party last year. We caught only a brief segment of Moodyman‘s set, with Moodyman playing an extended selection from Frampton Comes Alive and a little George Clinton. Classic stuff my man.
And finally, after years of waiting, we managed to inch our way to the front of the crowd at the Red Bull stage for Dave Clarke‘s entire DJ set, where he actually smiled once! While playing techno! It was well worth the wait and I couldn’t stop moving, gear and all. If anyone can find his mixset from the festival I would be forever grateful. From walking around it looked like sound guys were recording on some stages. Shortly into Dave’s set though suddenly the auto-focus feature on my Sigma 18-200mm lens stopped working. GREAT! Guess the Baron of Techno will have to be captured through my haphazard use of manual focus, which with my eye sight ended up being quite the challenge. Not happy. In any case, for anyone that hasn’t enjoyed Dave Clarke, I suggest you absorb some of his Soundcloud mixes. Along with Plastikman he was one of the original techno artists I got heavily into back in the mid 90s. Still have his Red EPs on vinyl and they still get play on the technics every now and again.
Feeling the need to get my drum and bass fix on, we scattered and ended up at the Electric Forest stage for a bit of Noisia and Andy C. Not sure who the MC was for Andy C’s set was, but he was fairly good, especially compared to the annoying lot we deal with on the regular in the South. Still recall Sound Control from the mid 90s, which is still my dnb groove to this day. After a long day I decided to try to see what the afterparty scene was like. The Dirtybird crew were playing at the Fillmore theater for Nightsneak. Really wasn’t feeling paying $40 plus for only a couple hours and then having to be cramped in theater seating. We passed on that. Circoloco seemed quite promising, with Ryan Crosson, Lee Curtiss and Derek Plaslaiko, but yet again they wanted $40 for a couple hours. We were starving so instead we headed for the nearest place to eat and by the time we were finished we were too tired to carry on anyway. Bed time.
Sunday May 26, 2013
You may be wondering why in the hell didn’t I mention anything about MOBY? Mostly because it was an insane cluster$%&* over at the Beatport stage around 11pm and though we tried to get close it was near impossible. However, I did get to see that he still, even at almost 50, has that boyish energy he’s always displayed during his performances. Good spirits for someone that has probably heard his tracks 1000s of times over. Still, it wasn’t worth fighting the crowd over. We’ve got a minute amount of video around here somewhere. Speaking of which, and on a side note, if you’re planning on using your d7000 as a camcorder, just give it up. The internal mic sucks and unless you have a monopod and know how to manually set the d7000 for video, it will probably sound and look like crap. Take awesome pictures with your DSLR, forego the video.
Woke up “early” Sunday morning and took a couple hours to troubleshoot the d7000 and lens, updating the firmware, learning the settings, etc. Came to the conclusion that the refurbished camera somehow caused the lens to permanently malfunction by not autofocusing. Very strange. And not cool. Before going back down to the festival, I instead wanted to check out the venue for the Ghost in the Sound afterparty. Probably the most awesome party of the weekend from my point of view. Except we never made it. More on that later. In Detroit, venues can be sketchy and you could prepay for tickets only to be shafted because it shuts down early, artists don’t show or the damn thing doesn’t happen at all. Though I sometimes end up paying more, I usually just stick with paying at the door. Learned the hard way more than enough times. The venue is on Grand River Ave, which is known for its blanket of graffiti along its path, and the “warehouse” where the event was going to happen later on that evening was no exception.
Mala was the first act we caught after arriving back in Hart Plaza. It was more dub than step and I enjoyed some his downtempo tracks, being the first time I’ve ever listened to his music. Bassy and deep, marinated just right. Will research him more thoroughly later.
