Photo by Natalie Freilich
Air mattress? Gum? After party guest list confirmation email printouts? It’s Friday, Movement Eve, and I’m driving up the familiar 1-94 stretch from Chicago to Detroit for my annual pilgrimage to house/techno festie mecca. Extra shorts and jeans? Socks? Party sundries? My mind races over items I hope are all packed for the gauntlet of decibels and dancing that awaits us. Packed into my compact late 90’s era Nissan coupe: my dayjobbing, DJing, sometimes-writing ass, a big-time non-profit manager/yogini/DJ, and a high school science teacher/DJ. We received news earlier that Detroit Mayor Dave Bing had issued a formal proclamation on behalf of the city declaring the entire week as “Detroit Techno Week.” With visions of bass bin-plums dancing in our heads, we fought the eastbound Memorial Day weekend traffic, across the dreaded wang of Lake Michigan, across Indiana and into Michigan.
Our impetus to arrive the night before the fest was predicated on making it to TV Lounge for Smart Bar’s Movement Opening Party. For a second year in a row, the venerable Chicago club had teamed up with what has increasingly become one of the hottest spots in Detroit for lovers of a discerning dancefloor. Wheeling up to check in to the Renaissance Center Marriot—mere steps from Hart Plaza, the downtown home of Movement, we stash the car and cab it to the club. It’s 1 am and you can hear the boomboomboom from the street, as Smart Bar’s resident trio Orchard Lounge rocks the terrace. Despite the draw of talented techno mistress Kate Simko dropping a DJ set on the inside Red Room, the 5-hours spent in a car have us running outside into the open air, like beatmoths to a flame. For all the talk of Detroit being a small town at heart within its art and musical communities, Chicago is the same way—hell, where isn’t when you have your interests? Not 10 minutes from arrival, drinks in hand, we’re on the floor, dancing and hugging our fellow Chicago travellers already there, and Detroit friends, too, ready to showcase their city as a dance lovers non-stop, 3+ day playground. Forget all that uptight network speak and guard-up sticks up their nether regions. Everyone is on holiday; everybody is friends if you’re here this weekend…
Gallery photos by Natalie Freilich
Last year’s hidden gem at TV Lounge was the secret upstairs room which was about ready to collapse after its use. But on this night, if you walked past the bathrooms in the back and through the back of the club into the alley, there’s another party kicking concurrently to the new school on the inside. Detroit and Chicago synthesis is again at work in an old school fashion, as Glenn Underground, Boo Williams, Delano Smith, Norm Talley and more rocked out the Prelude party in the open night air. Fat, organic snippets of funk and soul-infused jams give way to higher BPMs as the hour gets later, and the house vibe was thick. But on the other side of the building, Smart Bar’s music director Nate Manic closed out the terrace with a torrid tech-house workout, and revelers at the post-4am hour didn’t seem too anxious to leave, despite the looming first day of Movement just scant hours away. Why go home? Prelude was still kicking it in the back, and Panorama Bar’s famed resident Prosumer was still on the inside, taking his foot off the gas and lightening the mood for a delightfully playful end to his set, as the die-hards smiled and clapped in time. Meanwhile, back outside on the terrace, the sound of jackhammers could be heard, as the staff began taking down a part of the outer brick wall to make way for the larger crowds throughout the weekend. They’d have to move quick, though, as the next party, NBFC & Rewster’s Industry Breakfast, began at 7 am…
A few winks disappear into nothingness, and I come to in a rush at the hotel to make it to the fest for Day 1. As I turn the corner from the entrance onto the street, I’m already met with reverberations and echoes from Hart Plaza, and even more striking, a complete neon spandex rave-bedazzled family unit, dad shirtless, mom with furry boots, neon extensions in her hair, and their toddler on his shoulders, happily waving her arms to the music, bouncing along with dad. I smile and wonder if the parents will need to borrow their kid’s pacifier later in the afternoon. Arriving at the fest, I make a beeline for the main stage, where Mark Farina is dropping his Mushroom Jazz set to open the Main Stage. A familiar strain of David Bowie’s “Fame” provides a backbeat as Farina chugs Vitamin Water and taps his chest in time with the music. Before moving on, I hear Eric B. & Rakim make an appearance in the mix, with Farina playfully messing with the EQ on “Don’t Sweat the Technique,” precisely on cue as they rap “I drop the bass ‘til MCs get weak…”
Actress, meanwhile, was having none of the sunshine at the Red Bull Music Academy Stage. Indeed, it seemed his angular sharp sounds and moodiness might have caused temporary cloud cover. But sure enough, as soaring harmonics start to drift over the crowd, the sun also returns, and it gets hot, quick. But Actress doesn’t seem to pay any mind, with his furrowed brow, eyes intense behind dark shades. He cracks nary a smile as he takes deep drags from a cigarette and exhales slowly, keeping time with a barely perceptible shimmy.
