Detroit is a cultural cathedral. Whether it's soul music, automobiles or techno, this is a city that has been a keystone in the evolution of American art and technology.
But the city that once gleamed has become a mix of wreckage and wishful thinking. When will Detroit become Detroit again? There is no real easy answer to that question; it is a city that is a constant ebb and flow of positives and negatives, but there is something happening there again that is for sure.
A cultural boom looms on the horizon, with once forsaken neighborhoods like Corktown becoming vibrant again with hip coffee shops and artisanal thinking. The growth has been slower than many would like but despite all that Detroit seems ready for its next chapter.
Part of that next chapter is the preservation and cultivation of the city's musical heritage which for a moment seemed to be fading into obscurity. Detroit was responsible for one of the most important musical genres of the modern age, techno.
If you asked most new fans where techno came from they would probably shrug their shoulders and guess Berlin. America has been slowly losing its electronic music history with this new explosion of electronic dance music that has been so heinously homogenized as "EDM."
For many educated electronic music fans, this new and hyper-sensational fascination with dance music has been a blessing and a curse. In some sense, we have been fighting our way out of the dark ages and trying to save what's left of a once mighty realm.
Detroit is a kingdom worth saving, and the Paxahau crew are the Techno Knights Templar that set out to save it. When the Detroit Electronic Music Festival first came into existence in 2000, it was a big deal for many of us in the dance music community. The capital city of techno it seemed was making a triumphant return as the first wave of electronic music was starting to surge.
Unfortunately Detroit was crushed under the weight of its own ambition; there were just too many politics and too many self-righteous fans trying to carry the torch. I was there when the fans shit on Ford's sponsorship of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival wearing "Fuck Ford" T-Shirts and complaining of corporate corruption. Carl Craig was removed from his post, and the festival spun into chaos and began to wither.
The city's techno fans had bit the hand that fed them in a rage of corporate disgust, Ford immediately backed out and the prospect of having a free concert of this magnitude ever again was looking bleak. The chances of it even continuing were looking pretty dicey.
Any Detroit native will tell you that the city's biggest problem is its failure to get along with one another in any true symbiotic harmony. There are beefs on every corner, haters around every DJ booth, the city fights inside itself and stunts its own growth.
Things have mellowed a bit, and the guys of Paxahau have helped preserve this great city's incredible history through this often challenging second wave of "EDM."
They have managed to raise the flag of Detroit and Detroit Techno once again and garner not only national but global recognition. To many, this is one of the best and most credible festivals in the electronic music world, and so it should be because without Detroit there would be no techno.
So this year we are proud to tip our hats and honor the guys of Paxahau who have helped preserve this great musical heritage and festival which is now called Movement.
May we present Magnetic Magazine Industry Person(s) of the year: Paxahau! - David Ireland, Editor-In-Chief
Article By Masha Lukashenko
Magnetic Magazine: What experience in the industry do the three of you have prior to creating Paxahau? What changes in the music scene had you witnessed throughout the decades working in Detroit?
Jason Huvaere: The three of us met in the early 90s, which was a pretty significant time in the scene. Techno was still considered an underground culture but parties were popping up everywhere. We all started throwing parties at warehouse spaces and abandoned spaces in Detroit. Jason and I met at a party where I lived at 1217 Griswold – another popular spot at the time. Jason Clark and I started Paxahau in 1998, Sam joined full-time not long after that.
When we started promoting Detroit it was a desert down here. No one lived or worked downtown. Empty spaces were plentiful and our noise didn't bother anyone. Now Detroit is experiencing a dramatic comeback in business and residential and it is very much a different town. With our music events over the decades, we have gone from a relatively obscure, underground culture to the biggest dance party in the City's history.
Jason Clark: I had only done one event on my own in Dayton, Ohio - where I'm from. Beyond that, I had helped Huvaere do a few shows in Detroit in the early 90's. There was a break of a few years before we created Paxahau, after a multi-year hiatus in New Hampshire.
In the early rave days, the population of Detroit parties was expanded due to people driving in from all over the place (myself being one of those people initially!). After all the big raves started getting shut down in the late 90s, parties moved out of warehouses and into clubs, and fewer travellers were coming to shows as the 2 AM closing made the drive seem less worthwhile to see your favourite DJ. Also, shows were now more like one or two opening acts with one headliner, as opposed to multi-room affairs with many DJs. We started Paxahau around this time when Motor was gaining prominence. There were still parties held in non-club environments, but they were much smaller.
Of course, festival time is different, with many people trying their hand at larger underground events. In general, though, our cherished underground turned into club life. As the economy tanked around 2008 and people were leaving Metro Detroit seemingly every day our community grew even smaller. Now that the renaissance for the city, long dreamed of by everyone, is finally arriving, people have been moving to the city again. There are multiple events and after parties every night, every weekend - and most of them are full! There was a time where there might be one or two good parties a month. Now there can be more than one in one night! That is an incredible thing to experience.
