The source of techno is unequivocally Detroit, Michigan. Here in the motor city, the bricks sweat with unseen toils of industrialization. Upon witnessing it firsthand, it becomes clear that the heat of the roiling dance-floors is an energetic transformation rather than a reflection of the city’s inhabitants. It is necessary catharsis for its citizens to “get their techno on” and share in the joy of shedding another year’s burden. Crediting the city as inspiring the genre is not a description of where the originators hailed. Instead, it’s more apt as a reminder to how the city itself inspired them.
The true trials are found after the festival gates close for the evening and the masses of energized people are unleashed in search of the best after parties. My, oh, my, are the gifts bountiful for those willing to eat their fatigue and brave the incredible venues sprinkled throughout the city. It’s a Herculean task, no doubt, but it’s made easier with the knowledge that no matter how you show up, your cup will find itself overflowing in short order. Once embarked, time seems to fold into itself. Although these events all fall within 72 hours, it’ll feel a hell of a lot longer than three days.
Modern Cathedrals’ “Eden” party at Tangent Gallery was the best introduction to what it’s like to “do” Detroit techno. The venue itself, with its austere charm, served as poignant tribute to its former life as a Packard plant. It became clear that the noise and heat that filled the factory floor have not gone away, but rather changed form. The crowd of black-clad dance machines worked tirelessly, well into the night, as if in homage to the warehouse’s faded glory. On display was a flavor of techno that, to quote an audience member who wishes to remain anonymous, can only be described as “some hard hitting B.D.S.M. shit”. But, like any good masochist knows, it was only once you stepped away that you felt the absence of the oh-so-liberating bliss.
The Movement stage at the festival was the setting of one of the more talked about letdowns of the weekend, but oh how sweet it was. Calling a spade a spade, there are no greater music snobs in EDM than techno lovers. It’s a badge of honor for us, really; we derive enormous satisfaction from remaining on our high horses as the gen-pops latch onto and then quickly water-down every unique sound that happens to pop into the zeitgeist. When it was announced that Deadmau5 would be performing under his techno moniker, Testpilot, reactions were mainly composed of over-exaggerated sighs and a litany of passive aggressive Facebook comments. Despite the flame-wars, it came as a surprise to exactly nobody that the main stage was about as packed as it could get when his time slot came due.
Drawing near at the same time, however, was the snarkiest of gifts that Michigan had to offer. Schadenfreude doesn’t quite describe what it felt like to watch, and be one of, the thousands who slowly realized the rain delay announcements weren’t another epic Deadmau5 troll. Those many thousands were even more incredulous when, 30 minutes after the thunder stopped and his set began, the sound cut out in the middle of a purpose-built Testpilot track. When he hopped on the mic to live troubleshoot his now rain-drenched mixer, it became clear that this set was never going to happen. No, in true F U fashion, the Detroit overlords remembered Joel’s calling and trolled us.
Take a slice of Blade, a dash of Dante, stuff it into a storm drain, and only then you’ll have an idea of what the Underground stage has to offer. As the story goes, it was a home lacking a soul until Paxahau threw a bad enough batch down there to act as maestros. Ten years on, those who brave the descent will be treated to the most experimental sounds the genre has to offer. With a recessed dance floor that feels like a high school cafeteria, only bold festival-goers take the plunge into the sweaty mass of riled up bodies. Every stage at Detroit Movement has its own unique personality, but this one, in particular, is truly emblematic of the genre’s natural form.
Few structures in Detroit epitomize the haunting, industrial feel of the city better than its massive 16-floor Masonic Temple. A towering ode to neo-gothic architecture, it was built during the economic boom that brought out the roaring twenties. For many, this was their first Movement after-party, and it was a clear message from Detroit: we dance in our ruins. Indeed, the artists curated for the after-parties at this venue catered to its shadowy appeal. Richie Hawtin, the Belleville Three, Nicole Moudaber, Adam Beyer, Carl Cox, and Joseph Capriati all played ghostly, spectral sets that fit the gothic setting of the temple’s colossal basement perfectly.
Just like the Masonic Temple, the Leland City Club is another of Detroit’s massive, awe-inspiring relics from the hay-days of the 1920’s. A former hotel, its ownership has changed many a hand due to financial downturns, and rarely ever rents out its rooms to overnight guests. The lobby echoed with the memories of dazzling Gatsby-like parties with its opulent marble and towering ceilings. But now, with paint peeling off the walls and an old, musty smell lingering throughout the building, it is home to a much different crowd; one that does not don extravagant suits and dresses, nor care about the fancy affairs once held within this building many decades ago.
After the second night of the festival, Dixon and Seth Troxler worked side by side to fill the Leland Ballroom with haunting, spectral sounds. With no fancy lasers, the only light in the room came from small flood-lights perched just outside the half-circle windows ringing the second floor. These did little to brighten up the space, instead bringing an ominous crimson glow to the fog pervading what felt akin to a subterranean vampire den. This is not to say the production was lacking; the dark atmospheric hotel provided better ambiance than fancy visuals at Coachella ever could. In masterful fashion, Dixon and Troxler cast a spell on the crowd with hair-raising, opera-like vocals, as if giving voice to the leftover spirits inhabiting the tarnished relic of prosperity. The morning light cleansed, and as cheers emanated from the exhausted crowd, Troxler cordially invited those still left in the room to his favorite dive bar, the Old Miami, to squeeze in a few more hours of fun.
It’s an odd crowd that ends up at the Old Miami for Troxler’s legendary day party. Odds are good that most of your squadmates will drop off before getting inside. Even if they make it to the venue, the two-hour line will likely prove too much for most. The line pared away most of our crew, but have no fear, because everyone you meet is in the same boat; only tired kindred spirits will be floating around here. Paradise is really the only word that describes how it feels to be surrounded by a flock of souls who revel in their desire to remain lost. We wouldn’t recommend trying to analyze the set times- only the best are allowed anywhere near the decks. But fair warning: if you show up next year and overcome the line, don’t expect the staff to be tender with your wounded psyche. What else are sheep for, after all?
As the bass kicks and high hats recede from the edges of your brain, only a short-lived stillness remains. Walking down the streets after a long night of mayhem, the sounds of the city tip-toe past your worn-down eardrums and pick up where the after parties left off. You’ll find that these spare moments of silence are enlightening. Instead of tinnitus, the machina echoing through the skyscrapers creates a lingering understanding that techno is pervasive; try as you will, you cannot escape its grasp. Movement is not so much of a festival as much as a necessary yearly ritual. Come Memorial Day each year, the dark lord of techno awakens from its slumber to remind Detroit’s inhabitants the beauty to be found under the thick layer of oil and grime. What better way to face down the colossus of industry than to revel in its remains?