Seeking relief from the hot baked concrete pyramid next to the stage, I head over to the cooler, grassy area that houses the Beatport Stage where Benoit & Sergio is playing. The familiar chorus of “Walk and Talk” can be heard, but the sound seems like somebody replaced their baby’s K with E, as they treated the bubbling crowd with enough tougher looks to make it simmer. But strangely, it would be fellow cool merchants in Parisian deep-loving trio dOP who got the crowd to boil during the second half of their live performance. Starting with echoing hand claps, tasteful hi-hats and melancholy beats to be expected of their sound, things got playful right quick from there, layering the melody from “March of the Sugar Plum Fairies” over a driving beat before vocalist Jonathan Illel emerged to center stage, turning it up to 11, eliciting audience call-and-response through the chorus of Beck’s “Loser,” before singing bits of Nirvana and spitting some Grandmaster Flash before pogo-ing his way through their bootleg of “Hard Knock Life."
It was at this point that I took a break, retiring to the massage tent to get some chair time, restock on some drinks and find some friends. Eventually, I came to rest on one of the installations dotting the VIP hospitality area. This one, called City Hammock, was fashioned from a mesh of seatbelts on a large, circular metal frame, with concentric rings suspended in the sky to frame the view when looking skyward. I laid on my back, closed my eyes, and took in the cacophony of noises around me. Apparently we must have looked pretty comfortable, as its creator Sarah Lapinski came over to snap a few pictures of us for her website. “Just relax, you’re using it like you should,” she laughed.
Feeling rejuvenated, I headed to the Made In Detroit Stage where Marcellus Pittman was just straight killing it. Tracky, dirty, gritty 4/4 bounced an up for it crowd that was perhaps a touch less crowded than other stages, but definitely the most self-aware, giving respect and room for all to groove. Bigger stages? Bigger acts? Sure, but the best dance floor of the day belonged to the Made In Detroit Stage. I found myself wandering back to the stage throughout the rest of the evening, taking in some of Mike Huckaby after Derrick Carter’s soulful-yet-raucous Main Stage appearance, before exiting the fest and heading back to the hotel for a recharge before the evening’s activities…
Back at the hotel I finally encounter the rest of my roommates for the weekend that had arrived while I was at the fest. Rounding out the bunch is a nightlife editor for a major Chicago publication/DJ, a music blogger/DJ, and… another music journalist and budding DJ, of course. This is what Detroit does. It grabs likeminded adults and crams them into one room to counter the expenses of a weekend spent at a festival and endless parties. We figured that armed with air mattresses and schedules that would eventually be askew; sleep would come to those who needed it whenever they needed it. A room full of vets know that in Detroit for Movement, you choose to sleep because otherwise, there is always something going on.
First up on the night moves list for Saturday night was the Berretta party which featured a strong emphasis on live performances—the most notable being an exclusive set from everyone’s favorite Assyrian-Iranian-by-way-of-Sweden, Aril Brikha. But with the packed nature of the club, I was anxious for a venue change after a while, and having already missed Omar-S and Ryan Crosson, I took a cab back over to last night’s scene of the crime, TV Lounge, for the Circo Loco Detroit party featuring, most notably, Seth Troxler, Ellen Allien, David Squillace and Damian Lazarus. But by 3am, the fuzz is out front and not letting anyone in. They aren’t necessarily shutting anything down, either, but nobody is getting in. Confusion rang high as the following conversation was repeated like a broken record, outside, between parties trying to reunite with their festival friends inside:
“Are you inside? We can’t get in! The police are here!”