Sam Fotias: Prior to Paxahau’s existence in 1998 the experience we (I), had really only amounted to producing underground parties here in Detroit from the early 1990’s. Detroit is one of those cities that has had, and will always have a deep connection to all forms of music, mainly because of its profound musical history. So we have been fortunate in our lifetimes to see many music cultures gestate here. Eminem, D12, J. Dilla, the White Stripes, Jack White, Von Bondies, and many others have pioneered musical roads in their respective genres over the last few decades. Then there’s the Techno scene that directly affected us. I truly believe it will be a very long time until a musical genre has another epoch moment socially that is as profound as Techno has been in the world over the last 10 years. I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of the early stages of the second wave that came out of Detroit.
MM: 2016 marked the 10th Anniversary of Movement Festival under Paxahau's sole management, what did that mean to you three?
Jason Huvaere: Looking back at how much the festival has grown over the past 10 years has been an incredible experience. We have an awesome team made up of passionate individuals who work year-round to make this event what it is today.
Jason Clark: It was great to take a moment and look at the amazing team that we have developed over the years, both internal and contractor. Each year the festival gets slightly less stressful to run as we have the same people returning year after year to work on it. We have lots of very intelligent and capable people all wanting to do whatever they can to make production smoother. It's an honour to have been a part of building up this production machine. On a different note, I think we all feel proud to have survived in this industry without caving into market pressures and booking talent solely for the purpose of selling tickets or selling the company to one of the global entertainment players, who have been trying to buy everyone up.
Sam Fotias: 10 years went by really fast!!!
MM: What was Movement like before Paxahau took over? What was the initial response from the community during its first couple of years?
JH: I don’t think the festival ever had a blueprint for survival, to begin with. After the first year in 2000, the financial stability of the festival was always in question and it started to become a problem for the City as they were the main supporters of the festival.
When Kevin Saunderson called us to produce the Underground Stage at the festival in 2005, we were very excited about the opportunity, which motivated us to pull our resources and contacts together and just have fun with it. We had a blast but also saw where the festival needed help as a whole.
In 2006, we learned that Kevin was not going to return as the festival’s organiser, putting the fate of the festival in limbo once again. At that point, we saw the opportunity to do what we did in the Underground Stage on a much bigger scale so we presented the City of Detroit with a plan to manage and produce the festival. With only two months to go, we got the approval from and got to work. I still can’t believe we got it done with such a short amount of time.
MM: Detroit's electronic music scene is somewhat of an underdog to hero story and the irony is that it was the told through the concept of a man working with a machine to making music and bring people together, meanwhile, the auto industry was trying to remove excess people and replace them with automated machines. Growing up throughout this history, what lesson or ethos did the three of you take away and incorporate into Paxahau?
JH: I came from an automotive family with a small business and personally experienced a lot of instability and how that affected life in business and at the family level. I was taught a lot of great lessons on people and priority and have applied those to this project. There was no manual for electronic music events when we started but we knew that one element could not waver. Music comes first. This was a very expensive principle to hold to in many ways, but all these years later we are all still best friends working together and the integrity we have maintained makes us one of the most authentic brands in the business.
JC: I did not grow up in Detroit, so this was a bit more of a concept for me. The sense of people being replaced, or literally the sense of "people going away" though was definitely one of the strongest perceptions I had of the city when I first started coming to parties here. There would be building after building that was abandoned or burnt out, but then there would be a space or loft or warehouse where this little spark of life was being created in the midst of all the emptiness.
For many, the barren and almost desolate nature of the city in the early 90's was a cause for despair, but to myself and many others, it was a blank canvas ripe for creativity. It was during those days and in those environments that I think we all realised that there were only a few key elements of creating a great party experience. An excellent sound system, great DJs and an inclusive mentality for anyone who was bringing positivity to the dance floor and helping to create something special. A police beacon was just fine for the light show.
These are the key elements that we always make sure are in place and that we never compromise on.
SF: It’s very interesting when you are involved in or part of a scene in its beginning or early stages. There is a purity that exists that, by default, gets washed away as something grows larger and larger. I feel our biggest principle is that regardless of the external global forces that are constantly trying to morph this subculture into something different, we have constantly strived to adhere to those practices and beliefs of the early years.
MM: How has Movement helped the city of Detroit? What effort went into creating a strong and good willed relationship between the city and its authorities?
JH: The City of Detroit has been an incredible partner and very supportive of the event. They understand its significance and the culture that surrounds it. Thousands of people from all over the world come here to experience the festival and the City, with the latter being our main motive for allowing re-entry all weekend long.
SF: The city of Detroit is an incredible partner. Every administration we have worked with over the last decade has understood the significance this music has had on the rest of the world. So they have been incredibly supportive of the festival. However, it was not unearned by us. It’s a vast undertaking with many moving parts. We have tirelessly worked to over-deliver on our promises to the city and never rest on our accomplishments.