Not having spent much time at the Beatport stage the day before we decided to set up camp for Soul Clap and Art Department. Someone erroneously informed me that Art Department cancelled, when it was actually just one of the crew that couldn’t make it. Thus we only stayed for Soul Clap’s set, over on the VIP lift wayyyyyyyy in the back. The soulful deep tech house coming from these two really brought out the zen in my aggravated spirit. During the entire day I attempted on many occasions to walk past stage security for pictures only to be turned away. What is the point of media credentials again Paxahau? Needed a sticker with the date on it. Something new for 2013? Who knows.
After a bit we continued to walk around to absorb other sets and happened upon Jason Kendig at the Made in Detroit stage. He genuinely infused that San Fran sound into the Detroit mold. Definitely a crowd pleaser as far as I am concerned. Caught these fellas behind me dancing while enjoying his set. Don’t ask me. DEMF brings out the creativity in all sorts of peoples.
As we went to get another drink we just so happen to come upon Stacey Pullen doing a “private” mix set in the VIP tent area. Surprise…Surprise. Truth is, if anybody can get me dancing, it’s Stacey. He seems to always pound groove into his techno palette. Almost funky house, but not.
And before I forget to mention it, throughout Hart Plaza there was a chalk artist that was tagging concrete walls with playful drawings. Never did see the guy, but enjoyed his art nonetheless. He tagged it with the hashtag #easterlyart. Come to find out his name is James Easterly and I wish I could have personally thanked him for positively adding to my 2013 DEMF experience. Cheers guy!
There were also other random art installations called CAMP (Community Arts Moving Projects) presented by Opportunity Detroit all around Hart Plaza.
We stuck around the Red Bull, Beatport and Made In Detroit stages the next couple of hours listening to Audion aka Matthew Dear, Dennis Ferrer and Magda. Surprisingly, I was feeling Dennis’ house set more than the other two, but we rotated around each of the three anyway. Nothing really spectacular stuck out from either set for me, but I must say that Paxahau did go all out with the huge video wall screens on each stage. Really added a visual dynamic that was unique to this year’s festival. However, it was now getting close to 10pm and we were informed that the Life and Death in Detroit afterparty at Saint Andrew’s Hall only had another 100 tickets left for $40 at the door. Having never seen James Holden, Maceo Plex or Tale of US live, up close and personal, I wanted to check it out.
The Saint Andrew’s venue was a bust last year when they tried to charge us $120 for two hours at the door for the Detroit Legends party. We ended up at the Works and were definitely better for it. The experience with security this year wasn’t much better, though the graffiti on the side of the building they finished Memorial Day weekend 2012 was cool. I did happen to come across Jorge and KT Caustic in line though, which was a nice surprise seeing familiar faces so far from home. Sorry I haven’t seen you guys in a while, we should chill more often!
We barely made it in, but after paying and getting a drink we were informed that we could not leave and reenter. WTF!! NO IDM swerving to SQUAREPUSHER, who was just now closing back on the main stage at Movement? And no party hopping to Ghost in the Sound? You can imagine I was livid! Further, they were fishy about my camera bag, wouldn’t give me the top to my damn water bottle and absolutely refused to allow me to hold my own beer bottle. And yes, I understand it’s a club and you’re supposed to be on your feet dancing, but the place is devoid of hardly any place to sit. After a long day of walking on the Hart Plaza concrete a techno viking needs some back support. Luckily the upstairs balcony area surrounding the main dance floor was a perfect spot to relax, take pictures and enjoy the minimal and tech sounds to follow. Magda was playing again downstairs in the basement area, but the strange motions on her face and her complete lack of mixing led me to believe that she was on drugs or simply didn’t care. We had seen her play earlier in the day and she definitely hadn’t played this poorly. She ran us off with her poor execution. We caught some “live” group called The/Das in the main room, but was none too impressed with the voice of the male singer or the production that apparently wasn’t planned thoroughly before the event. Of course the real highlight of the evening was Tale of Us warming up with songs like Another Earth, James Holden and Maceo Plex who closed out the night and inadvertently made me destroy my socks on the dance floor. Fun sweaty times, but I won’t be back at that venue again.