“What? I am inside! It’s awesome! Get in here!”
“We can’t! There’s police!”
“What police? What police? We’re inside and it’s still going!”
This would continue for the next 30 minutes until things finally got shut down. Collecting a few friends, we head back to the hotel. It’s about 4 or 5 am at this point, and despite the late hour, we’d all expected to party at Circo Loco until dawn, and with that out the window, we naturally ganged up with a few others who had planned on Circo Loco as well, and partied up in a hotel room. I can’t divulge most of what happened. But I can tell you that somehow, the party migrated to the bathroom, as we joked of booking microhouse DJs and creating a series of the smallest parties possible to combat the overselling and overcrowding issues we encountered earlier in the evening. Somewhere along the way, a friend fell into the bathtub, and being too faded to get out, he stayed; drink in hand, only to be joined by two others to keep him company. The ludicrousness of the situation comes to a head when I hear dOP from earlier today singing hard knock life but as—you guessed it—hard tub life. This should’ve been the sign that I needed to pack it up, go to bed, and get some winks (or the fact that nobody else found my joke funny, not even when repeated a third time). But half of my roommates were already downstairs in the room, and I wasn’t quite ready to call it just yet… had we known that Circo Loco did in fact reopen at 7 am; we would’ve headed there. But instead, we headed to Waterfalls for the aptly names Shit Show 3. Put together by local shitdisturbers Gary Springs Hunting Club and San Francisco’s As You Like It crew, the main rooftop stage was actually a balcony that overlooked the DJ booth a floor below. There, at 7 am, playing in a technopit, was Daniel Bell. Happy accidents happen, and unexpectedly catching one of the more nocturnally minded DJs playing and smiling in the morning sunshine—on a rooftop bar, no less (or technically below it)—was definitely one of those things that only happen during Movement. I somehow stuck around until after Till Von Sein DJed and Kollektiv Turmstrasse performed live, but then things got a little hazy. People dance, girls hand talk, dudes hang over the railing peering below at their DJ hero in action. Baking in the sun, on low sleep, and somehow still drinking (it appears the liquor was winning the chemical war against god knows what else was in my system), my body overrides my brain and autopilots myself back to the hotel. It’s afternoon, and the other roommates appear to have left for the fest, meaning I have a bed, although I’m not sure if I left one behind at the Shit Show. It’s lights out. I hope I can sleep since it’s so light out and… and…
And now I’m awake, again. My phone is full of “Hey, where you at?” texts. It’s dark out. I make it as far as showering and ordering room service before realizing that there’s no way I’m actually making it to the fest. But techno fanboy guilt is quickly replaced by pride as I spy a souvenir Shit Show record (spray-painted records that were used for décor) tucked in my bag from last night—er, this morning. I don’t really remember grabbing it. It’s maybe 10 pm, and there’s only 2 things on my mind—a trip to the historic 1515 Broadway for a highly anticipated stop to attend Interdimensional Transmissions’ No Way Back party, and DJing the opening slot on the TV Bar Terrace at 7 am on Sunday for the Night Turns to Day party. Since encountering my first No Way Back warehouse party in the Eastern Market’s historic Atlas Building in 2008, I’ve always tried to attend their party. It was everything I had romanticized Detroit after parties to be in my first time up for the festival. All windows were blacked out. Inside, there were hundreds, which felt like thousands in the cavernous, pitch-black interior. A single strobe flashed. Despite the fact that I knew we had arrived around 5 am, it was magically 3 am eternal. Forever. I lost my mind listening to the machines that played before stumbling out of the door into the shocking sunlight. Of course it was bright out. The sun was starting to brighten the sky when we arrived. But that was the magic, the suspension of rave belief, the transportation of a different when and how until you leave… While I had been to Detroit on several previous occasions to visit friends or DJ parties, this was what I always hoped to find.