MM: When Paxahau took over sole management of Movement Festival in 2006, what were the hopes for the festival's future? Have you guys succeeded as you imagined?
JH: We didn’t have time to even think about the future in 2006. We had about 2 months to pull everything together, including the lineup, production, contractors, etc.
Once we got through the festival in 2006, we spent the entire year developing our team and putting a plan in place that would ensure the festival’s financial stability for years to come. I think it’s safe to say we’ve succeeded in those terms but there’s always work to be done as there are festivals popping up everywhere so the market is more competitive than it has ever been.
JC: Our only hope in that year was to pull it off! Every year after the first few, in the early 2000s, the whole community would question whether or not the festival would even happen. The lineup/announcement would usually happen pretty close to the event. One year I think it actually happened in May! There was much cleanup to do with vendors and contractors who had given up on the event for various reasons. So the first year was all about developing good relationships and building the right team.
It was very hard for us to think about the future, because the actual attendance numbers had just been discovered the year before when Kevin ticketed the event for the first time, and we had no idea if enough people would be willing to pay the increase in ticket price that was mandatory for the event to be financially solvent. The only success for the future we were hoping for was to create an event that was 100% stable that could be counted on to carry forth the traditions of both the music and the proper experience of music into the future, all while not losing money. I think we have succeeded in accomplishing these goals.
SF: I think that first year we really just wanted to get through it and get the festival back on solid footing, which we did. There are so many festivals and music genres and demographics now. I don’t believe there will ever be a final “moment of success”, it is just trying to do the best we possibly can. I will say, however, that a major success has been assembling an amazing staff of full-time and part-time employees and a network of incredible volunteers that truly share our ideals and principles and who are passionate about executing the event to a very high level each year…it’s amazing to work with these people every year.
MM: Movement Festival has had a Made in Detroit stage from the very beginning, but this year, you guys added an Opportunity Detroit stage. What motivated this decision?
SF: Plain and simple, the staggering amount of great talent that we have here in Detroit. We have an opportunity to present these artists and DJ’s to a global audience in their hometown each year. It’s our responsibility as advocates of culture to nurture these artists and give them that conduit for their artistic expression and exposure.
MM: What relationship does Movement Festival and Paxahau maintain with local promoters, venues and event producers? Do you try and create an all-inclusive and incorporating dynamic amongst each other?
JH: It’s very important to keep an open door of communication with people in the community, including our industry peers. We are a small town and promoters talk and find ways to work together.
MM: When did Paxahau start the Detroit Techno Foundation? How important is educating the community about electronic music to the future of the music industry?
JH: We started the foundation in 2009 but it took us a few years to get the non-profit status. There’s still a lot of work to do with the goals we set forth for the foundation but I’m confident that we’re on the right track to getting there. Educating people about electronic music and the culture that it inspires is the main focus. Right now we are one of the only festivals in the world that provides a studio space so people can come learn how this music is made by putting their hands on the machines that are used to make it.
I think having a place where one can go to learn more about where this music and culture stemmed from is vital to the future of the music industry. The cool thing about Detroit is that it’s full of incredible musical history and a lot of people here are aware of that and take pride in it.
MM: Paxahau also produces the Detroit Jazz Festival, how does that experience benefit in the production of Movement every year? What are the different set of challenges between producing two different genre festivals?
SF: Jazz Fest is an incredible event that has been taking place for 38 years now. It is a cornerstone of summer music in the city in addition to being the largest, free festival of its kind on the planet. It’s amazing to get to work with musical legends. These people created and shaped a truly American musical art form, something that is incredibly parallel to the Techno scene. So it’s great to work with these artists and watch how they innovate and create on stage and try, in some ways, to curate Movement to be a similar type of atmosphere where we are exposing a new generation to another great American art form.
MM: What goals or what future do you see for Movement Festival? What do you want the festival to represent in the music industry?
JH: We are not exactly a goal-oriented organization; we are more direction-based. We want to maintain the trajectory, maintain our goals of musical integrity and event sustainability. As Detroit evolves, as the industry evolves we want to evolve together. Detroit will always have a special place in the industry and we have the task of protecting as much of that as we can.
JC: I hope that Movement continues to be an event that everyone who works on holds dear to their hearts and absolutely enjoys working on. This is an integral part of creating the positive experience of music and of our city that the fans have come to know and love. On that note, I hope that Movement is revered industry-wide for continuing to expand best practices for production and execution of large-scale events. Regarding the music industry as a whole, I hope that Movement continues to represent the spirit of authenticity and creativity that has been woven into the DNA of the city, brick by brick and person by person.
SF: A goal for the future is for Movement to be recognized as a significant cultural asset that celebrates an indigenous sub-culture and its gift of the world of music globally. It’s less about smacking people in the face with a gigantic “show” but more about exposing tens of thousands of people each year to an incredible musical force in the very city that created it.