You know the story: a once respected subculture is pushed to the mainstream. It turns unbearably saccharine, gimmicky, and annoying. I had a falling out with mainstream EDM faster than you can say “trap,” and quickly found solstice in the patient beats of techno, house and all of their meditative, psychedelic subgenres.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with this trajectory. As Movement Festival returned to Detroit’s Hart Plaza on Memorial Day Weekend, Saturday-Monday, May 26th-28th, it was evident that the techno crowd was a constantly growing and evolving one. The festival brought in a fascinating blend of basement techno-nerds, rave veterans, children, ex-Kandi kids, and everything in between. The atmosphere was respectful and open without compromising drive and energy – all stages were full but not packed, no one was pushing to the front, and most importantly everyone was dancing.
While other major electronic festivals try to generate originality through lasers and tricks, Movement Festival created a distinctive atmosphere by remaining effortless and unassuming. Like the techno itself, the industrial, minimalistic layout of Hart Plaza made the three days feel less of an escape and more of integration into everyday life. It should be noted though that almost all the stages were quite conspicuous and literal: Stargate Stage, which stood perpendicular to an enormous stargate; the Pyramid Stage faced a concrete, climbable pyramid allowing fans to be eye level with the artist; Resident Advisor’s Underground Stage was – you guessed it – underground. And while the distances between stages weren’t far, the sound isolation was surprisingly good. More importantly, the ease of access to each stage made it incredibly easy to discover new music and artists you would’ve otherwise skipped.
As the birthplace of techno, the city of Detroit holds a lot of significance for this festival. In some sense, the Movement can be seen as homage to the deep connection between Detroit and techno music. For instance, on Saturday and Sunday, the Stargate Stage hosted a series of venerated Detroit artists such as Stacey Pullen and Kevin Saunderson. Grammy-nominated artist Carl Craig gave a set to remember on Saturday evening at Stargate. With Jon Dixon on the keyboard, Carl Craig mixed a set that referenced everything from soul to hip-hop to George Clinton.
Movement’s tribute to Detroit didn’t simply stop with DJ sets. Ghostly International‘s Shigeto, a Detroit / Ann Arbor native, brought in a series of drums, brass instruments, and a tenor saxophone to play soulful dance music studded with hip-hop and samples of Laurence Williams. He closed out his Sunday evening set with his very raw, glitchy track “Don’t Trip”. Live music came soon after at the Red Bull Stage with Detroit’s Will Sessions. His silky vocals were accompanied by Amp Fiddler featuring the Dames Brown trio.
There were also plenty of Berlin artists on the bill as well. The most memorable by far was Deutschland’s favorite techno uncles Modeselektor, who drew in a very enthusiastic crowd at the Red Bull Stage Sunday evening. Their DJ set incorporated everything from electro-house to driving, bass-heavy techno. Sebastian Szary frequently stepped up to the audience to make exaggerated, drunk-uncle-like gestures to rev up the crowd. Of course, they featured Moderat songs like “Bad Kingdom“ and “A New Error“ and Jon Hopkin’s “Emerald Rush“. Bpitch Control founder and fellow Berliner Ellen Allien played at the Pyramid Stage on Monday, throwing in acid techno flooded with images of the Berlin skyline.
Movement’s only enclosed stage was the Resident Advisor Underground Stage. It’s intimate and smoky atmosphere was reminiscent of an unassuming warehouse party, and proved to be an excellent space to host a number of forward-thinking producers from around the globe. One of its most popular sets featured young Belgian producer Charlotte de Witte, who swept the audience with her aggressive, headstrong techno. Brooklyn techno purveyor and founder of Mutual Dreaming parties, Aurora Halal, brought in her dedicated, playing shadowy, psychedelic tech-house down under as well.
Movement Festival proves that is still possible for a genre to amass popularity while preserving your connection to the subculture. There’s no doubt Movement Festival will continue to grow for years to come as its roots in techno grows deeper and deeper.