I’m still gamely trying to figure out whether I should leave and try to make the very end of the festival when my roomies return. We’re all lock step on hitting No Way Back, and before long, we’re cabbing it to the coffee shop storefront of the 1515 venue. Partnered with its symbiotic New York brothers in The Bunker, No Way Back gets down to brass tacks. It’s pretty bare bones, barely any lights, and sweaty. Nasty. Loud. And in the same space that famously housed The Music Institute. There are no $50 presale tickets (God knows what that would inflate to at the door!), $1 bottles of water, and no alcohol sales. Mike Servito is on the decks, and it’s getting even nastier as he sets the stage for BMG’s impending live performance, firing a salvo of late 80s hip-house and dropping the pH to dangerously corrosive acidic levels. Not that anyone minded, though, as the elevated dancefloor at level with the DJ booth became precariously packed with gyrating, fist pumping, ass shaking revelers. Sassy women rap over that 303 as Servito works the crowd into a frenzy with Diva “Get Up (Club Mix)” and Kevin Saunderson’s Acid House remix of Wee Papa Girl Rappers “Heat It Up.” Running outside for one of my many cool off breaks, there’s a healthy scene outside, healthier than most other parties. Detroit is proud to be here at 1515 and the out-of-towners know they’re fortunate to be here, too, happy to have made the choice among a glut of other options. Conversations linger, smoke breaks become doubled, and there’s a steady line change of dancers moving out for air, or in for frenzy.
Outside, Derrick Carter appreciates the vibe. But now, the man who earlier in the night asked the amassed thousands at Hart Plaza’s Main Stage if they can “really, really dance to [his] beat” (courtesy of Blaze, natch.), really, really just wants a drink. “Somebody, tell me where I can get a drink!” I suggest the Works, mainly because I remember the drinks flowing late the night before… and also because I’m hoping to meet up with a kewpie-faced blonde cutie who’s been texting me… and before I know it, I’m stumbling into Droidbehavior’s techno maelstrom of DVS1 and Drumcell and Audio Injection (as Cell Injection). Despite the fact that there is no outdoor stage like Beretta’s party the night before, it is still packed like sardines in a techno can outside, with the faint of heart seeking relief from the soaring temperatures and BPMs within. People are sitting on what little chairs are there, or just sitting in circles on the floor outside. They’ve stopped selling alcohol due to the late hour, so I hope Mr. Carter went elsewhere. (I was told later that the code was “ice,” where you could get booze and ice in a cup for $5).
Nearing the 5 am hour, we head back to the hotel so I can regroup, grab my gear, and head over to TV Bar early for my 7 am set. As the cab pulls up, you can hear music, but the place appears empty. Walking inside, gone are the masses that cavorted all weekend long. In their place, the security and bar staff are all sleeping on the many couches, knowing that their only break is over once the techzombies return: “Neeeed more baaassssss…” Outside on the now expanded terrace is a smattering of casualties left over from the previous night’s party, still up, still dancing, and perhaps seeing bats in bat country. TV’s music director and resident DJ Mr. Joshooa is playing disco and sun-up cuts for those still left in the doldrums. At least the slumbering staff had thought enough of these die-hard patrons (and us thirsty DJs, too) to set an iced tub of a variety of beers outside to give them a longer naptime. Mr. Joshooa appears about ready to fall over as he shuffles back and forth behind the mixer to the beat of Escort’s “Cocaine Blues.” “I haven’t slept in 3 days” he tries to tell me, voice all but betraying him. He tried to tell me again, but I make him stop, as the whisper/scratch is hurting my ears. I give him a sympathetic pat on the back, and start setting up to relive this poor man as soon as possible. Despite the meager turnout, I’m eager to finally play some music. Fuck it. The system is hot, it’s a beautiful morning yet again, and my new friend from the Droidbehavior party and a few hotel roommates came out to support, too. Originally slated to tag with Joshooa and my friend Aran Daniels, we decide to just split the time rather than use our last remaining brain cells to figure out rigging both Traktor and Serato. I start playing: Joe Europe, Jimmy & Fer Ferrari, Axel Boman, Joakim, PBR Streetgang, DJ Phono, Touane, Helmut Dubnitzky… you get the picture, hazy sun-up tunes and a slight vocal touch, but with enough of a backbone to pick up if needed… but after 70 minutes, barely any new arrivals have come. I finish up, and gather the last of my evening’s daylight motivation, hug the homies, and head to where all the partiers who would’ve been there actually are: The Old Miami for Need I Say More 7.
