It’s a familiar narrative to anyone who’s found their cultural niche - something cool and genuine gets mined for its novelty, shaved of it’s edges, and packaged back to us. It seems almost inevitable; it happens with art, food, music, even entire geographies. Detroit has seen this cycle - but this isn’t about that; the rise, fall, and rise again, of which we’ve heard ad nauseum. Instead, this is about the next day, the morning after. As we continue to learn the delicate dance of development and authenticity, Movement has become, to many, a paragon of this evolution. Now, in it’s 18th year, it somehow continues to balance the mainstream and the underground without making either a token display.
For anyone not familiar with Movement, it’s hard to find an adequate comparison. The way the festival integrates itself into the city proper isn’t really paralleled, save for Sonar in Barcelona, so comparisons to most American festivals are a disservice. It’s this seamless integration that allows the festival to begin and end well outside the official sanctioned boundaries of Hart Plaza.
It may very well be the concrete facade of the Plaza that forces this dynamic. Originally planned as a grassy lawn area in 1924, it wasn’t until the 70’s that it was built. Taking visual cues from the prominence of Kahn designed Art Deco stylings, Hart Plaza is, almost unintentionally, a tribute to the strength of people - memorials in the plaza include “Gateway to Freedom”, recognizing Detroit’s role in helping emancipated slaves into Canada, and “Transcending”, a giant arch celebrating American Labor. What this is all means for Movement is a palpable energy in the air. Whether in the ampitheatre, on the pyramid, or next to river, we are not separate from our past, from our tactile environment - we are in the continuum.
Officially starting on Saturday, the action always begins early Friday with the annual smartbar Opening Party and BBQ at TV Lounge, which might be best club in the city day in, day out. They had all 3 areas going, and I found myself happily dancing away in the alley well into the morning. Lineup included a healthy dose of locals and out of towners, but nobody I talked to was particularly concerned. DJ’s blended into one another with a casual effervescence that suggested this party was as much for them as it was for us.
The biggest change from years previous was two fold and symbiotic, less DJ’s and longer sets. With the main stage not kicking off until 4pm most days, it felt like the festival really coming to grips with the all-night nature of the afterparties. I arrived shortly after 5pm on Day 1 and found Red Bull in full swing with DJ Godfather bringing his signature take on ghettotech alongside a cornucopia of live MC’s. Rap has always had a hit or miss vibe but Too $hort adjusted well, rapping without a backing track for most songs and engaging the sometimes static crowd with an exuberant energy. I wandered between the other stages before heading back for Ed Rush & Optical. The festival atmosphere encourages a harder sonic palette, and their set consisted mostly of “jump-up” drum and bass. As a big drum and bass fan, this translated into a somewhat disappointing experience. Several years ago, DJ Marky into Ed Rush & Optical was a weekend highlight so my aspirations were high. When DJ Hype b2b DJ Hazard continued in that idiom, we called it quits and headed out into the night.
Saturday evening we were back at TV for Soul Clap’s House of E-Funk. In what can be seen as a totem for the weekend at large, it’s not uncommon to find yourself dancing next to Seth Troxler or Eli from Soul Clap on any given night. A few years in now, Efunk is a staple, and this year was no different. Peter Croce opened things up in usual authentic fashion, with Dam-Funk, Egyptian Lover, and a welcome surprise from LTJ Bukem who brought a much needed drum and bass counterbalance to the day’s grandiosity.
Day 2 brought the strongest musical presentation. Doing our best to avoid the seemingly annual heatwave, we arrived just after 6pm to catch Tiga at the pyramid, where he played an awesome extended edit of his track “Bugatti”. A brief trip to the underground for Anthony Parasole segued perfectly in the highlight of my weekend - Modeselektor into Laurent Garnier. Known for their labels Monkeytown and 50 Weapons, Modeselektor brought a healthy mix of electro, techno, and dubstep, ("A New Error" into Jon Hopkins' "Emerald Rush" had me especially emotional) and Laurent was easily the best DJ set I saw all weekend. I danced for 4 hours and I could’ve easily danced for another 4.
That evening we headed out to the Masonic Temple for Nina Kraviz and Marcell Dettman. Technically located in the Fountain Ballroom (of which I had never heard of), the scene was perfect. The basement was pitch black except for the restrained lights above the booth. Counterpoint to the often technicolor expanses of the festival, solid flashes of red and blue only briefly illimunated the floor just enough to show the mass that had assembled. Identities dissolved as I found myself unable to discern faces, allowing an intimacy to grow between me and these nameless strangers as we connected through the sound system. The music was driving and exciting; we stayed until close. In hindsight, I wish I had known who was DJ’ing when, but as I alluded to, this party was as much for them as it is for us.
Day 3 was the hottest of the 3. Creeping into the low 90’s all weekend, the temperture had a noticeable effect on attendance during the day. We arrived shortly after 8pm to catch DJ Premier who commanded the crowd with a surprising authority. Playing mostly rap classics, he managed to involve the crowd with the skill of a maestro, a necessary duty when the music isn’t genre’d “dance”. One of the acts I was most excited for coming in was Charlotte de Witte, a relative newcomer on the scene, but you would never know from the set of rugged and raw techno she played in the underground. 80’s babies might remember tracks like “Big Fun” on MTV, but those without the firsthand experience would do well to catch Inner City whenever the chances arises. With Kevin and Dantiez Sanderson DJ’ing, they were flanked by a full band of guitars, vocalists, and others. We moved back to the underground to catch DJ Stingray bring his signature blend of authentic electro, before catching the first chance most of us have ever had to see all living memebers of the Wu-Tang Clan together on the same stage. They performed with the precision of seasoned vets and the energy of a new talent. Ghostface Killa had a particularly potent delivery, with Inspektah Deck being the surprise star. Some microphone troubles affected the performance slightly, but I want to give a special shoutout to all the techs. I can’t even imagine the difficulty in controlling 9 live microphones and multiple monitor mixes, and they did a fantastic job. Feedback at that volume would be a serious problem, and sound was flawless all weekend.
We left the festival shortly after midnight before heading back to our enclave. The special sauce that makes this weekend so transcendent is the quality time we spend with our friends and family. People come from the world over, but to many of us this is a local celebration. Local DJ’s and familiar spaces take on a new air when you’re surrounded by the juxtaposition of foreigners and friends, and we’re reminded how blessed we are to have such a genuine experience in our own backyard. As we sat decompressing while Monday turned into Tuesday, I couldn’t help but be filled with joy that we have something like Movement, a big money production that amplifies, rather than co-opts the crux of a culture.