From Berlin to Detroit, techno reigned supreme over Memorial Weekend. Thousands descended into downtown Detroit’s Hart Plaza to celebrate the city’s ten-year anniversary as the epicenter of its festival namesake, a ‘movement’ that will go down in the books of musical history. Thanks to the consistent work of Paxahau since 2000, Movement Electronic Music Festival proves a mainstay as the beating heart of America’s underground music culture, inviting acclaimed electronic acts from around the world to showcase what this movement is all about.
Prior to the three-day festival’s kickoff on Saturday, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan ofﬁcially declared the week of May 23 to May 30 as Detroit Techno Week, recognizing the work of Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson aka the Belleville Three as paramount to the growth of Detroit’s creative culture and musical impact on the global platform, thus establishing the city as primed for a new Renaissance, an urban renewal.
The Motor City is widely considered to be one of America’s roughest inner cities, and it comes as no surprise with the observed exponential rise and downfall of the automobile industry over the past century. The specters of Detroit’s history are a testament to the ever-potent relevance of techno’s fundamental futurist philosophy. Techno is the future, and Detroit is appropriately in the works towards that kind of astute vision.
Insights aside, Movement’s musical selection did not disappoint. Many friends have voiced complaints about the initial lack of delivery on the festival’s two-part lineup compared to previous years (in addition to the overarching fact that it was a special ten-year edition), but some of us wanted to pay witness to 2016 dubbed the “Year of the Afterparty.” Also with Kraftwerk in 3-D as the esteemed headlining act, how proper would it be to see the pioneers of electronic music etch a new silver lining in the fabric of time and space? That in and of itself was worth making the trip.
Saturday was a psychedelic audio-visual journey. Juan Atkins and Moritz Von Oswald ﬁrst collaborated as Borderland in 2013 with their self-titled debut album release on Tresor, following up with this year’s April release of the Transport LP. Their performance at the main stage was minimalistic yet thought-provoking, a synesthesia of sounds and sensations that left room for the imagination to wander as the sun set over the concrete jungle. As the shadows on the ground elongated with the drawn-out synthesizer wavelengths, we made our way to the Beatport stage to catch some of Marc Houle’s live set. Contrasting to the mellower build-up of Borderland, Richie Hawtin’s protégé delivered a less serious ﬁst-pumping set that got the crowd’s blood rushing.
We went to check out Hotﬂush label boss Scuba at the Underground where he turned up proper with deeper, driving sounds akin to taking a dive into a sea of drums and low-rolling basslines. Upstairs at the Thump Made in Detroit stage, Carl Craig delivered a soul-rinsing series of house bangers that made religious and nonreligious folks alike believe church was in session and that a higher power was watching over the house of Detroit.
Returning to the main stage where the day began, we concluded day 1 festivities with Kraftwerk in 3-D. Four mannequin doppelgängers donned in red dress shirts and black ties opened the stereoscopic performance with the signature 1978 hit “The Robots.” The mannequins were removed and the godfathers of electronic music established their presence on stage in light- reactive grid bodysuits, telling their story through a composition of nostalgic songs like “The Man-Machine,” “Computer World,” “Autobahn,” “Boing Boom Tschak,” and even a Tour Detroit rework following the original playthrough of “Tour de France.” Kraftwerk’s performance reiterates how techno comes full circle in the modern paradigm; they pioneered a distinct sound almost forty years ago that was optimistic about the future at a time when technology was relatively primitive. Even today, Kraftwerk’s legacy continues to inspire the work of great artists.
Sunday consisted of daytime recovery at the Red Bull Music Academy stage, camping riverside to the groovier-than-thou sets of San Francisco four-man house cult group Honey Soundsystem, Chicago’s rising femme fatale The Black Madonna, and Turbo Recordings head honcho Tiga who teased the crowd with musings from his latest No Fantasy Required album release. Other notable acts included an all-vinyl throwdown by Ellen Allien and Dubﬁre’s Live:Hybrid project.
As the festival wound down on the second day, the real party began and the nocturnal creatures came out to play. Hosted by Blank Code and Droid Behavior, the 5th Interface / Scene Afterparty at The Works called for the debut live sets of the enigmatic Headless Horseman and Berlin’s masterful analog duo Cassegrain, with a powerhouse of industrial warehouse techno sets courtesy of Anthony Jimenez, Raíz, Adam X, and Perc. Intermittent dancing breaks were also welcome as Mike Gervais closed with an extra hour of thumping dub techno outside on the patio. Exiting the club only to be blasted by the rays of dawn always signals the good times that preceded.
On the last day, the Acid Showcase at the Underground stage stole the weekend as the most fun stage overall. The stage was turned 90 degrees with acoustic boards ﬂush against the ceiling to reduce sound muddiness, an improvement from last year’s setup. It wasn’t crowded at all, and it was nice to see Tin Man bring on the vibes of Absurd / Acid Test in promoting the niche appeal of the TB-303, especially since the acid house comeback began last year. Tin Man served as an ideal transition to Chicago house veteran DJ Pierre, who spun a sultry blend of acid and proper 90s dance beats. Hot off the press with his week-old Mayday release, Boys Noize manifested his illegal Berlin rave persona at the decks with his signature heavy electro sound mixed with pounding 808 kick and snare lines, even sneaking in a Chemical Brothers sample and some singles from Jimmy Edgar’s cosmically infused Ultramajic label. Nina Kraviz closed the Acid showcase with slowed down minimal techno. Modeselektor closed Movement at the main stage with an ode to Monkeytown, stirring emotions by concluding with the song “Berlin.”
With one more afterparty to go, we made our way back to The Works for Dirty Epic’s Anthology party featuring Phon.o, FaltyDL, Max Cooper, and special guest Mord, with a b2b opening set by Los Angeles-based party organizers Aaron Davis of Acid Camp and Tahl K from Fine Time.
Movement is a soul-searching marathon for those who are particular about their music taste. With ﬁve stages and some of the best audio engineering, Detroit’s techno festival will always be an enjoyable and intense weekend. Movement is the festival that America needs in an era of dance music oversaturation. Thank you Paxahau and techno connoisseurs from around the world, we continue next year.
Words By Jennifer Liu
Photo Credit: Tanya Moutzalias // Peter Liu