For the uninitiated, the ultimate Detroit day party takes place on Memorial Day morning, starting at 7 am, in the expansive backyard of a Midtown veteran’s bar. Arriving at 9:30 am, the joint is already packed, and the sun is already starting to hint at its power. It’s Visionquest’s party, and Seth Troxler will work the door if he wants to, just $10 all day. Footprintz was a rare repeat performer, returning again this year to offer another light daytime kiss to coax the groove into the morning with their seemingly unconscious talent for harmonizing their voices. It was a pleasant calm before the storm as Parisian D’julz, vaguely resembling Javier Bardem’s expressionless killer Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, fired solid bolts of percussion into the rapidly warming air, killing the calm like a pneumatic brain piercing pistol, injecting a unfathomable amount of energy into the expansive and packed lawn of a dance floor. What sick joke is this? The illest party in Detroit routinely bakes the palest, nocturnal, dancefloor seekers under the sun, trapped by the quality of its musical talent and positive vibes, and a desire to say they were there, that they witnessed the madness. Benoit & Sergio would emerge next with a live set… I’d be lying at this point if I were to offer any constructive review. For the second afternoon in a row, I somehow made it back to the hotel (sans credit card left at the bar) to fall down, likely near 4pm. No matter how late you’re up, you’ll always miss something in Detroit. Maceo Plex and Maya Jane Coles would later drop extended sets at the Old Miami.
Gallery photos by Natalie Freilich
Originally planning to depart back to Chicago, I was in no shape to pilot a big wheel, much less my car. Emerging from my hotel tomb at darkness, once more, I was out of energy, out of cash, and trapped in Detroit. I headed on foot a few blocks past the fest and its closing masses to the Westin to catch up with some friends who were similarly tapped out of both cash and energy, along the way passing a seemingly aimless Mr. C meandering past alone, his distinctively blonde skull and impish face moving at his own pace through the crowd. It dawns on me that this is the third time I’ve seen the punk/monk looking DJ and former Shaman frontman wandering around and taking in the atmosphere slowly and in no rush to be anywhere… or tripping his balls off. From there I encounter a continuing series of surreal only-at-Movement moments as Ice-T and Coco, who had been hosting the VIP hospitality area at the festival earlier in the day, rolled up to the Westin with their entourage (Ice-T had also introduced main stage performances from Loco Dice and Public Enemy). Taking time to pose for some fan pictures and sign autographs, Ice looked ready to head in, and Coco, wearing impossibly high heels, looked weary, too, as if she somehow expected less walking in the click-clacking shoes. As they make their hurriedly polite but dismissive exit into the lobby, Seth Troxler comes bounding out, looking happy, fit, relaxed, and strangely dapper in baggy purple shorts and a button-up shirt (loosely buttoned, of course). He lingers for a while, appearing in no rush to get to his next destination, also talking to fans, talking pictures, and giving hugs. Just inside the lobby, Jeff Mills strikes his usual scholarly pose, complete in am impeccably cut suit, arms folded and finger pensively on his chin as he nods, in deep conversation with someone. With the exception of Ice-T and Coco’s newfound reality star life, Mr. C, Seth Troxler, Jeff Mills—all superstars in this town, on this night, who could probably wander any other American city unnoticed at night.
Perhaps that’s what I love most about Movement. As the fest grows, and there’s talk of expansion to allow for greater crowds, I wonder, like many others, if the integrity and quality of programming will continue. Surging well past the 100,000 attendance mark for the first time in history, the fest has done so on the strength of its history, global influence, and meticulous planning to include the ever-expanding permutations that its innovators began: making weird, repetitive music on what were then thought of as toys identified with numerical palindromes like 909 and 303. But fears of a larger space and larger, more mainstream EDM-oriented bookings melt away with the faith I have that Movement, no matter what, will always be Movement. There’s an air of energy, the convergence of sounds, the like-mindedness of the many who go home to their smaller niche communities. The ability to come together and… ah, who am I kidding. Perhaps it’s the altered chemistry or wishful thinking that all of this means more than a chance to wear that brand new “I ♥ You But I’ve Chosen [insert genre]” t-shirt and get faced to dance around all day, all night, and all day. But you know, that doesn’t actually sound so bad, either.
Gallery photos by Natalie Freilich