Monday May 27, 2013
And now we get to the part where I whine about the weather. Seriously though, it’s Memorial Day weekend, literally just weeks away from summer, and it doesn’t get above 63 and stays mostly in the 50s Saturday, Sunday AND Monday. Global Cooling? Since I’ve been coming to Detroit in late May it has never been below 70, even at night, as far as I can recall. Monday’s added icing on the cake was a drenching rain that didn’t let up ALL DAY! One great benefit though was that the rain resulted in less crowded stages, except for the Underground stage area where it was elbow to elbow madness.
Upon entry to the festival that’s when I decided to begin taking random pictures of the art installations and various tagged areas of Hart Plaza. Also visited the technology area to see what was on display and played around with Ableton’s Push Controller, but they’re nutters trying to sell a hardware sequencer midi controller for $600. We did initially catch part of Erika‘s “live” set, though much of it was pre-programmed because she stood there for the most part. Real minimal techno type of stuff that wasn’t prone to spontaneous moments of dancing, but definitely to active listening. It was good to have a smaller crowd so that we could get under the stage canopy. Regrettably, we didn’t spend as much time at the Red Bull stage area (no canopy there) as we did during the rest of the weekend because of the rain and a small umbrella that had to work for two people. We then wandered on over again to the Electric Forest stage because I was curious about this group called A Tribe Called Red, an obvious take on A Tribe Called Quest. Sure enough, they were playing a clip from I Left My Wallet in El Segundo when we walked up. They were an energetic and rowdy bunch when they weren’t playing dubstep, with a mashup of scratching, juggling, reggae, downtempo and hip hop. Would have stayed longer, but the rain wouldn’t cooperate. Back at the Made In Detroit stage we watched Don Dada, DJ Godfather and Zebo’s collective name, and enjoyed some trick scratching, jumping booty house and ghetto tech.
Aferwards, we stopped by the main Red Bull stage because we were curious about Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (TEED), a one man band, whom I’ve never heard of. It was mostly electro house (correctly termed new school house in my music folders) and pop sounding house that I wasn’t very interested in. Also what’s with the outfits and the dancing entourage? However, we were definitely interested in absorbing the pounding bass from Drumcell at the Underground Stage and taking a dry break from the rain. Combined with all the bodies hiding from nature’s elements you could see steam just rolling out of the Underground area into the chilly evening air.
By now it was dark and we hit the Beatport stage one last time for Maetrik, whom I’ve never seen live, but have thoroughly enjoyed his heavy bass-line infused tracks of late. As you can see below they had to basically cover all the equipment because even the large canopy wasn’t keeping the equipment from being drenched. Really enjoyed his set and most noticeably the edit of Sandmann he played. Before heading out of the festival for dryer conditions at the Leland City Club, we caught the tail end of Reference‘s set. By now it was raining so hard that it was coming down sideways, yet there was still a dedicated group of about 40 or so festival revelers, along with us, jamming out at the Made In Detroit stage.
We finally had enough of the drenching rain and bid farewell to Hart Plaza and DEMF and headed out to the Leland City Club.
The Leland City Club is basically an old hotel space that I believe throws mostly Goth parties. Hence the cheezy Halloween decorations everywhere. Cool spot with good sound and the bartenders were absolutely awesome compared to other venues in the city. The afterparty was basically a free official Movement event with Seth Troxler, Azari & III, Matthew Dear and Ryan Elliott. Right up my Tech House loving alley. We came, we danced, we conquered, and then tried to eat breakfast at the adjoining cafe after leaving and failed. Out of everything. That’s ravers for you. It’s 4am in the morning, time to go to sleep after 3 long days of awesomesauce beats.
For more pictures of the festival and other artists, please visit A Break Apart’s photo gallery and for video check out the Youtube channel. It will be consistently updated to reflect newly processed video/photos so bookmark it. What was your experience at the Movement Electronic Music Festival?